Schwarz wasn’t back from lunch but fifteen minutes when someone showed up at their door to speak to Schuldich. It was the German that answered the door, as Farfarello was busy scattering the rest of his clothes all over the bedroom and Crawford was reading an Austrian newspaper to catch up on the country’s current events. The open door revealed a man in his fifties. His hairline was receding and what he had left was a bright silvery gray. Thick framed glasses set on a crooked nose seemed to highlight sharp eyes. He may be old but he was no fool, and he had lived this long because he was useful and smart. He took one look at Schuldich before handing over a file. Schuldich accepted the thin folder, flipping it open to investigate. A girl’s picture adorned the front page. She looked quite a bit less than happy, soulful green eyes staring straight ahead at the camera. Shoulder length white blonde hair and fair skin made her an attractive thing to look at, and Schuldich had the niggling feeling that he’d seen her somewhere else.
“What’s this?” he wanted to know.
“That’s the file on your wife,” the other answered easily.
Schuldich shot him a quick look. “My what?” he asked blankly.
The man’s explanation was calm as he slid his hands into his pockets, gray eyes holding Schuldich’s stare easily. “You found her in Ireland,” he said, “and she gave birth to an empath while you were in America. An Inquisitions team found her and brought her back. We wrote up the license paperwork and got her settled here. She is your wife and as such it is your responsibility to continue to get her pregnant. She’s been waiting for your return.”
“I have a wife.”
“And a child, yes,” the man said. “You have leave to go see her. Her address is included in the file. She is in the same subdivision as the rest of the wives, and there are directions inside because you have never been there before.”
“You married me while I was in America.” Schuldich eyed the file again, considering this idea.
“Your presence was not necessary. Your signature was forged and she signed hers, so the certificate is legally binding. The only thing we require out of the union is that you continue to try and create more Talents for us. It is easiest on them to psychologically adjust to Rosenkreuz when they are raised around the idea of us. If you have further questions, my office is in the medical ward.” With that, he turned and headed away.
Schuldich watched him go before looking back at the file. Husband and father? He was only eighteen and he had no interest in being either one of the things. At least the girl wasn’t ugly; she had a pretty face. Thank God for small mercies. “Feh,” he declared, stepping back inside the room. He closed the door with his foot and wandered to Crawford’s bedroom, not bothering to knock before letting himself in. “I’m married,” he told the precognitive.
“Mm-hm,” came the uninterested response. The man was seated at a small desk, still reading his newspaper. Schuldich eyed his file again before crossing the room, perching himself on the edge of Crawford’s bed and staring at the older man. He expected and demanded a better response than some two syllable grunt, and he figured he could stare at the man until he got something else. It didn’t take Crawford long; honey brown eyes flicked over towards him and there was the faintest hint of amusement in that gaze. “Most everyone is. It means nothing; it just prevents diseases and rape from other restless Talents who find a residential area full of young women.”
“I have a kid.”
“You’ll have more.”
Crawford was definitely not impressed, and Schuldich frowned at him. “You’re married?” he wanted to know.
“Have been for seven years,” the precognitive answered easily.
Schuldich tilted his head to one side, finding the conversation as bizarre as it was intriguing. He lifted his folder, displaying the picture of his newly discovered wife to the American for his consideration. “Is your wife prettier than mine?”
“Aeris was prettier than yours,” came the dry answer.
Schuldich scowled at him, not amused by the joke, and turned the folder back to examine the blond Irishwoman. Damn Ireland, anyway. He was now bond to two Irish people for the rest of his life, however short it may be after the whole new mess with Farfarello. At least he wasn’t expected to play father and doting husband; he had no interest in dealing with a nagging wife who didn’t even have a Talent, some girl he’d invited to spend a night with him over two years ago. And a brat? He didn’t think so. He wasn’t going to play the role of father. Memories of his own were blurred, and he could barely remember the man’s face because most of what he’d seen was his retreating back. It was the only kind of family he knew, the only concept of a family to go off of, so he wouldn’t have known what to do if Rosenkreuz required him to do anything else but follow his father’s example.
“Did your wife know about Aeris?” Schuldich asked.
“Probably.” Crawford didn’t care either way; the indifferent edge to his words said that. Schuldich grinned, dropping to his back on the bed and holding the folder above him to peer at sad green eyes. It was such a Crawford response…He hadn’t cared shit for Aeris and he cared the same for the wife Rosenkreuz had saddled him with. He cared about his own job and would look after himself; anyone else was secondary. It was what Schuldich expected out of him and he didn’t know what he would have done if his view of the man had suddenly been changed by this new revelation about families.
