Patterns of Blood ~ Mami's fanfics
...part one...

#1 : Crawford x Schuldig, for Sabacat

#10 : Aya-chan x Schuldig, for Andartha

#14 : Ran x Farfarello, post-Parry, for Gardensgnome

#16: Farfarello x Crawford, post "In Memory of the Future", for Smoothlikebutta

#19 : Hoffmann x Crawford x Farfarello, for Thrance86 ((Hoffmann is an OC from "Alles Schwarz", but this ficlet is NOT part of the official Alles Schwarz timeline.)) NON-CON FICLET

#28 : Crawford x Farfarello, for Lieb Schaden

#1 : Crawford x Schuldig

"Not quite fast enough, it seems."

He lifted his head, squinting through the blood that trickled down his forehead and into his eyes, and gazed at the closed door. The shackles on his wrists pulled his arms so tight and so high that he couldn't look behind himself. He knew there couldn't be someone back there, anyway. There was only one door in this room and he'd have woken up if it had opened. Still, that voice had come from right beside him, so he turned his head as best he could. He couldn't see, so gave up and rested his face against one bruised bicep.

"I guess we'll have to settle for being clever."

'Leave me alone,' he wanted to say, but he'd lost his voice hours ago, about the same time he'd lost most of the skin on his back. He wondered if the pain was making him hallucinate. The voice didn't come again, so he let his head fall forward and tried to sink into sleep. Before long he forgot the incident; his mind buried it as unimportant amidst the cruelty of his induction to Rosenkreuz. It would be months before he heard that voice again and months before he remembered the boy who'd sought him out his first day there.

They spent a week beating him within an inch of his life, breaking him down to the point where they thought he would listen to what they had to say. On the seventh day, they burned a cross into his back, intricate and deep, searing through skin and muscle. He'd feel that burn for the rest of his life, phantom pain here and there, and mostly in twinges of scars pulling as he moved. He spent weeks in a burn unit where doctors watched over the cross, ensuring that it wouldn't become infected, weeks getting scalded skin cleaned and scratched away. It hurt more than anything else they'd done to him and he'd wake up screaming, feeling like his entire body was on fire. They gave him no morphine, no codeine, not even a bit of aspirin, and he learned then that pain was forever going to be a part of his life. He learned to breathe around an agony that made him nauseous, learned to think through a mind buzzed with pain.

When they thought he finally understood, they gave him his uniform and a name. The computer generated a first and last name for him, since no one had time to waste coming up with one themselves. A few days at Rosenkreuz and he'd forget he'd ever been anyone but Brad Crawford, level one prescient.

He was there for five months before he saw the "Hive", the telepaths' class. The name was given to them by the rest of the student body, and Brad thought it shockingly appropriate the first time he saw them. There were eight of them in all, the only eight survivors out of ninety-seven genetic experiments. They took their classes separate, ate their meals separate, and followed an entirely different set of rules. Brad had heard enough about them by then that he knew them on sight: the eight were engineered to be identical. They all had the same piercing blue eyes and shocking white-blonde hair, flawless creations in their masters' eyes. Seven female, one male, and Brad wasn't sure which was which when they all kept their hair trimmed short and four girls were still flat-chested.

He was about to turn away and go back to his own studies when one icy gaze slid his way. Blue and golden brown locked and the ground dropped out underneath his feet. There were a hundred other bodies in the library with him, but he was no longer aware of any of them. The only thing that existed was that telepath and the future Brad saw in his eyes. It was more a feeling than an actual vision, a rush of power and promise that swelled almost to bursting inside him.

The man gave a small tilt of his head in what looked like an invitation but couldn't be. His expression never changed from the stony mask the Hive all wore. The Hive didn't have personalities. It was accepted fact that they were puppets, bodies with gifts, unthinking minds for the sake of the school. Even so, Brad knew the other man was laughing. He could hear it in his thoughts, could feel the malicious satisfaction of an inside joke. He felt his own lips twitch in response and didn't try to stop the smirk. Then the other man was turning away and the moment shattered, leaving Brad alone and adrift in a crowded room. He lost sight of the telepaths behind the students between them. He stared out at the endless sea of faces, feeling like he'd lost something important.

He woke up when a body settled on the bed behind him. He hadn't seen the other man coming, but it somehow felt inevitable to be sought out like this. He didn't bother to look back and said nothing as the telepath slid across the narrow mattress to rest against his back. His body was hot and hard against the burn scar on Brad's back, not quite as uncomfortable as the starchy sheets would have been but painful nonetheless. The telepath had crawled onto the bed low enough that he could rest his forehead against the back of Brad's neck. His breathing ghosted over Brad's shoulder, warm and faint. He said nothing, seemingly content to lie there in silence, and eventually Brad closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

He hadn't called the telepath to his room, but he was the one beaten when the instructors hunted their wayward possession down less than an hour later. The telepath watched it all wordlessly, expression calm, and went with his masters back to his ward.

Four weeks later, he returned. Brad knew it wouldn't be long before they were found, but he said nothing to deter his uninvited guest. Fingers tested the lines of the cross on Brad's back: the mark every student at Rosenkreuz wore, every student but the precious, smothered telepaths. Brad hissed through clenched teeth as the younger man dug his fingernails in a little too hard, but still kept quiet.

A mouth settled over his ear, a small breath of air that shivered the whole way down, but the plea was too dangerous to say out loud. It whispered from one mind to the other, so faint that it might have been imagined. Get me out of here.

He eased onto his back at last and gazed up at his companion. The telepath slid a hand across his chest, looking for the sheets on his other side, and propped himself up over Brad. Lights were flicking on in the corridor as the instructors approached, and Brad got a split-second look at something no one was ever supposed to see on a telepath's face: emotion. It was something hollow and wanting, something so desperately needy that it threatened to break them both.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Name me," was the instant, breathless response, as if the telepath had been waiting for this his whole life. "I am your creation; I have stolen you from you."

"I did not tell you you could have that."

"I wanted it," he said, as if there was no problem with it, as if there was nothing wrong with the fact that he had leeched a personality from Brad. Brad was the first "wild" psychic the school had tracked down in almost eight years. Seventeen years old, he'd grown up outside of their rules and psychotic religion; he'd been an actual person when no one else here knew such a thing was possible. The telepath had wanted that, so he'd stolen Brad's life from him his first day here, taking it for himself before the psychics could beat it out of him. Brad could no longer remember what he'd been like before Rosenkreuz. It seemed he didn't have to try anymore.

The door opened to let the instructors in. The telepath said nothing as he was hauled off the bed, nothing as Brad was beaten for interfering with one of the Hive. It was over in a matter of minutes and then the telepath was gone, shooed down the hall to his own secluded room. Brad lay silent and still on his bed, bleeding onto his sheets, and dreamed about blue eyes when he finally fell asleep.

Five weeks later, the telepath was back.

Then another six, then another three, then another four.

No matter what the instructors did, the teenager found a way out of his ward and made his way to Brad's room. The seventh time he slipped into Brad's bed, an instructor came to the room with him. Brad saw the shadow on his wall and rolled over, gazing at the silhouette in his doorway in silence. The telepath readily curled up against his chest and fell asleep. The instructor lingered for several minutes more, then shut the door and left.

After that, the telepath spent every night in Brad's room. He must have left his fingerprints in the scars on Brad's back, he traced them out so often. He never said another word to Brad, knowing that too many people were watching them. Brad never spoke to him, either, because there was nothing that needed to be said.

Brad graduated from Rosenkreuz in just under two years.

His telepath did not.

He had only been away from the school for three days, had barely started to remember what real air tasted like on his tongue, when he was called back. He found the telepath in the medical ward, strapped down on a hard bed with bandages wrapped bruisingly-tight around his slashed forearms. The telepath said nothing when Brad stopped beside his bed, but he didn't need to. Brad knew he was laughing somewhere deep inside. He could almost hear the joke between his thoughts, a murmured bit of mockery and self-satisfaction.

Four days later, Rosenkreuz did what they swore they would never do and graduated a telepath to field status.

He came home a couple hours later and found the telepath sitting on the bathroom floor, hair dyed a wild orange, locks tufted out from his head in every direction. He wore black shoes with rainbow laces, white-white pants and an obnoxious green jacket. A streak of dye went across one cheek where he hadn't bothered to wash it off his skin. Brad stood in the doorway and stared down at him, at a telepath trying so hard to be a person, at a body trying so hard to have a soul.

"Name me," the telepath pressed.

Brad had put it off for two years, knowing what would result from such a thing, but he was out of ways to stall. He crouched in front of the other man and the telepath scooted closer, folding his arms across Brad's knees. The weight was almost enough to unbalance Brad. The face just inches away from his own was more damning. "Schuldig."

Perhaps it was an unkind moniker, but it was the only name the other man had ever had. His smile started as a twitch at the corner of his mouth that slowly grew wider. It was almost awkward, as it was the first time the telepath had ever had a reason to make such an expression. Brad felt the world shift a little beneath his feet and knew beyond a doubt that there was no going back. He didn't care.

Rosenkreuz considered Schuldig a failure.

Brad saw in him the brilliance of a million futures.

He wanted every single one.


#10 : Aya-chan x Schuldig

She'd known where his office was for a year now, though she'd never gone to see him at work. She'd walked by the building a couple times, unable to stop herself, and Kritiker had fussed at her every time they caught her. She knew where it was only because she had to know, because in a worse-case scenario she needed to know where to go for help. Unless she was in mortal danger, she was forbidden to be anywhere near the property. The last thing anyone wanted was for the wrong people to link her to Kritiker. Aya was supposed to rely on telepathy first, then one of the sixteen different phone numbers she'd been forced to memorize, and then, only then, was she supposed to come here.

Today, though, a phone call was not going to work, and there was no way she was waiting until Schuldig got home from work. She inhaled deeply, listening to the way her breath shook, and stared up at the building. Kritiker hid itself under the pretense of being a security company, which wasn't a complete lie. The first three floors were indeed part of Shinrai Securities. Shinrai, however, answered to the company that took up the top two floors.

She dragged her gaze up the front of the building to the fifth floor, counting windows to the right office. Schuldig, unlike his superiors, had no problems with Aya wandering around the building. He had no doubts in his abilities as a bodyguard or assassin, and that confidence meant he was willing to indulge her girlish devotion. He'd even stand in his office window if she called and let him know she was outside. Kritiker was not amused by their games, but Aya didn't care.

They were going to be less amused that she was here today. The longer she lingered out front, the higher the chance that security would shoo her away. Such thoughts motivated her to move, but it took more strength than she thought she had to start up the stairs. The receptionist at the lobby looked up, smiling, when the door opened. Her smile froze on her face when she saw who'd just come through the front door. Aya dropped her gaze away from the panic in the other woman's eyes. She didn't explain herself and the woman didn't ask. The receptionist knew who she was, but she didn't have the right to ask what Aya was doing here. Aya was considered a high-priority case among the upper circles of Kritiker. The only people who could stop her were Takatori Mamoru, Mamoru's personal staff, or Schuldig.

