Silence stretched between them for an endless minute before Schuldig finally released him and took a step back. Expansive wings twitched, spreading as wide as they could in the small room, before he tucked them in close behind him. "Have a seat, Crawford," the man said, flicking his fingers in the direction of the neatly made bed. Crawford considered this for a moment, but it wasn't really as if he could just shrug off an order from his guest. His expression was carved from stone and he kept his hazel eyes locked on the other's face as he moved a few steps to the side and sat on the edge of his mattress. His thoughts were wheeling in a dozen different directions, tense and unhappy, as he stared at the other man. Schuldig scooped up the file from Crawford's dresser and tossed it his direction. Crawford snagged it from the air easily and sat with it in his lap, watching as black wings rustled and faded from view. For a moment Schuldig looked like an ordinary person again. The illusion died when blue eyes turned his way again; they were glowing with an unholy sheen.
"What are you doing here?" Crawford wanted to know.
"I've said it already," Schuldig returned easily, perching on the American's dresser. "You wanted power; I am power. You have something I want, and I have something you want. Didn't you ever hear that everyone gains from trade? Grand concept, that. Now and then I am impressed with what you mortals come up with."
"I wouldn't trade with you."
"A statement like that makes you a liar, because you did or I wouldn't be here. Try not to lie to me too often. I don't appreciate it." His smirk was amused and he leaned backwards to prop himself against the wall, fingers curling through long locks of vibrant orange hair. "Deals like these are all that allow me to walk on this plane, and you wouldn't know who I was if you hadn't agreed to let me loose. You asked for my power. I cannot transfer what I have to you and I wouldn't trust a human with it anyway, so you have me instead." He held his arms out at his sides, head cocked at an angle as his smile turned cold. "I am here for one year in which my powers are on loan to you."
This was madness. Crawford just shook his head. "There is nothing in this world that I could not have procured on my own," he said, struggling with his failing memory. He could hear laughter in the back of his thoughts and feel lips on his ear. There was the soft hum of someone whispering to him but the words were out of reach. "Tell me why I would have gone to you, and tell me why you listened."
Schuldig laughed at him. "You sound a little disgruntled that you sold your soul to the devil but can't remember what you bought in exchange," he remarked.
Crawford said nothing, but his teeth were clenched behind a tightly controlled expression. The logical side of his brain told him that he should be more disbelieving about this strange looking man but he knew, somewhere inside, that there was no mistake. This man was not one of Rosenkreuz's Talents. He wasn't a teleporter or an illusionist. He was exactly who he claimed to be: lord of the demons and prince of hell. Crawford knew this, though he could not explain to himself why or how he knew. He couldn't find any real proof besides intuition to believe him, but his mind curled easily around the acceptance of the other man's identity. He found it a bitter sort of truth, as he had never before spared the energy to believe in either God or Satan. Now he had one of them sitting in his apartment on his dresser.
A flicker of memory, a hard voice: "Is it a deal?"
"I don't even believe in you," he said at last.
"Well, you wanted something badly enough to believe," Schuldig told him, examining his fingernails. "You went looking for someone and I'm the one that answered you. No one else could hear you calling. Really, spare a moment to be grateful."
"What could I have possibly wanted?" Crawford demanded. What could he have needed so badly that he didn't think he could find on his own, that he had allowed himself to believe in such a creature's existence? Further, what would he want enough to promise away his soul for? The thought troubled him- not the idea of burning in hell for an eternity, since his mind hadn't yet grasped the thought that the reality of the devil meant the reality of a nightmarish afterlife- but because it meant he hadn't considered himself good enough to handle it on his own. He had gone asking for help somewhere else and he couldn't even remember what it was he wanted. And what a person to make a deal with… He would have thought himself smarter than that.
Demoustier had called Satan a faggot. Crawford was almost amused by this. Almost.
"That's none of your business," Schuldig informed him easily. "The game's not so fun when you can remember all the details. Don't worry. It's not wiped, it's just repressed. It's a long road from here to there and I don't want you distracted. You have a very nice gift, you know, and I would like to be able to use it." He pointed at himself, tapping his index finger to his temple. "Whereas I don't consider myself to be a particularly near sighted person, a being like me thinks in lifetimes and millennia rather than the day to day things someone like you is open to. People like you shape the world to make the things I see possible. It should be entertaining to finally get a glimpse of something like that."
"In summary, you plan to use my gift to maneuver you to getting what you want and in exchange you'll give me what I want," Crawford said.