He flipped the page to find a paper on his kid. The child had her mother’s green eyes and light brown hair she’d probably gotten from one of their parents. A copy of her birth certificate was included, along with a summary of her medical visits so far. The more in depth files were stored in the medical ward: records of all of her hospital visits, the official documents marking her birth, and paperwork on her gift. He considered the picture of the chubby face, acknowledging that it was his child and that young babies were hideous in the same thought.
“Kids?” he inquired at last, though he wasn’t entirely sure he cared to hear the answer.
“Four,” Crawford said, “three of which I’ve actually seen.”
Schuldich peered over at the other man, a smirk twitching on his lips. “I guess you don’t shoot just blanks, then,” he taunted the other man, referring to the many years long affair the precognitive had had with their former shape shifter.
“Aeris had uterine cancer four years ago,” Crawford said, offering a slight shrug and not bothering to stop with his article to answer. “It was removed.”
“Hm.” Schuldich turned the page to find directions to the subdivision. The address of his new wife- if he could call her new when they’d been married for at least a year- was written at the bottom in bold ink. “You can bet they’ll never marry Farfarello off,” he said dryly. “What a lucky bastard.” Crawford didn’t respond; the soft sound of a turning page was the only answer Schuldich got. He sighed, skimming the directions with critical blue eyes. “They said I have leave to go see her.”
“It’s their polite way of telling you to get moving,” Crawford said. “You can rent out one of the cars at the west gate. I’ll watch Farfarello.”
Schuldich made a face at the paperwork. “Do I have to go?”
“Unless you want the medical ward to escort you there personally, yes.”
“Feh,” Schuldich said again, because he decided that ‘feh’ summed everything up pretty well. After several minutes of silence passed between them, he pushed himself up and slid off the bed, heaving an exaggerated sigh as he started towards the door. “What the fuck ever. I’ll be back soon.” He didn’t bother to tell Farfarello he was leaving, deciding to let Crawford deal with the antsy Irishman when the youth figured out his Dream had wandered off. If the Nightmare sent his gift out to find Schuldich, the German wondered if he could give him a swift mental kick in the ass safely. Now that they’d told Farfarello to stay the hell away from his shields, there was the slight chance that the man wouldn’t retaliate. On the other hand, it seemed to be instinct for the Irishman to fry whoever made contact with his mind.
He considered doing an experiment to find out and decided to wait until later, like when he returned and Crawford was there to blow the youth’s head off if he chose to forget his orders to behave. The thought made him smile and he tucked the file under his arm, slipping his hands into his pockets and humming the Russian tune that had been haunting his thoughts earlier. A lazy scan of the teams’ headquarters showed him all three were back in their rooms. One of the teams that had been present at lunch was preparing to move out. The others were waiting on orders, and the team that had lost a telepath this morning had to wait until the Inquisition teams returned before they could be given more work.
Students filled the halls, fresh out of lunch and heading towards their next classes. Those that didn’t notice him coming were given a low-level empathic warning to move, and the crowd parted before him smoothly. He towered over a good bit of the crowd and if his height wasn’t enough to make him stand out, his looks were. Most of the students had seen his return early this morning and they watched him with wide-eyed curiosity and sharp envy. He ignored them all, cold eyes fixed forward as a colder smirk played on his lips. He let his power ripple over the crowd, just enough that they could feel something sharp roll over their senses. It was fun playing with the stupid, and the amusement never ended when he was surrounded by idiots.
He let himself out of the school into the courtyard, the stale air of the building replaced by the dead air on Rosenkreuz’s property. It tasted just as bad, even if there was a sharper, cleaner edge to it. He felt a small brush of power along his shields as the sentries checked him out. The sentries were telepaths whose gifts had caved in. They weren’t strong enough to leave Rosenkreuz and the shields offered there, but they were still useful to act as guards for the school. It was a pointless job; it wasn’t like anyone was stupid enough to show up on their doorsteps to wage war. Those that knew the school existed were those that took advantage of its powers, and because they were clients they knew exactly what they would be messing with if they were ever retarded enough to start a crusade against it. Many of them were stupid, but they weren’t THAT stupid.