Schuldig had been her primary guardian for two and a half years now, replacing Manx once Aya started walking again. Aya and Schuldig had both resented it in the early months, her because he was a loud-mouthed, foul man, and him because he refused to babysit Fujimiya Ran's sister. Mamoru had ignored their protests, thinking a trigger-happy telepath was the best guard he could give her. They'd been stuck with each other and it had been an uphill road to get where they were today. There'd been two months of constant fighting, one month of an uneasy truce, and then a slow and reluctant friendship. By the time they'd been "partners" for eight months, Aya had already fallen hard. Schuldig had his own apartment, but he hadn't lived at it for almost two years now. He kept the lease for appearance's sake, but he lived at her place.

Mamoru, who had a habit of finding out things people didn't want him to know about, had not been happy. He'd pulled all the stops to try and put an end to it. Aya had almost forgotten that he wasn't as sweet as he looked. Mamoru, in turn, had forgotten that stubbornness was a Fujimiya gene and that Schuldig was incapable of losing arguments. Mamoru also now had the dubious honor of being the only man Aya had ever slapped. He'd given up fighting them around their one-year anniversary, finally figuring out that they were serious, and now devoted his considerable energy to keeping Ran from finding out. With an ocean between the siblings, it was almost a manageable task. Ran didn't even know that Schuldig worked with Kritiker now. If he found out that Schuldig was one of Mamoru's partners, and Aya's bodyguard, and Aya's live-in boyfriend, there would be all sorts of hell to pay.

There'd be no hiding it now, she supposed.

There was a sign-in sheet on the front desk. Aya scrawled a fake name on the first empty line and received a badge from the receptionist. She had to scan the badge in the elevator to get access to the fifth floor. The elevator doors slid shut as the car ascended and Aya sagged against the back wall. Her heart was pounding so hard she could barely breathe and she wasn't sure if her nausea was caused by fear or— She cut that thought off, because it didn't bear thinking about.

The elevator dinged upon its arrival and Aya stepped out into another lobby. There were two men at the desk there and neither looked happy to see her. One stood up so fast he knocked his chair over. "Fujimiya," he said, alarmed. "Are you all right?"

She didn't say "I'm fine", because she wasn't. She hugged her purse closer to her side and stuffed the badge in the main pocket. Her knuckles brushed over cool plastic and she switched her grip to the meter she'd brought along. Realization of what she was holding was almost enough to break the fake calm she'd been clinging to the whole way here. Something must have shown on her face, because the second man was on his feet and the first was coming around his desk toward her.

"Schuldig," she said, and the man stopped in his tracks. He hesitated for just a moment, then motioned for her to follow and set off down the hall. She hurried after him, fighting the urge to flee.

Schuldig's office was on the end. The guard knocked, got a muffled response, and pushed the door open. Schuldig was at his desk, surrounded by paperwork. He was jabbing the blunt end of a pen repeatedly into his temple as he argued with someone over the phone. He glanced up as the door opened and promptly forgot whatever he was saying.

Aya stared back at him from the doorway, feeling very small suddenly. She lasted for only ten seconds before she had to look away. She nodded to the guard, excusing him back to his station, and let herself in. She closed the door behind her, turning with it so she could stare at the wood for a second. She dug her fingernails into the door, looking for courage.

"Crawford," Schuldig said, interrupting whatever his former colleague was saying. "I have to go. Aya's here. …I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."

Aya made herself turn around to face him. Schuldig pushed his paperwork to one side, dismissing it all as unimportant. He went still, looking puzzled. "What? What's that supposed to mean?" Whatever Crawford had to say, it didn't seem to clear things up, because Schuldig's frown deepened. He moved the phone away from his ear and scowled at it. "Bastard hung up on me."

Aya tried to say something, but she couldn't even manage a sympathetic remark. Her best attempt came out as little more than a whimper, and Schuldig forgot his phone call entirely. Blue eyes bounced to her face, narrowing in surprise and alarm. Schuldig didn't panic like everyone else had so far because he knew she'd have contacted him telepathically if her life was in danger. Schuldig's gift had limitations, but their prolonged intimacy made Aya the exception to the rule nine times out of ten.

"Aya?" Schuldig pressed.

She was going to lose her courage in just a second. Aya pushed herself away from the door when her legs didn't want to take her on her own. She wrenched her hand out of her purse and dropped the pregnancy test meter in the middle of his desk.

Schuldig had been reaching out to hang up the receiver, but his hand never made it. He stared blankly down at the curved piece of plastic she'd given him, eyes fixed on the pink strip that was poking out of one end of it. Aya watched him carefully, fidgeting with the strap of her purse, waiting for some sort of explosion. Schuldig looked up at her, then down at the strip again. His mouth opened, but no words came out. At length Aya took the phone away from him and hung it up, and that brought him back to his senses somewhat.

"Did you seriously just pee on that stick and then put it on my desk?"

Aya stared blankly at him, not really sure what to make of that reaction. She'd worked herself up into a tense knot of nerves all day, taking test after test after test, refusing to believe the results and terrified of telling Schuldig that every single one had come back positive. She knew this was the last thing either of them needed right now, and possibly the last thing he'd ever want from her. She'd prepared and practiced speeches and arguments and anything she thought she'd need, knowing she was going to come here and have her heart broken into a thousand pieces. She'd almost convinced herself she'd be okay when he walked out of her life.

She hadn't thought up a comeback for that sort of smart remark, though.

She opened her mouth, struggling for an answer, and never made it that far. In the absence of his anger, all she had was her own intense fear, and she forgot all of her pretty words in favor of tears. She buried her face in her hands, trying to hide from him, and shook so hard she almost knocked herself over.

Fingers brushed her shoulders, barely more than a whisper against her shirt sleeves. She hadn't even heard Schuldig come around his desk. He'd never touched her like this, like she was something fragile, like he wasn't quite sure what to do with her. "I'm sorry," she managed to get out between gasping breaths. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

His hands relaxed a little against her as if he was forcibly reminding himself she wasn't glass. "You're positive," he said at length, sounding hollow.

"They all- I took ten tests, and they all- and I'm-"

He sucked in a slow breath through clenched teeth. "Oh, fucking hell," he muttered, angry now. Aya panicked. She flinched away from him, thinking that it would hurt less to retreat from him than to let him push her away. Schuldig ruined that when he dug his fingers into her shoulders and dragged her hard up against him. "Bat-faced precog saw this coming. Congratulations, my ass."

It took her a moment to realize he wasn't angry at her. She wound her arms around him, squeezing fit to break something. "Please don't hate me," she wailed. "Please don't leave me."

He said nothing for so long that she thought he hadn't heard her, and then he sighed, sounding almost defeated. "Don't be retarded." She nodded against his chest, smearing her tears all over his shirt. "Let's get out of here."

Schuldig had a collection of tissue packets in his bottom desk drawer, handouts from advertisement campaigns. It took two packs before Aya looked presentable enough to go out in public. Schuldig stood in front of her, searching her face, and looked down at her abdomen. She couldn't figure out the look in his eyes. He reached out to touch her, but his hand hovered a short gap away from her shirt. He flexed his fingers nervously, then carefully touched her. There was nothing to feel. Aya fleetingly wondered how long it would be until her belly started swelling, until there was a living person kicking and growing inside her.

Schuldig snatched his hand back and shot her a quick look. She realized he'd overheard that while attempting to hear something from—"their child" made her feel dizzy. She lifted her hands to her shirt and dug her fingers in.

Schuldig was starting to look a little wild-eyed. Somehow, seeing that he was as freaked out as she was made her feel better. She reached out, sliding her hand into his, and he crushed the blood out of her fingers. He didn't even linger long enough to put all of his work away; he simply led her out of there and down the hall to the elevators.

When the elevator doors opened, Mamoru was inside, on his way to see them. Security must have told the young police chief that she'd shown up. Apparently Schuldig had sent Mamoru a mental note to say he was leaving, because Mamoru greeted them with, "'It's personal' is not a good excuse." He held the elevator doors open with a finger on the button and stared hard at Aya's face, taking in her puffy, red eyes. "Aya, what happened?"

"Don't try to micromanage this," Schuldig warned Mamoru in a low voice. "I will not let you."

"Please, Mamoru," Aya said before the two could start round eight million of their fight for dominance. "Please, I just want to go home."

Mamoru pressed his lips into a hard line. There were no explanations to be found in her miserable expression, so he finally looked down at their interlaced fingers. He turned a stern look on Schuldig. "I will see you in my office first thing tomorrow morning," he said, in that tone that demanded obedience. He stepped out of the elevator to let them on, and the two rode down to the lobby together.

Schuldig had a car, but parking was so expensive in the city that he took public transportation to and from work. They caught the train together and it was early enough in the day that it wasn't as crowded as it could have been. Usually Aya behaved herself on the train and kept a respectable distance between herself and Schuldig. Today she held onto him like a leech, arms around him and cheek pressed against his shirt. She needed to feel him breathing against her, needed to hear his heartbeat pounding in her ear.

People stared, in part because of such a blatant display of affection and neediness, in part because Schuldig drew attention wherever he went. Aya had gotten used to the stares over time. She closed her eyes against the crowd, shutting everyone out but Schuldig, herself, and the itty bitty piece of her that was going to be their child.

Nineteen years old, unwed, and on her way to being a mother. She hadn't even gone to college yet; she'd spent the last couple years trying to finish up her high school education long distance. How was she supposed to go to university when she had a baby?

She was pregnant with a telepathic assassin's child. Was it going to have its father's gift? Would Schuldig teach it if it did? She wondered if orange hair was hereditary, or if it was a recessive gene. It was such a ridiculous thought that she laughed, but she choked the sound off, knowing it might just set off another round of tears.

She was—terrified.

She wasn't ready to be a mother. She didn't know how it was supposed to work. Her mother was dead; who was she supposed to turn to for help? What if the child got sick, or what if it started crying, or what if she dropped it or one of her brother's old enemies or one of Schuldig's targets—

I will kill anyone who even thinks it, Schuldig said before she could finish that horrible thought. Aya had never heard that particular tone from him before. It was a dark and savage sound and it should have scared her. Instead she was reassured. She believed him when he said he could protect them- all of them.

I'm not ready for this, she admitted.

We have nine months to get ready, was his grim response. We'll figure something out.

"We". Aya could breathe for the first time all day. Schuldig wasn't going anywhere. Maybe they hadn't planned on this; maybe they were scared. But they were still together, and they were going to see this through one way or another.

They spent the rest of the day at Aya's apartment. Schuldig went through the pile of pregnancy meters Aya had left on the sink counter, staring down at all of the pink-tipped strips. Aya still had one unopened test and she took it, just to be safe. It came back positive, and the pair of them retreated to bed to stare at each other and the new twist their future had taken. Aya worried at the frayed corner of her sheets, tearing threads and strips off.