"And the lights turn on upstairs," Schuldig said with a slow smile. "This is how it's going to work. I put together a long term job for us. That's what you're holding now." He stabbed a finger at the file. "I know how to get us what I want, but only in the general sense. You're in charge of the details and it's bound to take a long time and a lot of work. Those are the first steps. We're getting on a plane tomorrow to go to Japan, but we're stopping in Europe along the way. We're going to have another teammate along for the ride."
"One of Rosenkreuz's?" Crawford asked.
"Not likely. He's an old friend of mine, of sorts. Don't worry your tiny mind about it; you'll see him tomorrow night. He knows we're coming. I spoke to him this morning to let us know to expect us, so he'll be ready."
"I'm not used to working with a team."
"You'll learn how," Schuldig assured him. "Now, I have a few things to look into now that I'm allowed on the physical realm. You familiarize yourself with that project and I'll see you in the morning." He pushed himself off of the dresser and started towards the window. Crawford watched as he pushed the two halves open and leaned over the sill to stare out at the city. Crawford still didn't actually believe that he was exiting that way until one shoe went up onto the sill and he pushed out. The American left the file behind on the bed, crossing the room towards the window in just three strides, and stared out as his strange new partner vanished into the night. The man didn't fly so much as he floated; black wings were visible and arched above him as he dropped from the window to a lamp post outside, and he glided from post to post as if it was nothing with the oblivious traffic racing by below.
Crawford watched until he was out of sight and then slowly leaned back into his apartment, reaching up to push the windows closed. He stared at his reflection on the glass for several minutes, trying to go over the short meeting. Idly he wondered if it was just his gift acting up, overworked into churning out ridiculous images. But when he turned around again, the mirror hanging above his dresser no longer reflected the room but gave him a view of a twisting lake of fire. As he warily approached it he could feel the heat rolling off of it, and it was turning the walls around the mirror black.
"This is madness," he said, and someone from the mirror laughed at him. He stared at it for a long moment, wondering if he was hearing things. Surely this was all a hallucination. It was easier to believe in now that the strange creature had taken his leave. But if it wasn't…? Well, if he couldn't remember the deal, then he didn't consider it valid. He would just leave, and what would Schuldig do about it then? He wanted no part of this agreement.
He stalked towards the door, but when he grabbed the doorknob, it scalded the skin on his palm. Swearing, he jerked his hand back, staring at a metal that was suddenly glowing red with heat. The skin of his hand was glistening and he knew there would be blisters later, and he scowled at the doorknob as he blew lightly on the skin. "Madness," he said again, turning to run cold water on his hand from the bathroom sink. He stepped on something on his first step forward and he looked down to see the file had migrated from the bed to the floor in front of him.
"I would read it if I were you," a voice said, sounding amused. "He doesn't like it when he's ignored."
"Who's talking?" Crawford demanded, but only silence greeted him. He waited for just a minute before stepping into the bathroom and turning the sink on. He soaked his hand under the cold spray until it was numb and found the standard med kit in the cabinets above the sink. The box was put inside the sink bowl and he reached up to push the cabinet closed again. Light flashed against the mirror on the front and there was a blur of red across the surface. Crawford twisted around, reaching for a gun that wasn't there, narrowed hazel eyes darting around the cramped room.
Fingers brushed against his jaw, icy cold, and he twisted away from the grip, bringing his hand up to swat the touch away. There was nothing there for his hand to hit, however. The mirror surface was rippling like water when he turned back to it. He watched his reflection wobble, but the eyes on his face weren't his own. Instead they were glowing red.
"We are going to have great fun together," the voice purred, and streaks ran across the mirror surface, cutting through the waves like fingers against the surface of the pond. "Great fun…" There was laughter again, quieter this time, dark with anticipation and a black amusement, and then the red faded from the mirror and took the ripples with it. Crawford was staring at a normal reflection again and he clenched his teeth, snapping open the lid on the med kit. He wasn't sure what was going on but the situation was getting out of hand, and he did not like that a single bit. Brad Crawford was always in control- always. Let the devil play his tricks; Crawford would still win in the end because he simply refused to lose.
These dark thoughts in mind, he bandaged his hand and left the bathroom, settling down on the bed to look over the file that was left for him. Schuldig had said that the way they saw the future was different, and the other man couldn't see things like he had. Crawford had spent his life obsessing over attention to detail, and he would use that now. Let the devil look ahead to the future he thought he was going to get, and Crawford would find a way to kick his feet out from under him when he least expected it.