There was a garage by the west exit, rows of cars with their doors unlocked and keys in the engine. No one was going to steal them, so they did not have to worry about tight security. They were all the same, jet black, same model, same year. He spent a few moments considering them anyway, just for the principle of the thing, before slipping into the closest one. The dashboard had a button for the gate and he turned the key in the ignition, opening the folder in the passenger seat. He didn’t bother with the seat buckle, as the subdivision was just a few miles away and there was a really good chance of no one else being on the road. He drove himself out of Rosenkreuz, letting down the windows as soon as the gates were closed behind him. As soon as he was off of their grounds the air was clean and fresh, and he let it whip through the car. His lungs were sick of Rosenkreuz and craving the outside world, so he sucked in the fresh air greedily. The radio blared the newest rock hits, turned up all the way to be heard over the wind that raced around him.
It only took a couple of minutes to reach the area, enough for him to catch the end of the first song and half of the next. The gates were closed and demanded his Rosenkreuz badge to allow him entrance; as he scanned his card, the little screen lit up with his wife’s address. His wife. The words still tasted foreign in his mind, and he wondered if he would ever get used to it. He didn’t care to.
The metal gates opened and he turned off the radio, eyeing the houses that he passed. It was a different neighborhood than the one he had grown up in and he wondered at it, wondered if there was a reason for it or if there were multiple subdivisions scattered around the mountains. He considered asking Crawford when he returned before deciding he didn’t care enough to know the answer. The house he was looking for was on the third circle, the second house down. All of the houses looked the same. The shape was the same, the paint was the same, and the yards were the same. A few yards had children’s toys out front, but for the most part, they were all identical. The biggest difference was the type of car in the driveway. His house had a small white thing, and there was enough room behind it for him to park. He spared just another glance at the file to figure out the woman’s name before he stuffed it in his glove compartment and left the car.
The door was locked, and he considered summoning her with her gift before just ringing the doorbell. It amused him, that Rosenkreuz had married him to this woman and he was locked out of the house. He heard a woman call a response and glanced around, studying the boring neighborhood. He couldn’t remember if his own neighborhood had been so dull. Then again, things like that wouldn’t have mattered to a child his age. There was a lady leaving her house right next door, and she paused to stare when she saw Schuldich.
Weariness and distaste lined her thoughts as she escorted her children out, ushering them towards the car without another look in his direction. She was worn out by this life, living on her own raising two children with Talents and one without, with frequent trips to see the doctors about her children’s powers, frequent trips by Rosenkreuz to check on the children, and the rare return of the man she had been wed to. Schuldich sneered at her back.
The lock turned and he turned his gaze forward as the door slid open. The girl opened her mouth in greeting but the words died on her tongue when she saw who was on her porch. She just stared at him for a long moment, thoughts frozen, her eyes wide in recognition. He didn’t bother to wait for a welcome but let himself inside, slipping past her to examine the house. She stepped aside to let him past, numb fingers pushing the door shut. Little pictures adorned the walls of the entryway, mostly of the little brat he’d fathered. There was a doorway at the end of the hall and a peek into it showed it to be the kitchen and dining room. Something was cooking; he could smell it but he couldn’t identify it.
He gave the room a critical glance over, finding it to be a bit boring but definitely enough for a lone woman whose only purpose in life now was to raise children for Rosenkreuz. The counter was lined with mixing bowls that hadn’t been cleaned yet, and paintings of rolling green hills lined the wall.
“Quaint,” he decided at last.
The girl had followed him to the kitchen and when he spoke, she launched herself at him. He turned around, catching one fist easily. She beat at him with the other, screaming at him suddenly, tears of grief and rage rolling down her cheeks. Her thoughts were bitter as she tried to hurt him. They were pathetic attempts, and he caught her other wrist easily, wrenching her hands to either side. She continued to yell at him but he ignored the words, rooting through her thoughts instead. Her father, a strict and conservative Catholic, had sent her away when he found her pregnant from a boy she had known less than an hour. He had sent her money monthly to help her with the child but had told everyone else she had gone away to school. Her dreams of college had been trashed when Rosenkreuz showed up and dragged her to Austria. Her homeland, which she loved fiercely, would never be seen again. She had been thrown into a world of brutal politics and fierce powers, and her entire life had been turned upside down. She’d been told that her career now was to be a mother, and for a girl that had dreamed of going on to far greater things, that had entertained idealistic hopes of being a doctor or perhaps an actress, it had been harsh. The gorgeous wedding in an old Irish Catholic church she had always wanted was trashed, replaced by the presentation of a certificate and a waved dismissal. She’d been on her own, defenseless and vulnerable, as Rosenkreuz brutally tore apart everything she had and rebuilt it without a second thought. She had a child that was fourteen months old that had never seen its father, and the man responsible for it was someone she hadn’t seen in over two years and had only known for a night.
