Schuldig was beached on the back of the couch when Crawford entered the room. The precognitive paused in the doorway to consider his teammate, mug of coffee frozen halfway to his mouth. Schuldig didn't bother to look up, probably because balancing was taking up most of his concentration. He was sprawled out on his stomach with his arms folded into a pillow for his chin. His legs stretched out behind him, long enough that his shoes hung off the end. How he'd gotten up there, Crawford wasn't sure. The greater mystery was how he stayed. His perch was just a hand's width across, definitely not sturdy enough for his weight.
"I heard that," was the annoyed greeting.
"Do I want to know what you're doing?" Crawford asked, stepping further into the room. He shifted his grip on his files enough to get the door closed behind him and started for his desk.
That earned him a lightning-quick smirk and a flash of blue eyes. "Do you?"
"Asshole." Schuldig noticed that he'd brought paperwork with him and pushed himself up a little, leaning to try and see better. "What's that?"
"Get down and come see."
"You're going to fall and break your neck."
"Stop making shit up."
"Maybe I'm not."
"I'm not intimidated," Schuldig said, but he did slide off of the couch. He smoothed out rumpled clothes with a few brushes of his hands and headed Crawford's way.
Crawford was content to pass his folders over for Schuldig to inspect, more interested in working his way through his coffee. It was five in the morning and he'd been up for three hours already. He'd had a teleconference that morning with Takatori Reiji, their newest client, and the meeting had been done on Japan time and at Takatori's convenience. The man had claimed that eleven was the only free time in his schedule, which meant three a.m. here in Berlin. It was questionable whether that was sincere or if Takatori was just playing power games with his newest bodyguards, but this wasn't the time or place to question him. There would be plenty of time for that later.
Schuldig took his time rifling through the thick stack of paperwork. His eyebrow crept a little bit further up his forehead with each page he turned until it was hidden under his bright bangs. When he finished, he lifted his gaze to Crawford's face with a sardonic smile playing on his lips. "That's all?" he asked, and Crawford wondered how he found the energy to be a smartass at this time of day.
Crawford took the papers away from him and glanced briefly over his own notations. "This is just the start."
The telepath made an annoyed sound and reached for Crawford's coffee mug. Crawford moved it neatly out of reach and took the last swallow from it. Both the mug and files were set down on his desk. Schuldig offered him a scowl in either fleeting or feigned scorn and Crawford didn't waste his time trying to decipher which one it was. They were practically one and the same when it came to Schuldig; the man had the emotional attention span of a gnat.
"And?" Crawford asked. "You've been up long enough by now that you could have started your own."
Schuldig just looked at him, refusing to acknowledge that as a sensible argument. Crawford pulled out his chair and sat down, making it clear he wasn't going to do Schuldig any favors. At length the teenager plucked up Crawford's mug and started for the door. Crawford listened to cabinets opening and shutting in the other room as the telepath put together another pot of coffee. Schuldig's distraction gave him enough time that he could arrange the papers by project.
Another packet of folders was already waiting on his desk shelves, a stack of assignments and statistics from his first conference, and he pulled those out as well. It didn't take long to completely hide the surface of his desk and he considered the extensive spread. Takatori Reiji was going to be their largest project to date: they had to take a simple politician and push him up to Prime Minister of Japan, and they only had a three-year window in which to accomplish that. He didn't need precognition to know there were many months' worth of sleepless nights ahead.
"Suppose the coffee tastes different in Japan?" Schuldig asked curiously. Crawford glanced back to see him propped against the doorframe. A faint gurgling said the coffee maker was still hard at work and Crawford idly wondered if he was spiteful enough to only make enough for himself. "Like rice or something?"
"Don't ask strange questions."
"It's legitimate," Schuldig said, drumming his fingernails against the wall. "All those lessons and they never answered the important questions."
"If it's not to our liking, we'll simply import some."
"Hmm." Schuldig considered that, tilting his head back to gaze up at the ceiling. They'd finished their last project six and a half months ago and had spent the next half-year in twelve-hour-a-day classes. The crash course was supposed to prepare them for their stay in Japan, covering everything from language to history to food and everything in-between. It was nowhere near sufficient for what would be required of them, but it would have to be enough. They were tired of Japan already and Crawford had only set foot on it once, for a three-week stay with Takatori. Schuldig hadn't even been yet.
"We have work to do," Crawford said, and Schuldig went to collect the coffee. He brought two mugs back with him when Crawford half-expected him to only bring one. The American knew better to say anything about it and accepted his in silence.