They talked a little bit about Aya studying at an online university, very briefly skittered around the subject of what gender the child might be, and ended up on the safer topic of apartments. Aya's apartment was a studio, big enough for her, barely comfortable for them. The only reason they stayed here instead of at Schuldig's was because part of Ran's paycheck paid her rent. She couldn't tell him to stop paying without explaining why, but she couldn't let him pay for an empty apartment without feeling guilty. Schuldig's apartment was twice the size of hers, big for two people, perfect for three.

The thought gave her goose bumps.

Aya called the hospital to make an ultrasound appointment for the following week. Schuldig told her to schedule it around her shift at the Koneko. He didn't care when it was; he'd simply walk out of his office to meet her whenever the doctor had time to see them. It was settled for next Wednesday afternoon. She hung up and eased herself onto her back. Fingers carefully felt out her shirt again, searching for any sort of bump or added weight. Schuldig stretched out on his back beside her and started playing with one of the strips she'd torn off, shaping it into a loop over and over. Eventually he knotted the ends together and set it down on his chest, bored of it.

"We should send Ran a copy of the scan," he said. "No explanation whatsoever, just a picture."

She giggled a little, imagining the look on her brother's face. "It'd be funny until he showed up in Japan to kill you."

"He could try," Schuldig said, sounding completely unimpressed.

She slid her hand off her stomach and onto Schuldig's. She found a belt loop on the second try and hooked her fingers through it. "I'll have to talk to him at some point," she said. "Just… not yet. Not until we've actually seen the scan. Then I'll tell him everything."

"Everything?" Schuldig echoed, rolling onto his side to look at her. She glanced his way and arched an eyebrow at the look on his face. The smile on his face was lazy and satisfied and she recognized the heat in his hooded blue eyes. "Like the cruise ship, and the plane ride, and the company car…"

"Maybe not everything," she amended.

"Maybe not," he agreed. He caught at her hand and lifted it to where he could see it, considering the way her hand looked so pale and small beside his. He opened his mouth to say something else, then changed his mind. He saw the question in her eyes and offered her a shrug in response.

"I'll tell him what he needs to know," Aya said, "nothing more and nothing less. I'll tell him that I'm happy and that, as my loving brother, he should be happy for me."

"I like how you think that doe-eyed bullshit is going to win him over."

"It worked on you," she said primly.

"I wasn't looking at your eyes," Schuldig returned easily. "But your brother better be."

She swat at him, feigning outrage. He caught her free hand easily and pinned it against her pillow, following it over until he'd slid half on top of her. Aya twisted, not to get away, but to get her leg hooked through his. Schuldig leaned down to kiss her and Aya was perfectly fine with letting the conversation die there. She was scared and nervous and confused, but maybe that flutter in her stomach was the hint of excitement, was the thrill of realizing that there was a future here, that she and Schuldig really were going to stay together forever and ever.

She let those thoughts burn her as deeply as his touch did and fell asleep against his chest. When she woke up, it was morning and he was already gone to see Mamoru. Her hand was stretched out beside her, splayed against the indent he'd left in the bed at her side. She stared fuzzily at her fingers, trying to figure out what was out of place, and realization woke her up the rest of the way. She shoved herself up on her other hand, stare frozen on her left ring finger. A blue ring of cloth went around it: that loop Schuldig had been fidgeting with last night.

She slowly relaxed against the sheets once more, curling onto her side, and hugged her hand to her chest.

She knew then, beyond a doubt, that everything was going to be fine.

One year later

"She's hungry," Schuldig grumbled against his pillow.

"So feed her," was the slurred response. "She woke you up."

"Why the hell did you sleep for three years if you weren't storing it somewhere?"

"I'm not a battery."

"I don't have breasts."

"There are bottles," Aya started to say, but Mai started wailing then. With her tucked in between them, the sound was loud enough to hurt. Aya groaned against her pillow. Schuldig pulled the sheets up over his head, not that he was going to get sleep anytime soon. His telepathy meant he picked up on Mai's hunger a couple seconds before she hit her breaking point and started screaming for them to feed her. He wouldn't be able to relax until she was sated. At two o'clock in the morning, Aya was feeling spiteful enough to be happy about that. If misery loved company, it had nothing on new mothers.

"I'm going to spit in your breakfast," Aya mumbled as she forced herself to sit up. She'd gotten into the habit of sleeping shirtless; no point in putting on a gown when she'd be nursing Mai every couple hours anyway.

Schuldig muttered something about getting breakfast on the way to work. The pillow swallowed half of what he said, but Aya didn't care enough to have him repeat it. She was more interested in getting Mai fed, anything to stop that insanely loud racket. She got her baby comfortable and slumped against the headboard, eyes drooping as Mai suckled. Somehow she resisted the urge to burp Mai over Schuldig's covered head, and a few minutes later, mother and daughter were curled up and dozing off again.

Aya woke up a couple hours later because Schuldig was getting up. It was half past five, but Mai was hungry again, and Schuldig needed to be up in half an hour to get ready for work. Schuldig brought Mai with him out of the room, but he couldn't get to the refrigerated bottles before Mai started squalling. Aya was happy to leave them to each other and promptly stole all of the blankets.

She woke up when Schuldig unburied her enough to pass Mai to her. She held her daughter up against her chest and was asleep again before he'd even finished wrapping them up. Schuldig took his shower, then dressed and ate on his own. Aya had to get up then so she could shower, and Schuldig watched over Mai until she was ready for the day. Aya was on her way to the kitchenette when there was a knock at the door. She changed directions and went to let her brother in.

Ran had brought coffee with him. Schuldig had a coffee maker in his kitchen, but not even cream and sugar could make Aya drink any of the coffee he brewed. She stuck to sweet espresso drinks, such as the cinnamon dolce frappuccino her brother was holding out in offering. She took it from him before she even remembered a hello and inhaled half of it while he stepped out of his shoes.

The dining room was part of the living room, which was right beside the front door. Aya stepped through the doorway, Ran on her heels, and pretended not to notice the bored look Schuldig sent Ran over her head. She already knew what sort of look Ran was sending Schuldig in return. She didn't have the energy to deal with their animosity this early in the morning.

Ran had moved back to Japan as soon as he'd found out his younger sister was engaged and pregnant. Mamoru had set him up with a new team to justify him staying, and Ran had repaid that consideration by spending the next solid year fighting with Schuldig. Ran had tried to break them up, had tried to break the wedding up, had tried anything he could think of to save Aya from Schuldig's "evil clutches". When that had failed, he'd tried to move in, not trusting Schuldig alone around Aya. Aya had put her foot down then, because she had been too stressed out from her pregnancy and then too exhausted from having a newborn. She couldn't and wouldn't live with their fighting day-in and day-out.

Ran had compromised, sort of. If he wasn't needed with his team or at his cover job, he was at Aya's apartment, looking after her and Mai. Aya was fine with that, since it meant time with her brother after so many years apart. It also meant she could nap while Ran babysat Mai. Schuldig, on the other hand, didn't approve whatsoever. He was sick of seeing Ran in his apartment. Aya thought they were both being completely stupid about the matter, but they didn't listen to her.

The tension had increased tenfold this past week. Schuldig had been working from home the past couple months, wanting to keep an eye on Mai and Aya both. Aya suspected that intense jealousy had been a driving factor: Schuldig had not been happy when he'd realized Ran would be helping out around the house. The last thing he wanted was for Mai to like Ran more than she liked him. Schuldig was not, by nature, an insecure man. He took a lot for granted and took almost everything in stride. He knew he was good at his job, believed in his power, and understood that Aya loved him within an inch of his life. Mai, though, was something completely new and unknown, and Schuldig refused to compromise his position as the most important man in her life. Aya found that new part of his personality endearing. Schuldig was not amused.

It was that insecurity that meant she was more likely to side with Schuldig than Ran when the two started fighting over Mai. She wanted Ran to be a central part of Mai's life, but she thought Schuldig's fears were valid. Besides, Schuldig was different when Ran was around. He tended to be standoffish and she couldn't always tell if he held Mai to keep her out of Ran's hands or if he held her for the sake of holding her. It was getting to the point that Aya loved waving Ran goodbye at the end of the day. The second the door closed behind Ran, Schuldig would take Mai and retreat with her to sulk. She usually found them curled up together in the bedroom.

Now, as Mai came up on four months of age, Schuldig had to start going back to his office. The current project Mamoru had passed him was not one he could do remotely. It was strange not having Schuldig at home. Aya had gotten used to having him around all the time. The past couple days, it had just been her and Ran. While it was nice to have time with her brother, she was also lonely without Schuldig around. Ran didn't mind at all. Aya had never known he was capable of such blatant gloating.

Nothing Aya said could make Ran give Schuldig a second chance, and Schuldig wouldn't even try to make peace with Ran. Schuldig's priorities were Aya, Mai, and his job; Ran's approval didn't factor into anything. Indeed, Schuldig had already tuned Ran out in favor of watching Mai.

Aya sat in the chair beside Schuldig's and slumped sideways to rest against her husband. Schuldig tilted his head to one side, propping his cheek against her hair. Aya didn't know if it was shared exhaustion or a way of riling Ran. If it was the latter, it was highly effective. A muscle in Ran's jaw twitched as he looked from one to the other and then down at Mai, who was half-asleep as she suckled at her bottle. Mai's eyes were closed, but her mouth kept moving in intermittent sucks, and an awkward, tiny fist pushed at her father's chest. As tired as she was, Aya couldn't help but smile at the sight.

"Go to work," Ran said.

Schuldig ignored Ran entirely, intent on watching Mai drink. Aya turned her head, looking for the clock. "You'll be late," she said into her drink.

"Then I'll be late," Schuldig returned easily. He had one arm wrapped around Mai to keep her securely against him. He lifted the other hand to poke at Mai's fist. She uncurled her fingers and latched onto one of his much longer ones. The sight was enough that Aya forgot how sleepy she was. She ran her fingertip lightly over Mai's hand and onto Schuldig's. Mai stopped suckling at last, ready to pass out. Aya rested her chin on Schuldig's shoulder, staring down at their daughter.

We did good, she said proudly.

Schuldig flashed his teeth in a grin. With my genes, we couldn't go wrong, he taunted her.

You're not as cool as you think you are, Mr. Hotshot.

Yes, I am.

Ran had been around the couple long enough to recognize when they were speaking mind to mind. A year back in Japan and he still hated that they did it so easily and frequently. "You don't need to stay," he told Schuldig. "I'm here." When Schuldig gave no sign that he'd heard Ran, the redhead insisted, "Go."

Schuldig finally slid his gaze up from Mai's face to consider Ran. "If I choose to be late to work so I can feed Mai, then that's my decision, not yours. You are not her father; I am."

"A responsible father would be at work making money to support his wife and child."

"You do not want to argue responsibilities with me, Fujimiya," Schuldig said, managing a conversational tone despite the threat in his words. He sent Aya a flicker-short thought. She straightened in her chair to let him up. He stood as carefully as he could, not wanting to jostle Mai, no matter that he'd have to wake her to burp her in just a second.