Now he’d shown up and welcomed himself into her home, and he was the living symbol of everything that had destroyed her.
He thought maybe she had reason to hate him, but he didn’t particularly care. She’d screamed herself out and had collapsed in tears instead, sagging against him as she sobbed her heart out for everything she’d lost. He considered shoving her away but decided it didn’t matter either way, ignoring her to look around the room. It wasn’t like he had slept with her that first time specifically so that her life could go to shit in such a way, and Rosenkreuz had had seven years to beat compassion out of him. Life was shit and then you died, and that was all to it for those born Talentless.
When she was done crying he let go of her wrists. She didn’t look back at him but went over to the kitchen sink to rinse her face off. A hand towel hung from the stove and she patted her face dry before opening the oven door to check on what was inside. He leaned to the right to see past her and found a tray of muffins inside. After a few moments of consideration, she grabbed a hot mitt from the drawer and pulled them out. She ignored him as she worked and he didn’t care. If he’d had his way he wouldn’t have seen her again. She hadn’t been a bad lay and she was pretty to look at, but the fact that Rosenkreuz had gone and married him to her was just a tad bit annoying. Granted, it hadn’t stopped Crawford from looking around for a partner that suited him better, and he didn’t think Rosenkreuz would mind if he were to act in a similar way. It just raised the chance of having more gifted children.
She left the room and he opened the fridge to examine the contents. He rummaged around until he found something of his liking- there was a pitcher of juice behind some milk jugs. A short search of the cabinets found him the glasses and he helped himself to a drink. As he was finishing the glass, the girl- Evelyn- reentered the room. She had a young child in her arms and they both regarded him from the doorway with serious eyes. He set the glass on the counter before turning to eye the child that had destroyed Evelyn’s life and gotten them paired together for life. When he made no move to approach either female, the Irish woman came to him.
“Her name is Fiona,” she told him.
“What kind of name is that?” he wanted to know.
She lifted her chin defiantly, giving him a hard stare. She was older than him by almost three years but he was taller than her by several inches. “It means fair,” she told him, as if he cared.
“I’m Irish,” she returned easily.
He sighed. “I knew nothing good came out of Ireland.”
She gave him a dark look. “Take a good look at her now,” she told him, “because this is the only time I’m going to let you this close to her. I never want to see you within twelve feet of her ever again. Keep your nasty gifts and your black soul away from her.”
He offered her a chilling smirk, reaching out to run his fingers down her cheek in a mock tender gesture. “Believe me, lady, I have no interest in seeing her ever again.” He felt a spike of hatred and sullen anger lace through her. She hadn’t wanted the child either but she still had it, and she loved it even though it had ruined everything. “Enjoy her while you can. Soon as she hits her double digits Rosenkreuz will come collecting for what’s rightfully theirs.”
“They’ll have to go through me first.”
He tangled his fingers in her hair. “My, aren’t you a brave woman,” he drawled. “They’ll go through you, all right. And if you’ve done enough for them by then, maybe they’ll kill you after they rip her from your arms. They only want the children you can bear, and there are plenty of other women out there we can find.”
A bitter tear rolled down one cheek although her expression still twisted with defiant anger. “Then find someone else and let me go.”
“Why bother looking when you’re already here?” he wanted to know.
She turned on her heel and stalked from the room. Rolling his eyes at her attitude, he put the pitcher of juice back in the fridge and followed her upstairs. She was setting the little girl in her playpen when he showed up at the landing on the second floor. He waited until she emerged, and she eyed him with wary, hateful eyes as she closed the door to her daughter’s bedroom behind her. “Get out of my house,” she whispered, but she knew why he’d come.
She may hate him now but for a while she would love him. When he left she would be alone again and she would have nothing but her child to keep her company, and if they were both lucky he wouldn’t have to come back for at least another year. He just offered her a dry smirk, reaching out to grab her forearm. She dug in her heels, refusing to be pulled forward, and he closed the distance between them with one step. She clawed at his face when he kissed her and he forced his gift through her, letting it sink down through her veins to touch the core of her soul. He felt the hatred wash away, felt the anger melt under his Talent’s steady touch. The hands that had wanted to claw his eyes out tangled in his hair instead and his fingers found the buttons of her shirt.