"You actually think he's going to be enough for this?" Schuldig asked, gesturing over his shoulder in the general direction of the bedrooms. Their newest teammate was a scrawny orphan Crawford had acquired while on his first business trip to meet Takatori in Japan. Untrained, he was as much a danger to them as an asset, but Crawford was certain they could tip the scales in their favor. A child like that had a lot of anger and hate in him, and those were the easiest emotions to shape.
"Eventually," Crawford answered. "For now, let him sleep. There's nothing for him to do yet."
Schuldig had moved his chair out of the way earlier, but now he dragged it back over, purposefully scraping the legs against the ground like he knew Crawford hated. He ignored the cool look Crawford sent him and plopped down at the precognitive's side. "You realize we don't get paid enough for this, right?" he asked, eyeing the mound of papers.
"You realize that isn't going to change anytime soon," Crawford responded.
Schuldig sighed and dug around in the drawers for his notepad. Crawford had to shift papers out of the way to accommodate their mugs and Schuldig was ready by the time he finished. It was half-past five when they began and a quarter to ten when they were finally finished organizing and prioritizing everything. They'd stopped only to refill their mugs and once at nine for Crawford to contact their most recently released client. By the time Crawford finally flipped the last folder closed, Schuldig was completely and utterly tense. It took a great force of will for a telepath to stay focused on just one thing for so long. Schuldig's self-control was admirable, but only so good. Four and a half hours was pushing it.
"We're done for now," Crawford said, and Schuldig was out of his chair before he'd had even closed his mouth again. "Be ready to go at eleven-thirty."
"We're not going anywhere until I've eaten," Schuldig said, and Crawford let them both pretend it was hunger that put that wild gleam in Schuldig's eye. Food wasn't going to be enough; it was too passive an activity. They had a two-hour ride ahead of them, another meeting, and then more work. The thought stirred up flickers of blood and he tilted his head to one side, considering that vision. Schuldig picked up on the splash, judging by the way he whirled around just one step away from his seat. He was right in Crawford's face in the next instant, one hand on the desk and one on the back of Crawford's chair. His smile was all teeth, vicious and wanting. "We're killing today."
"Apparently," Crawford said. "It seems Aguilo wants a trade-off for his support. It means he's going to say yes."
"You know, you could save a lot of people a lot of stuffy conferences if you'd just call them up and inform them what they're going to do for us."
"Since when has that ever worked on you?"
"When you're telling me you're going to fuck me," Schuldig said helpfully. "Time to put your mouth where your money is."
"I think you've got that saying mixed up."
"Not when your wallet's in my front pocket, I don't."
"What are you doing with my wallet?"
"Don't change the subject."
"Naoe is up by now," Crawford said, standing up into Schuldig's personal space.
"He's been needing to brush up on his German. We'll teach him a few useful phrases." Schuldig leaned up against him in a silent demand, blue stare expectant, oblivious to the faintest possibility of being denied. Crawford supposed he had justification to be so confident; his hands were already working their way up Schuldig's shirt of their own accord. "He's going to figure this out soon enough."
That was a valid enough argument. Crawford checked his watch and did the math. "Shut the door."
Manuel Aguilo was five feet of ambition in a rock-hard, sandy frame. He woke up everyday with the need to conquer and control. That made him a perfect mark for Schwarz, and they'd spent a year helping build him up to where he wanted to be. It had been very profitable for both sides, which was probably the only reason he was willing to see them on such short notice. The office he greeted them in was twice the size of the one they'd left him in. It was a corner office, exactly what he'd set out to get years ago, with a wall that was all glass. The city hummed on around them as the three men stared each other down, and at last Aguilo gave a sharp flick of his fingers to beckon them closer.
"You said you have a proposition for me," he said, cutting straight to the chase. Aguilo didn't believe in small talk or dallying around, which was fine enough with them. They had a mountain of things to get done before they even stepped foot in Japan. "You realize I am a very busy man."
"I believe you will always be a busy man," Crawford replied. "Goals do that to a man."
"First tell me what it's going to cost me, then tell me what you're trying to sell me that's better than anything I could get myself."
"Investments," Crawford said, closing the distance to the desk and handing over a small packet. It had taken him and Schuldig two hours and a good three-dozen phone calls to put the forms together, but it would pay off in the end. Everything they did paid off eventually; Crawford made sure of it. "Real estate in particular. What you have in front of you know are figures and trends, and predictions for the upcoming years. I am asking you to purchase fifty millions' worth in any combination of these properties that you wish, to be managed and traded in a way that will profit but not implicate our next client. You will receive eighty percent of all profits made and, based on those statistics, will be paid back a minimum of twice what you invest."