He'd left her towel on the counter near the microwave. Aya got up and beat him to it. "I don't want it all over your suit," she said, arranging the towel on her shoulder and holding her hands out for Mai. She slid her thumb along the base of her fingers, habit by now. Her wedding ring had been adjusted several times over the course of her pregnancy. They'd loosened the band to accommodate the extra kilos she'd gained, and she was used to it turning backwards on her finger once she'd lost that weight. She'd scratched Mai with the diamond once and had cried for half an hour, feeling like the worst mother on the face of the planet. Schuldig had gotten the ring retightened the same day. It didn't slip anymore, but Aya was already used to fixing it.

Schuldig turned Mai over with ridiculous care, hands hovering nearby as Aya rearranged their daughter against her chest. Aya offered him a brilliant smile, both thanks and reassurance. "Get going. We'll be all right here."

"Sure you will," Schuldig said blithely, as if he didn't doubt Ran's ability to protect Aya. Ran sent Schuldig a withering look that only grew blacker when Schuldig leaned in to offer Aya a goodbye kiss. It wasn't exactly an audience-friendly kiss, especially considering the audience was made up of a newborn and an older brother, but Aya didn't mind.

"See you tonight," she murmured against his mouth, and she walked him to the door. Ran glared after Schuldig until the door was shut and locked behind him. Aya turned an arch look on her brother. "Don't be rude."

"It's the truth," he said, unfazed.

Aya rolled her eyes at him and went back to the kitchen table. Ran took over Schuldig's chair and watched as she pat Mai's back. "I don't care if you fight about work or past hurts or what," she said. "Don't fight over Mai. She's too important to us. Both of us. He adores us, Ran. I don't know what you're still so afraid of." Ran grimaced as if he'd bitten into something sour. Aya leaned to one side when he started to look away, silently refusing to let him retreat from the argument. "Ran."

"I know," Ran said through clenched teeth. It looked like it was the hardest thing he'd ever had to admit to. "I see how he holds her. I see how he looks at you. I know. But I just don't trust him. I can't."

"With me and Mai and Mamoru vouching for him?" Aya asked. She searched his eyes, searching for some sort of logic she could understand. "Ran, you have to let it go."

"You're my sister."

"You'll always be my brother," she agreed. "No one can ever replace you, and I wouldn't want anyone to. Having Schuldig and Mai doesn't mean I don't need you anymore. I need you now more than ever, but I need you on my side. I'm scared, Ran. Everything is so new. I need someone I can trust. I need someone to help keep me sane. But I can't do that, I can't let you be that, if you and Schuldig are always fighting. Don't you get it?"

Ran muttered something unintelligible under his breath and Aya gave up on talking sense into him. The three passed the day in relative peace: watching movies, doing light chores, and shopping for that week's groceries. They were finishing up folding laundry when Schuldig got home from work. Aya knew Schuldig would want Mai on his way through the front door, so she and Ran went to meet him there. Schuldig toed out of his shoes and stepped up into the apartment, taking Mai from Aya in a practiced move.

As soon as he was out of the way, Ran stepped down into his own shoes. Aya sent him a startled look, but Ran wasn't looking at either of them.

"Good night, Aya," Ran said. "I will see you in the morning."

"Good night," Aya said, feeling a bit bewildered. Ran had been eating dinner with them on a regular basis; it usually took work for Schuldig to kick him out. This was the first time Ran had voluntarily left when he didn't have a job to head to. She watched him head down the hall, waiting until he'd gotten in the elevator before shutting the bedroom door.

"I missed something," Schuldig observed.

Aya smiled up at him and moved to stand in front of him, neatly tucking Mai between their bodies. She leaned in and pressed a kiss to one of Mai's chubby cheeks. "Not much," she said cheerily. "Just the start of the rest of our happy ever after."


#14 : Ran x Farfarello, post-Parry

It had taken him the better part of two hours to shake Schuldig. The telepath knew his plans for the day and considered them rife with opportunities for mockery. He'd stuck to Farfarello like a leech until Farfarello had tried to knock his teeth out. As much as Schuldig liked being entertained, he liked being able to smile without dentures, too. He'd sullenly dropped back. Farfarello had circled the city twice just to make sure the telepath wasn't following at a distance and had finally ended up at the knife shop of his choice.

There were very few places where Farfarello was a regular, but he'd been by this hole-in-the-wall store enough times that the store manager knew him. The man didn't blink twice at his appearance, but welcomed him as readily as he'd greet any other visitor to his shop. They were masters, the pair of them; hunters. One only thought to stalk animals while the other wouldn't settle for less than humans. They knew the true purpose for blades; they knew knives were meant to drip with blood. Colleagues, maybe, but not equals. Farfarello knew a hundred uses for a knife the shop owner would never grow sick enough to imagine. Likewise, the shop owner specialized in brands and weights and artistry.

If Farfarello was here for himself, he would do fine picking his own knife out. He knew what he liked; he knew what he needed by now.

Ran was a bit of an unknown, however, so he moved for the counter. The shop owner arched his brows a little, surprised at being consulted, but pushed his magazines out of the way. Past his shoulder were shelves crowded with knife sets. Farfarello saw his own knives on display: a case of eight. He thought of his box at home, eight sets of prongs and only seven knives, and stared at the complete line. The clerk noticed his distraction and looked.

"Problem with the Shinas?" he asked.

"No," Farfarello said, because he was not obsessive compulsive and therefore would not obsess over his incomplete set. He dragged his gaze back to Kurosawa's face. "A knife," he said, "for a swordsman who does not understand small blades."

That earned him a thoughtful hum. After a minute Kurosawa came out from behind his counter. Farfarello waited while he went to collect his suggestions. He brought seven back with him. Farfarello listened in silence to his sales pitch for each one, argued specifics at the end, and eventually settled on a slim thing that Ran could carry with him at all times. Farfarello tilted it, watching the overhead light glint off the blade, and tried to imagine it soaked with blood. It had a short enough hilt that any cut would get Ran's glove bloody. A misplaced cut would slosh blood all over his face and chest without the length of a sword to protect him. Farfarello liked the resulting mental image.

He handed it back to Kurosawa, who wrapped it up as extravagantly as diamond jewelry might be packaged. It wasn't as frilly as precious stones might be, but the paper was crisp and it was circled with dark ribbons. Farfarello thought it a waste of paper. He didn't argue, however, and instead paid and carried the box out into the sun.

"You've never bought me presents," Schuldig said where he was squatting on the curb a short distance away.

"I've let you live," Farfarello said. "So far."

"'Let' my ass," Schuldig said, pushing himself to his feet. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the car. "Crawford wants us. Your pretty proposal's going to have to wait."

"So far," Farfarello said again with light emphasis.

Schuldig was too stupid to feel threatened. Instead the telepath offered him a mocking smile and tugged the driver's door open. He already had the engine going by the time Farfarello slipped into the passenger seat, and he pulled the car into traffic before Farfarello's door was closed. Farfarello set the box in his lap and considered it, wondering idly how such delicate wrappings and ribbons could hide a thing of death and torture.

"Don't get your hopes up," Schuldig said. "That boy'll never be like you."

Farfarello knew Schuldig was right, but he didn't bother to say so. Instead he turned his gaze out the window and contented himself with images of blood. Schuldig sighed, giving up on him as a conversation partner, and focused on driving.

Crawford and Nagi were waiting for them out front of their apartment building. Farfarello climbed out and got into the backseat, giving his spot up front to Crawford. Nagi got in on the other side and sent a blank look at the decorated box. It wasn't rare for Farfarello to go shopping, though it was uncommon, but Nagi knew the wrapping meant whatever was inside wasn't for him.

"Sex toy," Schuldig volunteered, answering Nagi's unspoken question.

"Schuldig," Crawford said, pinching the bridge of his nose in either a search for patience or a desire to erase that mental image.

"Knife," Farfarello said, flicking the telepath a cool look.

"You're fucking Ran," Schuldig returned easily. "Same damn difference."

Nagi was suddenly intensely interested in the view out his window. Schuldig sent Farfarello a slow smile over his shoulder. Farfarello answered with a silent Stay out of it. There was a threat in his mental tone that was all promise. Schuldig wasn't suicidal enough to say anything else.

"Just drive," Crawford said. Schuldig grumbled but did as he was told.


Hidaka was out back when Farfarello arrived at the Koneko. The man was on his way out for a run, judging by his clothes, and bounced idly on the balls of his feet as he stared down at his music player. He didn't notice Farfarello until the Irishman was passing him. Farfarello should have killed him for his stupidity. Schuldig said he had no self-control, but Farfarello could practice it when indiscretion would ruin his hard work. He saw the so-called assassin recoil in shock, heard sputtered sounds of outrage, and didn't even slow.

It'd been three weeks since Weiß had found out that Ran was fucking Farfarello. Schuldig said it was nowhere near long enough for them to come to terms with it. Farfarello didn't care. They'd hashed it all out the night Crawford had tricked them into camping with Weiß. In his eyes, it was settled. He'd been by the shop many times since then, but this was only the second time he'd passed any of Ran's teammates.

Farfarello took the stairs up to Ran's room and tried the knob. It was locked, but the soft kick of his shoe against the door told Ran who was on his front step. The redhead only needed a few seconds to answer.

"I should have killed him," Farfarello said, slipping past Ran and shoving his wrapped box hard against Ran's abdomen. Ran took it, more a reflex than anything else, and didn't look down at what he was holding until he'd shut the door behind him. "He let me sneak up on him."

"Ken," Ran guessed. He eyed the box, turning it this way and that as if he expected to see a sticker declaring what it was. "You smell."

Farfarello shrugged and let himself into Ran's bathroom. He heard paper crinkling in the hall, but he drowned it out when he turned on the tub faucet. He perched on the corner of the tub and undid the buttons on his vest. The tub walls were high enough that he could see himself in the mirror and he twisted to consider the gash on his back. It wasn't deep enough to need stitches; it had already stopped bleeding and left black crust along the edges. He rolled his arm, making sure yet again that he hadn't lost any range of motion, and watched flecks roll down over his shoulder blade.

He found Ran's wash cloth in its usual spot, neatly folded over his basket of shampoos, and soaked it. He could only reach some of the scratch, so he washed what he could.

Ran appeared in the doorway as Farfarello was squeezing the rag out and rewetting it. The redhead paused when he realized he'd smelled Farfarello's blood and not just his victim's. The bathroom wasn't really big enough for two of them, but he invited himself in just the same and sat behind Farfarello.

Farfarello let him take the rag away because Ran would do a better job of cleaning his back than he could. The swordsman was careful at first. He knew that Farfarello couldn't feel pain, because he'd been told that fact, but he didn't really understand it and he didn't know how it could be possible. When Farfarello didn't so much as twitch, his strokes grew steadily bolder until they were borderline rough. He was trying to find where the line was, where Farfarello's issues ended and normal responses began. Farfarello let him experiment and sat silent and still.

At last Ran gave up and dropped the rag off to one side. He cut the water off and pressed his hand against Farfarello's cut. "You really can't feel it."

"I can feel pressure," Farfarello said, "but no pain."