In the next room, their child went back to her interrupted nap.
Farfarello welcomed Schuldich back to Schwarz’s quarters with a dark glare. He was sitting cross-legged on his bed, all of the blankets and pillows shoved onto the floor so that he was perched on the bare mattress only. Schuldich flicked him a cool look in return, silently informing the other man that he wasn’t impressed by his anger. At least the Nightmare hadn’t tried using his power to force Schuldich back, and that was very good news. He tucked the file folder of his wife in the bottom drawer of his dresser, stuffing it under his pants, and wandered over to Crawford’s room. He didn’t bother knocking but let himself in. The American was dozing in bed. He didn’t wake up at Schuldich’s entrance, and the telempath knew his reflexes were good enough that the sound of his door opening should have woken him. In the end he decided that Crawford had seen the interruption coming and had told his instincts to take a break.
Rolling his eyes at the other’s arrogance, he let himself back out of the room. He considered slamming the door just for the amusement factor but the heated crackle in the back of his mind just reminded him of Crawford and Farfarello’s showdown earlier. He sighed even as he pulled the door quietly back into place, and he shoved his hands in his pockets as he wandered back to his room. Farfarello was still glaring at him, and Schuldich ignored him this time. He climbed into bed, flopping on his stomach and considering the wild events of the day. They’d come back to Rosenkreuz, Crawford had announced that Nacht was giving way for Schwarz, Farfarello had been reintroduced, Aeris had been killed, Farfarello was put on their team, and Schuldich had found out not only had Rosenkreuz married him off while he was gone but he had a kid, too.
What a day. He peeked at the clock on his nightstand. It was four in the afternoon, he noted with a healthy amount of disgust, and he wondered if he could just call it a day and end it. Pulling his pillow towards him, he buried his face in the thick cotton. He could definitely go for a nap like Crawford was doing.
Well, he could, if someone wasn’t glaring at him so fiercely. The weight of it was almost physical and the crackle of the other’s power in the back of his thoughts was sharp with muted anger. Apparently Farfarello was pissed that he’d just vanished without warning after the Cabinet promised that Schuldich wouldn’t be leaving him. Schuldich made a mental note to get Crawford to make some distinction in the Nightmare’s mind about wandering off and leaving for good. The biggest difference Schuldich could see was that vacations away from the Irishman’s mind were for his sanity and attempting to abandon the boy altogether would get him offed by the Cabinet. For him, it was crystal clear.
Even though the news of his ‘marriage’ to the Irish girl hadn’t been the most welcome, he couldn’t say he hadn’t minded how the afternoon had gone. It had been several months since he’d had any sex; the last girl had been some Russian girl he’d met at a bar. He took in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of Evelyn that still clung to him. Beneath the light flowery scent was the smell of sex, and it was familiar. He’d fucked her twice in case the first wasn’t enough and had taken two muffins with him when he’d left. Hopefully it would be enough and he wouldn’t be sent back. She was pretty to look at but she didn’t intrigue him enough for him to want to return frequently. He sighed into his pillow, trying to ignore the glare that lingered on him so he could fall asleep.
“Why don’t you stare at something else?” he finally demanded when he’d been stared at for five minutes straight. He lifted his head from the pillow to throw a glare of his own at the younger Talent. Something fierce and dark rippled across the gold eye and was echoed in the power humming at the back of his skull. The Nightmare managed to keep it in check, however, and although it seared through the first layer of Schuldich’s thoughts, it stayed outside of his shields. His eyes narrowed further at the sharp pain and they stared each other down, one glare defiantly hostile and the other lit with indignant rage.
“You aren’t allowed to leave me,” Farfarello told him. “They said you’d stay.”
“I didn’t leave you,” Schuldich informed him. “I wandered off. You aren’t going to go everywhere with me. The Cabinet told you I was stuck with you but they’re the ones that gave me permission to leave.”
“Where did you go?” he demanded.
“Out,” Schuldich answered, not because he didn’t want to tell the other man but because he saw no reason to. It would just turn from a simple matter to a complicated mess, and it would probably just piss the youth off further. “Now go glare at something else and leave me alone.”