He swore it.
Demoustier's office was a corner room on the third floor of the building Rosenkreuz used for its Seattle branch. The Frenchman was digging through files when the pair showed up, and Crawford barely slowed long enough to knock before entering. He was the only underling of Demoustier's that could get away with such a thing; others had been thrown out by the man's telekinesis for lesser things. Two ash trays sat on the desk and both were overflowing already, and the cigarette in Pierre Demoustier's mouth was almost burned to the filter. He didn't look up at their entrance and didn't bother to acknowledge them until he'd finally found what he was looking for, and he promptly crumpled the paper into a ball with a savage clench of bony fingers. At last he turned his hard gaze on them, sending the dark look at Schuldig first before turning it on Crawford.
"You brought it," he said. "Sit." He stabbed a finger at the chairs across from him and both sat, Crawford with a smooth look and Schuldig with his mouth curved into that damn smirk of his. "Where is the file?" he demanded, holding his hand out for it. Crawford turned it over and silence fell in the room as the telekinetic eyed the schedule. "One year in Tokyo. You don't speak Japanese, Crawford."
"There seems to be a six week language course upon my arrival," Crawford said, and Demoustier tapped the page where he saw the note on it.
"Funded by Estet," he said. "Who is Estet? Why is this course only for you?" He flicked Schuldig a cool look. "I suppose you already can speak Japanese."
Schuldig just smiled that cold little smile of his. "Mine is the language every ear understands," he said.
"He thinks he's cute," Demoustier said. "I do not approve of him, Crawford."
"Luckily, my presence here has nothing to do with your approval," Schuldig said. Demoustier just stared at him. If looks could kill- and if it was possible to kill a creature such as Schuldig- there would be nothing left where the fiery haired man was sitting. Crawford was pretty sure the Frenchman was trying to crush Schuldig into a bloody puddle in his chair beneath that frozen expression, but it wasn't working. Schuldig continued on. "For your information, Estet is an organization in Europe that funds Rosenkreuz's Austrian branch. They're running the shots on this. They have specifically requested Crawford's assistance on this mission and have assigned me to look after him, so we'll take your signature on that paper and be on our way. We have a stop or two to make before we arrive in Japan and our flight is in just a few hours."
Demoustier opened his mouth. Schuldig didn't give him a chance to speak. He leaned forward in his chair, reaching out to stab a finger against the paperwork in front of the telekinetic. Crawford was sitting too far back to see if something changed in the devil's expression, but he was at the perfect angle to watch the blood drain from Demoustier's face. The man went rigid, staring at Schuldig as if he'd seen a ghost. Crawford had never seen Demoustier look anything other than agitated or furious; to see him look so close to sheer terror was interesting. Crawford didn't bother himself to pity the man, not when he himself was in a worse position.
"I said we'll take your signature," Schuldig said, and he pressed a pen into Demoustier's limp fingers. The telekinetic tightened his fingers on it instinctively but Schuldig had to actually use a hand in his hair to turn his face down towards the paper. Demoustier managed to pull himself together enough to sign his name and Schuldig took both the pen and the paper away. He passed them off to Crawford, who slipped them into his mission folder. Schuldig picked himself to his feet and Schuldig followed them there, and Demoustier didn't look up to watch them leave.
The door shut loudly behind them and Schuldig offered Crawford an amused smirk over his shoulder. "Yet again, you mortals fail to impress."
"Perhaps you should lower your expectations," Crawford sent back.
"Maybe you should raise yours," was the easy response.
They took the stairs down to where Crawford's car was parked at the curb. The American's suitcase was already packed and resting in the back seat. Crawford stopped beside his door, looking over at the devil where he was standing further down on the sidewalk. The fiery haired man was watching traffic go back and forth, blue eyes considering the cars with a great bit of interest. Schuldig had met him here earlier, so Crawford didn't know if he was expected to give the man a ride to the airport. A car pulled up to the curb then, peeling out of the traffic to slide right in front of Schuldig, and Crawford had the distinct pleasure of seeing the man take a startled leap back. A sharp whip of wind told him the wings he could not see were still very much there; it wasn't so much a physical jump as it was a glide backwards out of harm's way.
Fire curled around the man's fingers but Schuldig didn't let the flames get further than that; his hands tightened into fists to extinguish them. The driver of the car didn't even notice. He stuffed some coins in the meter and hurried off down the sidewalk on his errands.