Farfarello turned his head, not far enough to see Ran over his shoulder, but more than enough to see the man in the mirror across from them. "Because I was cut once," he said, "to a point that no other scars can compare." Ran struggled with that for a moment, frowning a little as he tried to put the pieces together. He pressed harder at the cut with his bare fingers, then slid his fingernails along reddened skin. "Where is your knife?"

Ran had brought it with him; he held it in his right hand. Farfarello turned around to face him. There was just enough room between them for him to brace his hands against the tub. He leaned forward, getting right in Ran's face. "Cut me."

Ran stared back at him in silence. "No."

Farfarello tilted his head until his mouth was almost touching Ran's. There was a lazy challenge in his stare and he could feel Ran bristling instinctively at the sight of it. Farfarello said nothing else, content to stare Ran down, and he knew he'd won the second Ran dropped his gaze to his new knife. If Farfarello had a choice in the matter, he wouldn't have Ran's first real cut done under the off-colored glow of a bathroom's florescent light. The moment was right, though, so it would have to slide this time.

Ran lifted his knife and turned it this way and that, considering the way his hand swallowed the hilt, studying the glint of a perfect, razor-sharp edge. He'd always been fascinated by Farfarello's knives, though Farfarello hadn't realized it until New Year's Eve. He'd gone so far as to steal one of Farfarello's, which was the whole point behind getting him one of his own.

At last Ran pressed the blade to his hand. He started at Farfarello's throat, a taunt as much as it was a threat, a warning not to be so careless around him. Farfarello offered him a cold smile in response and tipped his head back, forcing his throat harder against the edge in the move. A thin layer of skin peeled up, not even enough to leave a pink line behind, and Ran stuffed his reserves deep. He turned his hand to turn the blade, forcing the tip in, and dragged the knife from Farfarello's throat down over his left pectoral. His gaze followed the cut and the welling blood. Farfarello kept his stare on Ran's face. Ran had stopped breathing at the first sight of blood and there was a too-focused look in his eyes Farfarello knew all too well.

Ran turned the knife this way and that, staring hard at the blood on it, and then remembered to look up at Farfarello. When he saw Farfarello's expression hadn't changed, he looked back at the cut. "I don't understand," he admitted.

Farfarello considered that, then got to his feet. "Wait," he said simply, and he went down the short hallway to Ran's mini-fridge. A tiny fridge took up the top fourth, and it had the ice cube trays he was looking for. He filled a plastic bag with ice and brought it back to the bathroom. Ran frowned at the sight of it, but he let Farfarello peel his shirt off. Farfarello pressed the bag hard against his chest and held it there, ignoring the way Ran grimaced at the cold. He put his other hand on the ceramic edge of the tub and slid forward, closing the space between them until his hand was fitted up against Ran's crotch. That was enough that the redhead decided to ignore the uncomfortable burn of ice on his skin.

"I want my knife back," Farfarello said.

"I threw it out."

Farfarello was quiet for a minute, then decided, "You didn't."

"If I did, would you really buy another set like the telepath says you would?"

Farfarello ignored that. "You didn't."

Ran looked faintly amused. He hooked his leg around Farfarello's and pressed them hard together. Farfarello felt something stiff along Ran's calf: the sheath with his long-missing knife. Farfarello leaned over and pulled Ran's pants leg up to his knee so he could get to it. He left the sheath there but slid his blade slowly free. Ran watched as he inspected it for nicks, saying nothing to defend himself. Farfarello ran the flat of the blade along his lips, feeling the warmth of Ran's body heat where it'd soaked into the metal.

"You have your own now," he said around it. "Leave mine alone."

Ran leaned in, kissing the metal between their mouths. "Make me."

They stared each other down for several long seconds, wondering if this would deteriorate into a fight, before Farfarello forcibly let it slide. He finally let go of the ice pack. Ran brushed it off his thigh and into the tub. Farfarello used his knife to push Ran back a bit and slid the blade between them. He felt for the cold patch of skin with the side of his hand, then cut down across it.

He knew Ran would still feel the bite of his knife; the ice had only dulled the initial sting. Still, for a split-second, Ran understood what he meant, and that was enough. Ran considered his cut, then looked back at Farfarello. "Anesthetics might have made your point a little better."

"If you couldn't feel it, I wouldn't stop," Farfarello said. He wiped his blade off on his slacks and tucked it into the empty sheath he'd brought along for it. He pressed a hand flat against Ran's cut, feeling the disorienting blur of warm blood and cold skin and pushed Ran's shoulders until he was leaning back against the wall. One long slide of his tongue was enough to clean the shallow cut and he followed Ran's skin up to his face. Their kiss tasted like blood. Farfarello dug his fingers hard into the cut just to make the other man flinch. Ran knotted his hand in Farfarello's hair and yanked in retaliation. It didn't hurt, but it did help him drag Farfarello off of him.

"We're not doing this on the side of the tub," Ran said.

Farfarello considered doing it just to defy him, but the edge was so narrow they were likely to tumble off. He let Ran haul them both to their feet and buried his hands in Ran's pockets for a bit more support. He should have broken Ran's neck for dragging him by his hair like some sort of disobedient pet, but the press of hard metal against his side said Ran was bringing his knife to bed with them.

Farfarello would let almost anything slide just for that.


#16 : Farfarello x Crawford, post-In Memory of the Future

Hands dig into my shoulders, shoving me flat on my back on my mattress, and I don't fight back except to drag him down with me. He stops himself with his hands and knees, keeping himself off me but just barely. There's a sharp breath at my ear, anger or impatience, and he twists his hands in thin cotton hard enough to tear the seams. He's still shaking, faint tremors that dance along his fingers and hum against my skin. The animalistic side of him says to take what he wants, now that he finally has permission to have it. The small piece of him that's still human knows better than to lose control here, knows exactly what he stands to lose, and he fights to keep himself in check with everything he has.

I'm just perverse enough to make it harder for him. He deserves it after the hell he's put me through over the years. I slide my hands down the hard lines of his back. There's nothing soft about Farfarello, inside or out; he's all edges and tough muscle, a perfect weapon mentally and physically. He's a ball of ruthless, vicious energy and it's a constant fight to keep himself under control. Seeing him slip now is more amusing than it should be, considering how close his mouth is to my throat.

I find his hips, note that my hands fit perfectly around them, and pull him down.

Sheer sensation knocks me out of my gift and back into reality. I stare blankly up at my dark ceiling, trying to figure out what's just happened, and slowly push myself up into a sitting position. It's a little uncomfortable; that vision was real enough to affect me physically. I shift a little, trying to get more comfortable, and gaze at the far wall. There are no answers or explanations to be found there. I turn the vision this way and that, trying to make some sense of it.

In the end, it makes a little too much sense, and there's something like inevitability to it all. It's a scene at least eight months in the making, though that doesn't explain why it came as an aggressive vision. My power has two sides: passive and aggressive. The latter, those that completely replace reality, are only supposed to be those that are life-threatening or otherwise harmful to me. I'm not sure why sex with Farfarello would be considered deadly.

Beyond the obvious, that is.

I stay where I am for several minutes longer, giving my body time to wake up from vision-induced sensations. Only then do I gather up my towel and go shower.

Schuldig is awake by the time I'm dressed. I find him in the kitchen, where he's working on his third or fourth mug of coffee. Two days back from our latest job and he's still owl-eyed. Our latest project was an eight-month run and a particularly nasty one. Rosenkreuz chose it as a punishment of sorts, since the outcome of our job before that one pitted Rosenkreuz's cabinets against each other. We made sure to follow our orders to the T this time and sacrificed a lot of sleep to exceed all of Rosenkreuz's expectations. We did so well that we've somewhat redeemed ourselves in their eyes. Now we've earned a bit of downtime and a chance to recover from that sort of prolonged stress. Apparently it's not going to be as restful as I expected.

"You should have showered faster if you wanted any," Schuldig says.

His voice distracts me from my thoughts and I realize that I'm standing in front of the coffee maker. Belatedly I note that the pot is almost empty. The canister we keep grinds in is upside-down in the sink, a sign that Schuldig used the last of the beans on the pot he's finishing up.

There's a soft footstep at the door before I can respond and I look that way to see Farfarello in the doorway. I immediately rethink my decision to acknowledge his arrival, since he's dressed in the sleeping pants he was wearing in my vision. They hang low on his hips, showing off an eight-pack and faint scars. I drag my gaze up to his face, refusing to let my stare linger. It's inappropriate for me to stare with Schuldig right there, and I don't want Farfarello's presence to set my visions off again.

That three-second stare was long enough for Farfarello, it seems, because he's watching me when my gaze makes it to his face. Schuldig has missed it, since he followed my distraction to Farfarello. I think Schuldig says a good morning into his mug, but I don't hear it. I'm busy analyzing Farfarello, trying to figure out where we stand with each other, trying to figure out if today is the day, trying to figure out if enough has changed over the past year for such a thing to be possible.

Farfarello has been with us for almost three years now, and we spent the first two years fighting constantly. Put two control freaks on the same team and you're bound to have trouble. Give them equal rights to authority over one another and someone's bound to die. Perhaps we might have, too, except Farfarello has no desire to kill me. No, according to Schuldig, Farfarello wants something else entirely. Something like skin on skin and ragged breath at my ear, and he's been waiting over two years by now. I just didn't know that until our previous job came to an explosive close.

Our client at the time, one Jacob Matthews, demanded more of me than Farfarello or I was willing to give. When I forced Matthews to make his move, Farfarello acted without Rosenkreuz's full permission and killed Matthews. Farfarello did it expecting to die, and he didn't even hesitate. It's rather hard to overlook that sort of dedication. Farfarello is as annoying as always, but I am increasingly willing to tolerate the aggravation these days. We still fight, but I can finally see the sort of wicked pleasure he takes in pissing me off. The past eight months have been… interesting. Farfarello hasn't made any other moves, but I can't look at him the same, and I've spent too much of my free time evaluating him.

There's a lazy challenge in his stare, no matter that he's only been up a few minutes. Farfarello wakes up ready for a fight. Normally his arrogance is sandpaper against my nerves. Today I find it intensely amusing, because I've already seen his insufferable calm shattering. I'm still not sure what I think about realizing how close we've both come to the edge in our not-relationship, but knowing Farfarello is going to lose his cool helps settle me somewhat. Farfarello has buttons after all; I'd started assuming he couldn't be gotten to. I feel a smirk twitch at my lips, there and gone again, and Farfarello arches an eyebrow at me.

"Oh," he says. "That's interesting."

"You have no idea."

Schuldig looks from one of us to the other over the rim of his mug. I turn away from the question in his stare and consider the coffee maker again. There's not even enough for half a mug, but any caffeine is good caffeine when today promises to get out of hand. I empty what little is left into a clean cup and drain it in two swallows.

"We need more coffee," I say as I set my mug in the sink. My team will translate that as an explanation as to where I'm going. Schuldig murmurs something appreciative into his drink that's more a gargle than real words. I start for the kitchen doorway. Farfarello, predictably, does not move. Instead he sprawls against one side of the doorframe and takes hold of the other side, making a barrier with his arm. I slide my gaze along his arm down to his fingers, remembering the feel of them twisting in my shirt. There's a flicker of color near him and I turn that way, watching my vision play out between us.