“We’re not having this conversation again,” Schuldich said, a flat edge riding on his words. “God damn it, just-”
Farfarello threw the nightstand clock at him- or rather, tried to. It was attached to the wall by its power cord and, while the force of the throw unplugged it, the jerk of it coming undone from the wall was enough that it just fell harmlessly by Schuldich’s bed. His lips were curled back from his teeth in a blatant expression of hate and his eye was snapping with seven kinds of fury. “Don’t speak of Him,” he snarled. “He won’t hear you anyway; there is no point in bothering.”
Schuldich offered him a cold look. “God, Jesus, Mary, bloody fucking Joseph-” It was rather a good thing that the Irishman interrupted him then, he reflected, because those were the only four he could think of to name.
Farfarello was on his feet beside Schuldich’s bed, one hand snapping out to twist long fingers in orange hair. Schuldich snarled a curse, grabbing at Farfarello’s wrist, but the boy yanked him upright with inhuman strength. Their faces were barely a breath apart and Farfarello’s gold eye was almost bronze where red was bleeding through to the iris. Hate, Schuldich could taste his hate. Knowing that he could get sucked in too far, he allowed himself to reach back to the power running along his mind and felt the vibrant, twisted emotions rampant there. Hatred, betrayal, utter loss…Deep down were the dusty remains of a heart shattered long ago, of hopes that had been killed many years before.
“I hate Him,” Farfarello whispered. His breath was cold on Schuldich’s face, and the fingers that closed on one of the German’s ears were icier still. “He hears nothing, yet the world still continues to lift praises and reassurances to the air about His glory.”
Schuldich reached up, taking hold of Farfarello’s wrists, and tried to pry the boy’s hands loose. He managed to get one off, but the Irishman refused to relinquish the hair twisted into his fingers. “Your issues with your god are your own problem,” he told the younger teenager. “I don’t believe in him and never will. I’ve never had a reason and never been told the point.”
“They believed in Him.” Farfarello’s lips pulled back in a sneer, though Schuldich had a feeling the mocking expression was directed towards the ‘they’ rather than him. “They believed in Him and it was their own undoing, because He couldn’t hear them when they needed Him most. What sort of God abandons his people when they cry out to Him so piteously?” Schuldich opened his mouth offer back an acid retort and Farfarello gave his hand a sharp tug. He couldn’t hide a wince at the pain and he desperately hoped the other Talent wasn’t taking out hair in the struggle. “What sort of God is it?” he demanded again.
“Why don’t you tell me?” Schuldich asked through gritted teeth. “You seem to know.”
“He is a dying God,” Farfarello told him, “the fading lord of a dying world. His people are sinking to ruin and He hasn’t the strength to save them anymore. He sits upon His golden throne and watches us rot and laughs himself sick, because even as we sink to hell we believe that we’re walking His chosen path. But He’ll let us die, He’ll let us all die and He won’t bother to help.” The last was spoken on a snarl and Farfarello released Schuldich, giving him a violent shove backwards. Schuldich caught himself from toppling off the bed with one hand, reaching the other up to his skull to feel for any blood or bald patches. “Don’t speak of Him to me. Don’t speak of such a creature to me.”
“You have room to talk,” Schuldich told him, turning half-mast blue eyes on the younger man. “You’re still breathing and you’re a walking piece of Hell. Fuck your God and fuck you. Go back to your own bed and if you touch my hair ever again, I’ll blow your brains out and let the Cabinet kill me.” When Farfarello gave no indication of moving, Schuldich planted a foot against his chest and shoved him backwards. Farfarello let himself be shoved and sat down on the edge of his own bed. Schuldich was satisfied that his head was still intact and he sprawled out on his stomach once more. Sleep was out of the question now, though. The pain in his skull, both from Farfarello’s fist and the Irishman’s angry power, had woken him up from the lazy lull he had been happy to be in. Muttering curses into his cotton pillow, he struggled to wind down enough to rest. Several minutes passed and he eventually had to give up trying.
Farfarello was sitting cross legged on his bed again, this time facing the foot of the bed and fixing his stare on the opposite wall. He was agitated from the argument; Schuldich could feel many years’ old hatred and pain struggling in the hot power that murmured against his gift. He eyed the man from where he was stretched on his bed, resenting the teenager for disturbing him. He could have easily gotten in a couple hours of rest. It wasn’t like the nap would keep him from falling asleep tonight. Crawford got a nap and he hadn’t been the one who’d had so much blow up in his face today. He should have slammed the door, and he cursed himself under his breath for thinking better of the idea.