Aguilo said nothing immediately. He took his time reading over the papers, leaving Schwarz waiting, as if they didn't already know what he would say, as if he didn't already know they knew. Aguilo had worked with them long enough that he knew Crawford wouldn't have come if he wasn't sure he'd succeed. Crawford didn't believe in wasting anyone's time, his own most especially.
"You're asking for a very large investment," Aguilo said.
"I'm promising a very large return."
"And what does your client expect to get from me?"
"Fifteen percent of the profits and a safe use of the offices for his own purposes."
"The other five is Schwarz's," Aguilo deduced. "A very measly amount."
"More than enough," Crawford said, and he could see Aguilo mentally reworking the math to consider what he stood to make. "It is indeed a large upfront cost, but it is a pittance of what you stand to make. Property values in Shinjuku and Shibuya alone are due to skyrocket. More important than the financial gain, however, is a foot in to business in Japan."
"Tell me why I should care about relationships with Japanese businessmen."
"Not only businessmen," Crawford said. "We are making a prime minister."
Aguilo went quiet at that and stared hard at him, weighing the sincerity of such an outrageous claim. "You honestly think you can put a man at the head of a country?"
"He will make it," Crawford said with calm confidence. "We stake everything we are on our clients' successes."
"You mean you stake everything on Schwarz's arrogance," Aguilo answered.
"It was more than enough for you," Crawford pointed out.
The businessman gave a little huff at that, but the look on his face was thoughtful. He was imagining a future wherein he had an in with a country's prime minister and Crawford knew he liked what he saw. Any smart man would. Still, Aguilo hadn't gotten where he was today by acting quickly. "Sit," he said at length, and Schuldig and Crawford helped themselves to the chairs across from his desk.
It took the better part of an hour to convince Aguilo that he would be seriously missing out if he didn't go along with them on this. Crawford explained figures while Schuldig speculated on just how far of a reach Aguilo stood to make politically. There were networks and partnerships that Aguilo would be foolish to pass up if he ever wanted more than just this bit of Germany. Even if he didn't want leverage in Japan, there were plenty of others who would be interested, and Aguilo could trade favors and names as a domineering middleman.
Aguilo didn't make any decisions until he was supremely confident he understood exactly what his role in all of this would be, but at last he nodded and closed the file. "I'll back him," he relented, "if you run one last job for me. Some traders are starting to make things difficult for me in Munich. I want them taken care of as quickly as possible."
"Of course," Crawford said. "All we'll need are their names and addresses."
Aguilo scribbled it out on a piece of paper and pushed it across the desk towards them. Crawford folded it up and tucked it neatly inside his breast pocket. "You'll have your signature when I have their heads," Aguilo said. "Gift-wrap them and I'll throw in an extra million."
"It will be finished tonight," Crawford promised.
"I will see you in the morning, then," Aguilo said.
"We appreciate your time and business." Crawford got to his feet and Schuldig followed, and they let themselves out. Crawford was on the phone with a travel agency before they'd even reached their car, checking flight times but not bothering to book any. Booking tickets meant putting their names somewhere, and that was just careless. Schuldig drove so Crawford could pay attention to the call. The next plane with open seats didn't leave for another three hours, so they ended up stopping somewhere for coffee. It was only the early afternoon, but they'd been up long enough that they were both starting to wind down. Neither could afford to slow down just yet, not when they had at least another six hours before they could rest.
The airport was bustling when they finally made it there. They joined the line for the Munich flight and Crawford waited as Schuldig worked his gift on the flight attendant's mind. She printed them tickets without asking them for their names. They still had to pay for them, because getting them for free was a step too far for her to want to play along on such short notice, but Crawford didn't mind as long as they got their boarding passes.
They reached the gate as boarding started and followed the rest of the passengers on. Schuldig settled in his seat by the window and watched as the rest of the passengers filed by. It took fifteen minutes before the attendants pulled the door closed and locked it, and the safety video flickered to life on every screen in sight. Schuldig slanted a glance at Crawford as the plane started taxiing.
"How do you say 'mile-high club' in Japanese?" he asked in a low voice.
"I imagine it sounds a lot like 'Don't get your hopes up'," Crawford answered.
"It's a legitimate question."
"In your sad little world, perhaps."
"Next time I'm on my knees, I'm going to bite you."
"Only if you want me to put a bullet in your skull."
"You'd risk irretrievably staining your nice clothes?"
"It might be worth it."
"Stop stealing my lines."
The video ended then and both men went quiet. Schuldig turned his gaze out the window to watch the ground drop out from under them. Thoughts of the murders ahead of them were just enough to keep the telepath occupied through the hour-long flight. He was past ready to go by the time they landed and Crawford let Schuldig past him to get off the plane first. The telepath made a beeline for the car rentals' counter and got them keys in a record two minutes. He flashed them at Crawford in victory before heading outside.