"I am leaving," I tell him.

"Leave," Farfarello invites me.


"Move me." He leans toward me, meaning to block more of my path.

I lean toward him at the same time, already knowing what's coming. My height gives me the advantage and I turn my head just enough that we don't clonk into each other. His cheekbone grazes along my chin and we hit at our shoulders. With Farfarello's face on the inside, Schuldig can't see it when I bite Farfarello's ear, but he and I both see Farfarello's reaction. The Berserker jerks a little at the feel of my teeth on his ear and turns his head instinctively into it for a split-second.

A man like Farfarello says "please" the way a man with a knife at your throat would say it: it's not even hollow niceties, but three steps past that to pure mockery. Still, there's something about that unconscious push that says Farfarello has not had an easy time of the past eight months. With Matthews around, Farfarello got so close to getting what he wanted, but neither of us has touched since then outside of the brush of our hands on exchanged files. Somewhere deep behind his bland mockery and cold amusement, Farfarello has been seriously unhappy. Eight months ago, Farfarello said he could wait for me to be ready. He never said he wanted to.

"Oh," I murmur at his ear. "That's interesting."

Farfarello flicks me a black look and drops his arm. I proceed down the hall for the door, leaving Farfarello to deal with Schuldig's obvious amusement. It's a toss-up as to whether or not Schuldig will be stupid enough to mock the Irishman for his slip. Schuldig has survival instincts. Sometimes.

My good mood gets me as far as the grocery store, where it's easy to pick up coffee and harder to end up where I need to be. Picking up some sort of lubricant means that yes, I really am going to have sex with Farfarello today. I sit in the car in the parking lot afterwards, weighing the pros and cons and thinking of the ramifications of such a thing. For starters, it'll change team dynamics. On a larger scale, it means I have to tell Rosenkreuz.

Having sexual relations puts our gifts at risk, which is why most psychics are created in test tubes rather than bred naturally. Dead minds are artificially inseminated with engineered eggs and half of the time the births are successful. Female psychics are given hysterectomies at young ages, forcing them through hormonal hardships long before their time but saving them from the risks of pregnancies and untimely cramps. Despite such measures, the cabinet still wants to know when its psychics start to sleep around. If I sleep with Farfarello today, I will be writing up a report tonight and filing those personal details with my superiors. Then there'll be an extensive review, people will debate whether or not it's safe for either of us, and we'll eventually be left alone.

It would probably be a good idea to tell Schuldig and Nagi before sending in the report, since I'd rather them not hear about it from a third party. I suppose Farfarello will tell Schuldig; the telepath's always known what Farfarello wanted from me. Schuldig will have to be the one who tells Nagi; Schuldig is Nagi's undercover mentor on our team. He can present it in a way that will not cause any problems with our team dynamics.

I am getting ahead of myself, but that is in my nature as a precognitive. I give myself a few minutes more to come to terms with everything that will change. When I decide I'm okay with it, I turn the key in the ignition and head home.

I make sure to put the tube in my pants pocket. I throw away the packaging and the bag in our outside garbage can and carry the bag of coffee in on its own. The kitchen is empty, so I am able to set up a new pot of coffee to brew without interruption. It has almost finished dripping when Nagi leaves, off to who-knows-where. He doesn't care so much about the destination so long as he gets out of this house and finds room to breathe.

There's water running as someone else takes a shower, and I place bets on it being Schuldig. I'm working my way through a mug of coffee at the counter when he shows up dressed for the day.

"Where is my Watcher?" I ask, and Schuldig pauses a step through the doorway.

"Can't you go a week without dying some terrible death?" Schuldig wants to know.

"I try," I answer dryly.

Schuldig tilts his head to one side as he calls Farfarello, but his blue gaze stays on me. "We have another job coming up," he concludes. It's a valid guess on his part, even if it's wrong. Most aggressive visions are timed around precognitives' jobs, though there are always haywire visions of more mundane accidents to contend with. We can be killed by cars and bad falls just as easily as we can be killed by a gun.

"Perhaps," I say vaguely.

Farfarello takes no time at all to show up in the doorway behind Schuldig. He still hasn't bothered to get dressed, but I didn't expect him to.

Schuldig gives a sigh and an expansive shrug. "Guess I'll go for a walk or something," he says without having to be told to leave. Farfarello has always been insanely possessive of his role as my Watcher. Any attempts by Schuldig to interfere are rather viciously thwarted. Schuldig figures it's best to just stay out of the way than risk drawing Farfarello's ire. "Back in an hour or so."

I nod at him in response and he leaves. It takes him a minute to find his shoes and his keys, and then the front door shuts behind him. It is just Farfarello and myself, now. I refill my mug and blow lightly on the surface to cool it enough for drinking.

Farfarello crosses the room to me on silent footsteps, yellow stare a demand. A cold smile plays on his lips. I taunted him earlier; he thinks he's about to get some sort of come-uppance. I hide my smirk in my coffee.

"Show me," he orders me, and I feel his gift push against my mind.

I don't even try to keep him out. The kitchen vanishes; the mug in my hand disappears. Hands on my shoulders, pushing me down, a breath at my ear and tremors quaking along my skin—I let it all play out between our minds. It is short, since it is just the start of a longer vision, and it is gone in a matter of seconds. I find myself in the kitchen again, staring down at Farfarello's blank face. Farfarello expected blood and murder and mayhem, the usual cocktail of my aggressive visions. He didn't expect any of that.

"Out of curiosity," I say, jarring him back to the here-and-now, "why was that an aggressive vision?"

"Why didn't you follow it to find out?" Farfarello returns. "It isn't like you trust me."

"This time I will."

"Why?" he demands, suspicious.

I quirk an eyebrow at him, as if he's missing the obvious, and he sends me a cool look in response. I set my mug aside and reach out to take hold of his bare shoulders instead. He's as tense as a rubber band ready to snap. I slide my hands down over his biceps to his elbow, teaching myself how another body feels. Farfarello, who refuses to let anyone touch him, doesn't push me off. He stares up at me, still waiting for an answer, and I take my time in giving it to him. I'm more interested in looking at him than talking. The silence and the weight of my hands on him take their toll as I expected they would: by the time my hands have made it to his throat, he is not as steady as he was a minute ago.

My thumb grazes over the collar he refuses to take off and slides up the underside of his chin to his mouth. I lean in and let my thumb stop our mouths from touching. "Because," I say at last, "you're shaking."

Farfarello stares at me, not understanding. I lean back and let go of his face. I take hold of his wrist instead and turn my arm so our hands are palm-up. With his hand resting on top of my steady one, it's easy to see the way his fingers are already starting to tremble. Need to grab and claim and mark that which he has been waiting so long and patiently for; strained and almost desperate control. Farfarello is shaking because he doesn't want to hurt me.

It takes him a moment to realize his body is giving him away. He jerks his hand back. Rather, he tries. I clamp fingers around his wrist to stop him. He snarls something at me, thinking I'm mocking him.

"Why was that an aggressive vision?" I ask again, ignoring his anger.

"You view me as a threat," Farfarello sends back, annoyed. He could break free of my grip if he wanted to, but he doesn't try a second time. He can't walk away from this. He doesn't know how, not after two-plus years of watching and waiting. "You view this as a threat. That is how your gift interpreted it. What else did you expect?"

I consider that. "Well," I say, "flaws like that are why I have a Watcher."

It takes him a second to realize that that means yes, that that means I'm not just messing with him. One second, and then he's moving like he thinks I'm going to change my mind. He wrenches his hand free of mine, only to reach up and grab my hair instead. He drags me down to crush a hard kiss against my mouth. It's only the second time he's kissed me; the first was eight months ago while he was walking me through my vision of Matthews. Back then it was entirely unwelcome. My reaction to it now is completely different and finally in-tune with Farfarello's: want.

He pushes at me; I push back. I still end up with the counter digging into my lower back, but it's a distant discomfort when Farfarello's hands are already pushing under my shirt. He digs his hands in a little too hard and I hiss a warning against his mouth. He growls something back that doesn't sound at all apologetic, but he shifts his grip before the bruising can go from annoying to harmful. I busy myself mapping out his skin, oddly fascinated by the feel of someone else's body.

His hands rake down my sides to my pants and he pauses when he notices the lump in my pocket. He dips a hand inside, looking for the source, and pulls free the bottle of lube. If he had any lingering doubts about how far I'm going to let him take this, they burn to nothing as soon as he sees what he's holding.

"We're not doing this standing up," I say at his ear. He shudders, either from the feel of my breath on his ear and throat or from the implications of my words.

"We could," he says.

"Maybe next time."

The promise that there'll be a next time is motivation to behave this time. "Then we're going," he says, because if we stay here any longer, we're going to end up fucking here. We make it to the bedroom on Farfarello's willpower alone. Farfarello shoves me backward across the room and I hit my bed with the backs of my calves.

Hands dig into my shoulders, shoving me flat on my back on my mattress, and I don't fight back except to drag him down with me. He stops himself with his hands and knees, keeping himself off me but just barely. There's a sharp breath at my ear, anger or impatience, and he twists his hands in thin cotton hard enough to tear the seams. He's still shaking, faint tremors that dance along his fingers and hum against my skin. The animalistic side of him says to take what he wants, now that he finally has permission to have it. The small piece of him that's still human knows better than to lose control here, knows exactly what he stands to lose, and he fights to keep himself in check with everything he has.

I'm just perverse enough to make it harder for him. He deserves it after the hell he's put me through over the years. I slide my hands down the hard lines of his back. There's nothing soft about Farfarello, inside or out; he's all edges and tough muscle, a perfect weapon mentally and physically. He's a ball of ruthless, vicious energy and it's a constant fight to keep himself under control. Seeing him slip now is more amusing than it should be, considering how close his mouth is to my throat.

I find his hips, note that my hands fit perfectly around them, and pull him down.


#19 : Hoffmann x Crawford x Farfarello
NOTE: This is not an official part of the Alles Schwarz timeline. However, if it was, it would fall between chapters 16 and 17 of "I'm With You". Timeline-wise: Ouka has just dead, Schuldig and Farfarello have been beaten, Aine has come calling on Farfarello, and Schuldig finally finds out why Crawford let Takatori hit him.

Crawford had only a minute's warning that Hoffmann was on his way. He paused with his hand halfway to his face, registering the flicker-short vision, and then pushed rain-slicked bangs out of his eyes. Farfarello glanced over at him, somehow picking up on that hesitation despite his agitated distraction. Farfarello had come here knowing he couldn't kill Fujimiya Ran, but he was annoyed that the fight had been unfairly interrupted. It was rare that Farfarello got to clash blades with another swordsman. He'd been enjoying himself until Takatori Shuuichi and his assistant had swooped in to rescue Fujimiya.

"Farfarello, get in the car," Crawford said.