Finally he tugged his book off his nightstand and pushed himself up on his elbows, propping the thick book against his pillow. Fingers found his spot and he was content to lose himself in the book he’d found on the Cold War while circuiting Russia. Well over an hour drifted by relatively peacefully once he could concentrate on the words enough to block out Farfarello’s irritation. It was Crawford that disturbed him when he randomly showed up with coffee. Schuldich had been lost enough in his reading that it startled him when a mug suddenly appeared in his peripheral vision, but he managed to clamp down on most of the surprised reaction. He looked up at the precognitive as he freed a hand to accept the mug. Crawford had gotten himself some as well and Schuldich absently wondered how long the American had been awake. With shields like his, he wasn’t the easiest person to keep track of.
Farfarello hadn’t budged, he noticed. Crawford was studying the teenager as well, sipping at his own hot drink. It was still too early for dinner but Schuldich realized he had the beginning of the munchies. The coffee would hold him over perfectly. Crawford deposited little packets of sugar and creamer on the bed and Schuldich grinned, moving his book a safe distance away before balancing his mug in front of him and mixing his drink the way he liked it. Crawford drank his coffee strong and black; Schuldich would drink it like that but preferred it to be a bit smoother and less harsh. He brushed the empty packets and tubs to the floor, deciding to bother with them later, and sipped at his drink as his eyes wandered back to their youngest teammate.
“How long will we be in Rosenkreuz?” he wanted to know, flicking blue eyes briefly up to Crawford before returning his attention to the silent Irishman.
“A few weeks,” Crawford answered. “Long enough that they know his gift won’t destroy either of you on the field. You don’t have to be finished with him by the time we leave but there has to be some sort of balance there, and he must be trained to fight. We’ll be here less than two months. Rosenkreuz needs their teams on the move. Things are shifting all over the place.”
“Lautlos and Zwielicht are gone,” Schuldich said after a quick mental poke. It seemed the second team hadn’t taken long to get their new orders. They moved out fast, but then, the teams learned how to uproot themselves quickly. Even with Talents time was a very precious commodity in the more fragile cases. “I hope he catches on quick,” he said, giving a small jerk of his chin to indicate the younger teenager. “I’m ready to be on the move again.”
“You’ll get your turn,” the American assured him, sipping at his drink some more. “Your work with him begins tomorrow. It is delayed from this evening considering you already entered his mind earlier today.”
Schuldich’s mouth pulled into a frown and he hid the expression in his mug. Farfarello had turned his head towards them because of what they were talking about, and his yellow eye was expectant as he stared up at Crawford. “Let’s just put it off until next year,” Schuldich suggested breezily. “It’s more convenient for me.”
“Tomorrow,” Crawford said.
Farfarello smiled. Schuldich rather thought he hated the expression.
Eleven o’ clock, and Schuldich was damn happy to read the numbers off the clock. It meant that the day was over, that he could finally just forget about everything for a few precious hours and pass out. The remaining team at Rosenkreuz had entered the dining room after Schwarz, taken one look at the other team, and had pulled an about face and left to wait. The black team had consequently taken their sweet time in the dining room, lingering over cups of coffee and juice. Farfarello drank water and made a meal out of rolls and mashed potatoes. He was sitting to Schuldich’s right once more, ignoring his teammates for a precious few minutes to make a mess of his plate. The rolls were broken into little scraps and stirred around in his potatoes with his fork and he pat it all into a mound before flattening it once more. He abandoned the food for several minutes before finally deciding to eat his masterpiece. Even so, he was still finished before the other two.
Now it was finally time to sleep, and Schuldich had never been so glad about it in his life. It had been such a long day and he could only hope that the days to come would be a bit shorter, a bit less crazy. He eyed his reflection in the bathroom mirror as he scrubbed at his teeth, his free hand raking through his hair. He looked as tired as he felt, weary blue eyes meeting on the mirror surface to judge each other. White hair suddenly appeared in his reflection as Farfarello wandered into the bathroom behind him. The Irishman had changed into the clothes he’d been given for sleepwear after several minutes of consideration. It was a short-sleeved shirt and pants set, a dull gray color that just served to make him look more washed out than he already was.