It took half an hour to get to the traders' office, with a small detour to pick up a lighter and an umbrella. Schuldig confirmed that their three targets were still inside and they waited in the parking garage. Schuldig was the first to get out of the car when he heard the traders start to stir. The German's footsteps echoed in the garage as he headed away, moving into range of the security desk. Schuldig's gift worked best when he was looking at people face to face, but he was still strong enough to overcome the guard. A murmured affirmative against Crawford's thoughts told him when the guard had turned all of the security cameras off.
They hadn't brought guns because guns were too tricky to get through airports, at least until they had Naoe on hand to disable the alarms at the security checkpoints. They didn't need guns, not when there were so many other ways to kill a man.
Crawford opened up the umbrella and set it down on top of the car. There was a canister of spare gasoline in the trunk that he carried with him to Schuldig's side. Schuldig's smirk widened at the sight of it, not that he was really looking. His gaze was unfocused as his mind paid attention to other things, and he told Crawford when the men were almost to the garage. Crawford upended most of the gas can onto the floor and went to stand by the elevator.
The traders were so involved in their heated discussion that they didn't notice the puddle until they'd already stepped in it. One swore viciously when it splashed up onto the hems of his pants, but it still took them a few seconds to realize that the overpowering smell of gas wasn't due to the cars they were surrounded by. By then they were already past Crawford, and he sloshed them with what was left in the canister.
They whirled around, furious, mouths open on colorful words and death threats. How anybody heard the sharp click of the lighter was questionable, but the men turned as one. Schuldig's smirk was almost viciously wide on his face as he let it go. He was gone the second it left his hand, leaving just the faintest afterimage behind him before he was behind Crawford. An arm snaked around Crawford's waist just a half-second after he'd disappeared and then the garage tilted around them at a sickening speed.
Schuldig landed them by the car facing away from the fire, but the explosion of flames was still so bright that they had to squint against it. The sprinklers and alarm went off simultaneously. Crawford already had the umbrella up and over their heads to keep them from getting soaked. He felt heat crush against his back and he half-turned to watch the three bodies writhe and scream. Schuldig was leaning up against him, almost panting in excitement at the sight of peeling, blackening bodies.
Crawford put his mouth at Schuldig's ear to make sure the telepath could hear him and he didn't miss the way Schuldig shuddered at the brush of his lips. "This might be hypocritical, but you have serious issues."
"Complaints?" Schuldig asked, sliding his leg up Crawford's. His eyes never left the traders. Crawford wasn't even sure he blinked until the three men had collapsed. The garage was sweltering by then, even with the sprinklers going. Schuldig's body heat against him should have been uncomfortable, but Crawford didn't really notice. He was too busy studying Schuldig's expression. It took Schuldig a minute more to realize he was being stared at and he finally dragged his eyes away from the corpses.
"We'll collect the bodies from the morgue later," Crawford said. "Security is almost here."
Schuldig handed him the keys and they got back in the car. They passed police cars on their way out and Schuldig's gift was all that kept the policemen from stopping them. Crawford drove them to a hotel where they could shower and wait and Schuldig locked the door behind them.
"Way more fun than bullets," Schuldig decided. "Think Aguilo will be pleased?"
"As long as he signs his money over to Takatori, I don't care."
"How long do you think this project'll last, really?" Schuldig wanted to know. "Suppose it'll take the whole window?"
"If not all three years, at least well over two," Crawford answered.
Schuldig rubbed at his temple. "I don't have the attention span to stay interested in anything for that long," he said. He considered that for a moment, then slid a look Crawford's way. "With the one irritating exception, anyway."
"Your commitment is astounding," Crawford said dryly.
"Just don't talk anymore," Schuldig advised him. "Your smart mouth is only good for one thing."
Crawford's lips twitched into the briefest of smirks and he leaned in. The scent of gasoline was so thick in the air that it tainted their kiss, turning it sour and thick, but Crawford wouldn't have asked for it any other way. Schuldig pushed back against him, one hand against his chest as if he was going to shove Crawford off. They both knew Schuldig never would. There was submission in that aggression and power in his surrender. He wasn't going to walk away from this anytime soon, but then, neither could Crawford.
"Okay," Schuldig said against his mouth, a devilish little grin. "Maybe it's good for two things, but that's pushing it."
"Just for that, you're not getting anything," Crawford murmured back.
"Stop making shit up."
"Crawford, your hands are in my pants."
Crawford glanced down and noticed that was true. "Perhaps I was looking for my wallet."
"Carry on, then," Schuldig invited him, and Crawford saw no reason to refuse.
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