Farfarello didn't need it spelled out to him. That warning was more than enough for him to know who was coming. A hard twist of Farfarello's hand had his blade snapping out to its full length again. Crawford fixed him with a cold look and Farfarello stared balefully back.

"Farfarello, get in the car," Crawford said again, in a tone of voice that dared Farfarello to argue with him. "Right now."

Another day, Farfarello might have fought him, if only for the sake of defying him. Hoffmann changed things; the Soul-Shaker always did. Farfarello was still bruised from his latest meeting with the empath. Aine had seen the marks upon her arrival this morning, but she'd assumed they were from Takatori's beating the night before. Farfarello hadn't said anything to disabuse her of that notion. The second-to-last thing he ever wanted was for her to find out what Hoffmann had done to him.

The absolute last was, of course, going toe-to-toe with Hoffmann one more time.

Finally Farfarello twisted the handle of his weapon, retracting the blade, and stepped toward the car. He slammed the door behind him and slumped low in the passenger seat, boots propped up on the dashboard. It put his knees at the perfect spot to fold his arms across them and he didn't let go of his blade. He didn't look away from Crawford, either, and Crawford didn't trust the calculating look in Farfarello's eye. It was a little too knowing.

Crawford gazed back for only a moment more, giving nothing away in his guarded stare, and then turned to stare off down the road. He took his glasses off, deeming them as useless. It was raining hard enough by now that he could barely see through the drop-streaked lenses. The night went slightly out-of-focus around him and he tucked his glasses into his front pocket for protection.

A taxi pulled up alongside their car a few seconds later. Hoffmann stepped out onto the street and the cab driver tore off out of there, too terrified to ask for his fare. Crawford slid his gaze over to Hoffmann's chest and watched as the man approached. He could feel Hoffmann's stare on him in the too-familiar prickle of heat on his face. He felt it slide away as Hoffmann took note of his hidden teammate and dragged his gaze up Hoffmann's throat to his mouth. Hoffmann was smiling. Crawford knew that smile anywhere.

The only question, really, was which one of them Hoffmann was smiling for. It was not something Crawford wanted to consider, because either one was terrible to imagine. He took a step forward as if to meet the Councilman halfway, but he moved sideways in the same move to stand between Hoffmann and Farfarello. Hoffmann gave a quiet laugh, seeing straight through the move.

"My, my," the empath drawled. "What an interesting cocktail we have tonight. I could get drunk on the mess that's roiling off of the pair of you."

He came to a stop right in front of Crawford, so close they were touching. Crawford blinked hard against the first sizzle of empathic pain and the vision of skin on skin. "I will send Farfarello home, Mister Hoffmann."

"Still averse to having an audience," Hoffmann mused. "That pride almost got you killed once."

Crawford blamed it more on Hoffmann's drunk state at the time, but he didn't say so. Hoffmann smirked and leaned in, pressing his smile to Crawford's cheek in a kiss that tore the skin on his face. His hands settled on Crawford's hips and Crawford forgot how cold the rain was. Heat followed Hoffmann's fingers: pain and something infinitely more unwelcome.

"You know what I did to him," Hoffmann deduced.

It wasn't a question, but it demanded a response. "I have my suspicions, Mister Hoffmann. I have not asked him."

"He is a poor substitute," Hoffmann said. "Still, I find myself fascinated. He is more stubborn than you are, a product of that disgusting insolence, and therefore, almost more fun to break. It's true what they say about him, you know. He cannot feel pain. That does not mean he cannot be gotten to." He twisted his hands on Crawford's pants and his gift flared between them, a bolt of vicious lust that had Crawford choking on his breath.

"Is it pride or shame?" Hoffmann wondered, propping his chin on Crawford's shoulder so he could stare at the car. "Too much pride to be seen bending, or an intense fear of the shame from crumbling? What do you think?"

"I am not sure, Mister Hoffmann."

"Maybe we can find out. Let's play a game." Hoffmann drew back. "You are driving. Take us to a hotel."

Crawford did not like the sound of this at all, but he obediently turned and opened the back door. Hoffmann slid in and Crawford waited until he was safely inside before shutting the door again. He put his glasses back on and got into the driver's seat. His keys were in the cup holder between him and Farfarello. Crawford glanced his way once as he got them on the road, unable to stop himself, and noted the white-knuckled grip Farfarello had on his arms. The Irishman was staring out his window, refusing to look at either of them. Farfarello hadn't been able to hear them, but he had to have seen something. Crawford didn't know if Hoffmann's gift was already in the Irishman's veins or if Farfarello was anticipating a session with Hoffmann with Crawford as an audience.

Crawford brought them to the first hotel they could find and let the valet take their car away. He didn't miss the way Farfarello brought his weapon with him. It wouldn't do Farfarello any good. He checked them in at the front desk, getting a two-room suite even though they were only going to use one bed. Hoffmann looked amused by that attempt at discretion, but he said nothing as they took the elevator up. Crawford stood between the two men and stared at the doors in front of him. It didn't help. Farfarello was trembling off to his side: not in fear, but in a silent fight against whatever Hoffmann was doing to him. Crawford could see it in his peripheral vision just as easily as he could see Hoffmann's wide smirk.

Crawford had all of the key cards, so he unlocked the door to their room, but he knew better than to precede Hoffmann inside. The Soul-Shaker went in first and Crawford glanced back at Farfarello. For a moment he didn't think Farfarello would follow him inside; the wary look in Farfarello's eye said the Irishman was in fight-or-flight mode. Crawford couldn't name a single time he'd ever seen Farfarello retreat, but Hoffmann brought that reaction out in everyone.

Despite the urge to run, Farfarello followed Crawford in. Pride was murder sometimes. Farfarello shut and locked the door and Crawford listened to the bolts slide into place. Hoffmann was waiting for them a few feet away, watching them both with hungry amusement. He knew how badly they didn't want to be here. Their expressions gave nothing away, but that mattered little to someone with his gift.

Schuldig, Crawford called.

It took a moment to get a response. Here.

Take your Athlon.

Ikida just stopped by with wonder drugs,
Schuldig sent back. I don't think they mix.


There was a pause as Schuldig wondered what Crawford was up to, but the telepath didn't protest. They were on extremely fragile ground after what Takatori had done to Schuldig and Farfarello last night. If Schuldig and Crawford hadn't had a chance to talk things through today, Schuldig wouldn't have even answered Crawford's mental call. No matter how much Schuldig wanted to demand an explanation, he couldn't. He'd told Crawford he would trust him despite everything that had happened. He wouldn't prove that sort of trust by doubting Crawford now.

Yeah, Schuldig said at length. I took it.

Hoffmann couldn't hear the mental conversation, but he felt Schuldig's mind drop out when the drugs kicked in. "You're not helping the argument any," the empath said, pointing at the floor in front of him. Crawford closed the distance between them, a little too aware of Farfarello's stare on the back of his head. "I suppose you have a good excuse."

"Schuldig cannot hear me, Mister Hoffmann," Crawford answered. "Farfarello is another story."

"You know better than to say his name to my face."

"My apologies, Mister Hoffmann."

Hoffmann leaned forward to bite Crawford's ear. "You aren't sorry," he hissed.

Crawford knew Hoffmann wasn't talking about this slip-up, but Schuldig in general, and Hoffmann was right. That did not make answering him an easy task. The web between Crawford, Schuldig, and Hoffmann was a mess of loathing and incurable jealousy. Hoffmann had always hated Schuldig, but "hate" had nothing on what he felt for the telepath now. Finding out this past year that Schuldig had fallen for Crawford had been hard enough for Hoffmann to swallow, but Hoffmann had dealt with it because he'd thought it would be a source of some dark amusement. Then he'd made the mistake of coming by the hospital to tell Crawford about it. Finding out it was mutual had pushed Hoffmann over the edge.

Crawford had thought dealing with Hoffmann's angry obsession was terrible; facing Hoffmann's gift when he'd been unable to move or make a sound had been something else entirely. It was instinctive to flinch away from pain. Lying there like a dead weight, letting Hoffmann do whatever he'd wanted, had been a sickening eye-opener. Crawford rarely dreamed anything coherent, a side-effect of his gift, but he had nightmares about that day.

Hoffmann dug his fingers into Crawford's shoulders and turned them both. It put Hoffmann between Crawford and Farfarello and let the two teammates see each other past him. Crawford fixed his gaze on the door, refusing to look at Farfarello. He didn't want to see Farfarello's expression. More than that, he didn't want Farfarello to see his.

"Off," Hoffmann said, and Crawford undid the buttons of his wet jacket. Hoffmann took it from him and tossed it carelessly to one side. His glasses suffered the same rough handling, but Crawford didn't hear any sound to indicate they'd broken. Hoffmann worked his way down the buttons of Crawford's shirt and shoved it down his arms to land on the ground behind them.

Farfarello's blade snapped out the second Hoffmann laid his hands on Crawford's bare skin. Crawford gave a slight shake of his head in an order to stand down. He thought he did, anyway, but it was hard to tell when Hoffmann's hands felt like they were tearing his sides open. He held on to an impassive expression with everything he had. Hoffmann smirked and leaned in to kiss him. His power snapped against Crawford's lips so sharply Crawford almost flinched back. Crawford ignored the pain and opened his mouth to Hoffmann's kiss.

He saw it when Farfarello started to move, and he did the only thing he could by getting between the pair. Hoffmann heard Farfarello coming, so he stepped neatly out of the way and let Crawford past him. Crawford caught Farfarello's wrist on the swing and wrenched it back out of the way. Farfarello snarled something hateful at him, struggling to get around him. It was hard fighting back when Crawford couldn't let go of his hand, but Farfarello wasn't exactly steady on his feet when Hoffmann's was gift making him dizzy.

Crawford managed to slam him up against the wall and pinned him there with his body. He pressed Farfarello's hands against white paint and grit his teeth, trying not to notice how Farfarello's body felt against his. He was not at all attracted to Farfarello, but it was hard to tell the difference with Hoffmann's empathy crawling under his skin.

Judging by Farfarello's quick breath, Crawford wasn't the only one affected. Farfarello flinched against him suddenly, hands jerking against the wall as Hoffmann's power ripped through him. He dropped his head to keep Crawford from seeing his expression slip. He couldn't hide his ragged gasp and Crawford fought to mentally distance himself from his teammate's torment. There was no way he could miss the faint flush to Farfarello's pale skin, a visible sign of Hoffmann's power. He dug his thumb into Farfarello's wrist in a warning.

"Put it away," he ordered, dragging Farfarello's other hand up to meet it. It took a bit of a fight, but he managed to get the blade retracted. A hard jab of his thumb into Farfarello's tendons loosened his grip and the sheathed weapon bounced off their arms on its way to the ground. Crawford kicked it aside, and Farfarello took advantage of the move to kick him. His boot slammed home in Crawford's stomach, throwing the precognitive against the other side of the hall. The look Farfarello sent him was a mask of white fury.