Schuldig eyed the abandoned car for a long moment before reaching out to toe it with his shoe. When it didn't move, he approached it and pressed his hands against its dark blue body. Fingernails drummed out a rhythm on the hood as the man inspected it, and it took Crawford a moment to figure out why he was so fascinated by it. Crawford didn't know how much of Earth a creature like Schuldig could see from his domain, but even being able to watch the development and evolution of technology didn't prepare him for being face to face with it. The time of heaven, hell, and the angels was thousands of years ago, when there was nothing like this.
Crawford filed this very important observation away for later.
"How are you getting to the airport?" he wanted to know.
Schuldig looked over his shoulder at him and then his car. At length he shrugged and moved around to the passenger side, reaching out to pull on the knob. Crawford hadn't unlocked it yet and the door refused to budge. Blue eyes narrowed slightly and he gave it a harder pull, just as Crawford pressed the button on his key ring.
The door popped open and Schuldig flitted back into the street, right in front of oncoming traffic. Black wings seemed to explode out of his back; he left an afterimage behind as he leapt neatly up onto the hood of Crawford's car. As quickly as they'd come, the wings were gone, and the driver that had almost hit him leaned out of the car to scream obscenities. He cut himself off halfway through one particularly colorful string; Crawford saw him go slack against the window and the truck slammed into a lamppost on the opposite sidewalk. Crawford looked from the wreck up to the crouching devil, keeping a placid look on over top of his amusement.
"The door was still locked," he said.
"I suppose you find this amusing," was the response. Half-lidded blue eyes considered the crumpled truck as pedestrians rushed to investigate, and he slid off the side of the car just a minute later. Crawford opened his own door and climbed in and the other man joined him shortly, looking around at all of the buttons and vents on the dash board. Crawford let him amuse himself with the buttons, deciding that anything that kept the other distracted was a good thing. He concentrated on driving, heading back to the airport he'd just arrived from the previous evening.
They picked up their tickets at the counter and Crawford checked in his single piece of luggage. Schuldig had nothing on him to turn in and followed Crawford through the security checks. Crawford was quite content that the roles of leader and follower had switched. While it was just an illusion, it helped him deal with the situation better. Just allowing himself to think he was in charge was enough, and his confidence was boosted as he watched the way the devil reacted to being face to face with the modern day.
"Have you been on this plane before?" Crawford wanted to know as he stepped onto an escalator. Schuldig joined him just a few steps later, blue eyes showing something akin to delight as he was effortlessly moved from one floor to the other.
"Of course," Schuldig answered breezily, giving a dismissive wave of his hand. "But a lot has changed since the angels were allowed to interact with the world. Ever since the war and the great divide, it's a lot harder to gain access to one of the masterpieces. Instead we do our work from behind the scenes, working with influence. Aggravating; it takes a lot more time that way." He stepped neatly off the escalator at the bottom, keeping pace with Crawford as they headed for their terminal.
"Which war are you talking about?"
"You wouldn't know, would you?" Schuldig mused, offering him an icy little smirk. "The day heaven split into jagged little pieces at last and the angels went to war with each other." Blue eyes were staring through him at a time long ago that Crawford couldn't even begin to imagine. "Ah, how beautiful is the discord in the Master's symphony!" He lifted his hand to his mouth, brushing his fingertips over his lower lip. "'I dream a dream for all mankind'- his exact words, weren't they? It was so much fun to see him eat such a bold declaration." He gave a laugh then, a sharp, cutting sound. Crawford decided that he didn't want any answers the man might have to offer.
They were at their gate half an hour before boarding started and Schuldig went to stand at the window while Crawford found a seat. He watched for a few minutes as the devil watched the planes outside before turning his attention on his boarding pass. Seattle to Dublin, it said, and then on to Japan the same night. They would only be in Dublin for four hours; that was the only layover between a fifteen hour flight to Dublin and an equally long one to Tokyo. He wondered what they were supposed to find in Ireland; it was such a small place on the map that he didn't understand what the devil could find useful about it. For that matter, he didn't understand why they were going to Japan. He doubted a demand for an explanation would get him further than a hand around his throat and those icy blue eyes right in his face, but he could reassure himself that he would have to have it all thoroughly explained to him sooner rather than later. His gift needed details to work; he couldn't just step foot in Japan and expect to know everything. He would wait until they were settled in Japan before pressing for any answers.
He still thought Ireland was a strange choice, however.
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