He stood at Schuldich’s side, watching the man’s reflection as the German finished brushing his teeth. Schuldich flicked him a cursory glance before returning his attention to what he was doing. Finally he leaned down to spit into the sink, and his younger teammate held his long hair out of the way as he did so. Schuldich said nothing, content to ignore him, as he rinsed his brush and his mouth. Farfarello hadn’t released his hair by the time he was finished, but seeing as how the Irishman wasn’t yanking on it, Schuldich supposed it wasn’t worth fighting over yet. He pat his hands and face dry before hanging his hand towel back up and turned to go.
Farfarello hadn’t moved with him, so Schuldich found his way barred by an arm across his face. “Let go,” he said, reaching up to push Farfarello’s hand away. After a hesitation, the youth released the orange locks, twisting his hand to close his fingers around Schuldich’s wrist instead.
Another look at the Nightmare showed that Schuldich was under serious scrutiny. There was a solemn set to Farfarello’s mouth and his yellow eye was searching Schuldich’s face as if looking for answers. Schuldich held the stare for just a moment before looking down towards the fingers that were curled around his wrist. The grip wasn’t deathly tight, nor was it possessive. It was just meant to make Schuldich stop, a silent entreaty for him to wait.
He wasn’t interested in waiting; he wanted to go to bed.
He reached down to pry Farfarello’s fingers free from his hand and stopped, twisting both his arm and the younger boy’s so he could get a look at that pale flesh. A scar went across his wrist, years old and long healed. It was a neat, straight cut from one side to the other. He frowned, abandoning that arm to grab at Farfarello’s other. The youth tried to pull his hand away, but it wasn’t an insistent tug so Schuldich was still able to get a look at it. An identical scar lined the flesh there, and Schuldich sent a sharp look at the younger teenager.
“Did you do this?” he asked.
Farfarello pulled his hands free, lifting his arms to study the marks. “They did,” he answered, yellow eye examining his scars. He moved his hands, letting a thumb trace one of the telltale marks. “They wanted to help.” The edges of bitterness laced through the back of Schuldich’s mind. The same twist of broken emotions that had surrounded their earlier argument about God was back. Farfarello left the room, heading towards his bed, and Schuldich followed. Farfarello crawled onto his bare mattress, seating himself in the middle of the bed, and buried his hands between his folded legs. A glowing yellow eye turned back towards Schuldich.
“I learned His book,” the Irishman told Schuldich. “I learned the verses, the chapters, the psalms. It’s what they told me to do, because they said the pages promised salvation. But they didn’t help. Prayers didn’t help. He wouldn’t hear us. We tried for years but He wouldn’t help me. The Sister and my parents were desperate, and Sister said that this would help, that maybe she could bleed the demons out, maybe she could beat them out. Chains and blood and incense and chants…” He stared through Schuldich, staring at something only he could see. Despite the bitterness Schuldich could feel, the pain was so old that none of it bled into the Irishman’s words. He spoke of it easily, smooth, accented voice turning over the words as if he was telling someone else’s story.
“An exorcism,” Schuldich said, a frown pulling at his mouth as he stared at the younger teenager, “to get rid of what you were seeing. They could see it. You couldn’t keep it from them.” He had been seven when he had been turned over to the mental ward; for how much of his life had the child bared witness to the nightmarish visions of his gift? The Cabinet had said that the only positive thing Farfarello had ever had was thoughts of the German himself, supposedly the only one that could save him. Schuldich had passed it off as exaggeration, sure that before the child had lost his family there had been something good to remember, something that maybe his young mind had forgotten.
“It didn’t help.” Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “The demons got them, and I…I could only save one.” He lifted his hand to study the scar. “There was a knife, and it was enough. It was enough to save one.” The child had been too young to truly understand what had been happening. Torn between his gift, being chained down to bleed and be beaten by the people he trusted…His gift had overreacted. It had acted in self-defense, taking away those that had been hurting him. In the end, it had only helped destroy him further. Something in Schuldich’s stomach twisted, a painful sort of uneasiness. Farfarello looked back at him. “Go to sleep,” he said. “I’ll watch.”
The German hesitated a moment longer before reaching down at his feet. He gathered up the rejected pillows and blankets, setting them back on the Irishman’s bed. He didn’t bother to ask himself why he was doing it. Without another word to his teammate, he crawled onto his own bed, facing away from the man and burying himself under his covers.
He felt Farfarello’s eye on him until he fell asleep.
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