There was nothing Crawford could say to that silent accusation, because he knew he deserved the censure in Farfarello's gaze. He kept his expression as smooth as he could and looked back toward Hoffmann, who had just tossed Farfarello's short sword down the room's mail chute. Hoffmann did not look amused by the aborted attempt on his life, and the look he sent Farfarello was cold. Crawford didn't have time to look back at his teammate before Farfarello hit his knees. He shot a quick look at the teenager, but Farfarello was on his hands and knees with his head bowed. Fingers dug helplessly into the polished wood floor and Farfarello gasped for breath, desperate for some sort of control.

"The trick of not feeling pain is, of course, that the rest of his senses are oversensitive to compensate for the loss," Hoffmann said conversationally as he started their way. "Unlike you, he cannot distance himself through pain. Look at him, Oracle," Hoffmann insisted, and Crawford realized he'd looked away again. He turned his gaze back on his teammate, attempting to view the display as objectively as possible. There was nothing objective about it. Hoffmann was empathically raping his teammate, and there was nothing Crawford could do to stop it.

Hoffmann moved up behind him and slid his hands around Crawford's sides to his abdomen. Teeth marked out a line down his throat, tearing skin open with the barest of bites. Fingernails worked against skin that had lost most of the definition he'd had before his illness. Crawford had been steadily working out since then, trying to get himself in shape, but it was taking time. He wasn't completely healed, no matter what front he put on for his teammates, and tearing his gift apart with Takatori wasn't helping.

A hand dipped down the front of his pants and Hoffmann's power moved in time. Crawford grabbed at Hoffmann's wrists and arched helplessly against the empath. Hoffmann groaned at his ear and dug his grip deeper. Crawford sucked in a sharp breath through clenched teeth, struggling for mental balance and finding no ground to stand on.

Without warning, Hoffmann looped the two together. Hoffmann's hands were moving on Crawford and Farfarello could feel it like it was his own skin; polished wood beneath his hands and knees and Crawford felt it even though he was on both feet. Heat shuddered and sang between them, tangling and rebounding. The doubled intensity almost took Crawford off his feet. Hoffmann propped his back against the wall, dragging Crawford with him, and sank until he was sitting. He bent his legs to prop his shoes against the ground and yanked Crawford down between his legs, sealing them together back to chest.

As soon as they were braced against the floor, his hands were moving, yanking Crawford's pants undone. Crawford grabbed blindly at Hoffmann's knees. He didn't notice when his fingers dug in to leave half-moon prints through cloth; he didn't notice when he shoved at Hoffmann's legs for some sort of leverage. He couldn't breathe around Hoffmann's gift and touch.

Hate fear need lust guilt denial

That last wasn't his, and the realization that Crawford and Farfarello were bleeding more than Hoffmann's touch into each other startled Crawford a little out of his blind haze. Farfarello was still on his knees, but he'd sagged forward onto his elbows. He had his forehead pressed against the ground and his fingers knotted in his short hair so tight he risked losing part of his scalp.

"Do it, Farfarello," Hoffmann taunted him.

Farfarello's breath hitched in his throat a second before the backlash hit Crawford. Farfarello twisted his hands tighter and Crawford saw the first dots of blood on the back of his head. The Berserker refused to touch himself, refused to get off on what Hoffmann was doing him. Crawford didn't really blame him. He knew from long experience that there was no relief to be found in release. That was simply the first round in Hoffmann's perverted games. No doubt Farfarello had found that out the hard way.

Fingers skittered over Crawford's skin, distracting him from his teammate, pulling him steadily toward the edge. Farfarello made a harsh sound in his throat, something too close to despair. Crawford never wanted to hear that noise from him again.

Hoffmann let out a ragged pant against Crawford's shoulder and drew his hands back. "Go to him," he said. "I want to see."

What was left of Crawford's coherent mind said No, but it was instinctive to obey Hoffmann by now. He slid across the floor to where his teammate was and Hoffmann followed after him. It took Farfarello only a moment to notice Crawford, and by then it was too late. When he shoved himself up, he ran straight into Hoffmann.

Farfarello didn't need to be told what came next.

"I won't," Farfarello said harshly, straining back against Hoffmann. He stared at the far wall, refusing to look at Crawford, yellow eye dilated and wild with need. Hoffmann propped his chin on Farfarello's shoulder and offered Crawford a slow, heated smile. Whatever he did to Farfarello, it was enough to make the Berserker flinch. Pale hands twisted into white-knuckled fists on Hoffmann's pants and Farfarello pulled so hard he tore thread. Farfarello fought his power still, with whatever shreds of himself he still had left. Crawford knew from years of experience that it was a futile fight. He also knew that Farfarello would rather die than give in here. If Farfarello didn't cave, then Hoffmann would break him, plain and simple.

Crawford made the decision for both of them; he made the only call he could. As he reached for Farfarello, he fleetingly hoped that Schuldig would never find out about this. Farfarello jerked when Crawford touched him and fought back like a cornered beast, trying to get free. Trapped between the two of them and burned through with Hoffmann's gift, Farfarello couldn't win. Hoffmann caught Farfarello's hands, prying them off of Crawford's throat, and flattened them against the floor to either side of Crawford's hips.

Crawford slid his hands up to Farfarello's face, trying to view this all very clinically, trying to justify what he was about to do. Farfarello shot him a fierce look at the touch: an accusation, some bright, animalistic betrayal. The only thing Crawford had to offer him was a simple, "I'm sorry." The words tasted unfamiliar on his tongue. Farfarello went perfectly still for a moment, completely thrown, knocked even further off-balance by such unexpected words. That second was long enough for Crawford to lean in and kiss him.

Farfarello bit him so hard Crawford thought he was going to lose part of his lip, but it didn't hurt. Hoffmann's gift was a knife in his gut, twisting pain into savage hunger, and Crawford gasped against Farfarello's mouth. He heard Farfarello's sharp breath, and then Farfarello snapped. Fingers dug into Crawford's arm and chest, wanting to tear him open, wanting to push him down and feel every square inch of hard skin.

Farfarello was never going to forgive him for this, but Crawford didn't care. Schwarz needed Farfarello, and this was the only way either of them was going to walk away from Hoffmann today. Crawford could let Farfarello fuck him and get back on his feet afterward. Farfarello would not fare as well if Crawford topped him. Their relationship within Schwarz would shatter forever.

He let Farfarello shove him flat against the floor, let Farfarello fuck him into the wood with a blind rage and blinder need, because it was the only thing he could do to save his team. Halfway there Hoffmann's gift melted away from Crawford, leaving him with nothing but pain. He was shaking by the time Hoffmann finally let Farfarello shudder with release. Crawford didn't know how long it had been. Worse, he didn't know how much longer Hoffmann would have let it go on if his phone hadn't started ringing.

"Hoffmann," the empath said in greeting, sounding hugely irritated that he'd been interrupted.

Farfarello was slow to come back to his senses, but quick to try retreating. Crawford caught at him, more instinct than anything else, and stopped him before Farfarello could get far. "Don't," he said, barely a murmur.

Crawford didn't know why Farfarello listened to him, whether it was the pain in that soft word or the way his fingers were trembling against Farfarello's skin. He wasn't sure he cared what the reason was, so long as Farfarello went still. Crawford hated giving himself away like that, but he couldn't let Farfarello see his face yet. He didn't trust himself to have his expression under control.

He knew Hoffmann was talking to one of the other Councilmen, judging by his tone of voice, but Crawford couldn't make out the words. Now that Farfarello had finally gone still, Crawford's mind was filling with white noise. His body was trying to shut down from the overload. Crawford refused to give in to it and finally let his hands fall away from Farfarello's shoulders.

His teammate pulled away from him as quickly as he could, leaving Crawford sprawled on his back. Crawford slid his hands against the floor, wondering if there was any chance in hell that he'd be able to sit up. Arrogance got him moving when nothing else would, but it couldn't stop him from collapsing sideways to rest against the wall. He stared dully at his legs, absently taking note of the blood that Farfarello's hands and thrusts had drawn.

Hoffmann hung up and turned to contemplate the pair. At last he gave an annoyed grunt and shoved himself to his feet. He closed the distance between him and Crawford with a couple quick steps and leaned down. Hard fingers caught Crawford's chin, pulling his head around, and Hoffmann gave him a sound kiss.

"Now you understand," he said, and he left without a backward glance.

Now you understand how I feel.

Farfarello stared at Crawford as the door slammed somewhere behind him. Crawford already knew what silent, hateful demands he'd find in his teammate's gaze, and they weren't answers he was willing to give. Crawford dragged his gaze up to meet Farfarello's anyway, refusing to look like he was hiding something.

If Farfarello hadn't been furious already, seeing Crawford's patented serene expression did the trick. Crawford had just started shifting, trying to figure out the logistics of getting to his feet, when Farfarello moved. He caught Crawford around his throat and slammed him up against the wall, yellow stare bright with murderous rage and denial.

It was too soon after Hoffmann's tricks; Crawford couldn't stop himself from flinching at the pain of impact. Farfarello's fingers relaxed marginally on his throat as if that was all he needed, was some sign that Crawford was bothered by what had just happened.

"You're going to have to drive," Crawford said as calmly as he could. There was no way he'd be able to. He wasn't even sure how he was going to sit in the passenger seat. He forced his façade back into place and this time Farfarello let him.

"Why?" Farfarello demanded harshly.

Why wasn't Crawford angry, why had Crawford let Hoffmann do such a thing, why was Hoffmann so obsessed, why had Crawford turned things to try and protect Farfarello—there were a thousand questions in that short word and none of them had to do with Crawford's request. He was not crass enough to feign misunderstanding. Instead Crawford thought about Aine and a secret he wasn't going to be able to hide for much longer.

"Because I am a Five," he said simply, "and Hoffmann is my direct supervisor. I have never had the right to tell him no. I am whatever he demands me to be."

"A whore," Farfarello said acidly.

Crawford aimed for a cold smile; the piercing look Farfarello fixed him with said it came out hollow. A hint of real, bleak emotion helped settle Farfarello some, not that Crawford cared much. Crawford didn't let Farfarello's judgment bother him; he knew Farfarello was furious with both of them and Hoffmann most of all. "He will not look at you again," he said with calm certainty. "I will stay away from Schuldig, and he will stay away from you."

"You can't see him," Farfarello said.

"No," Crawford agreed, "but some parts of his personality are damnably predictable."

As much as Crawford hated being the focal point of Hoffmann's unhealthy obsession, he hated getting his teammates dragged into it more. Hoffmann would have felt that in him tonight and, being a possessive, manipulative bastard, would jump all over that bandwagon. He'd actually managed to make Crawford appreciate his single-mindedness and he would exploit it any chance he got.

Farfarello didn't understand, but he didn't need Crawford to explain. The Oracle sounded so sure that Farfarello couldn't help but believe him. Trust—when it should have shattered tonight, when Crawford wasn't sure any scrap of it could have survived between them.

Crawford wondered if it would be enough when it mattered most. He thought about bodies burning on sand and rocks and fought to get to his feet. It took a couple tries and he wasn't entirely sure how he stayed standing. Farfarello watched him silently, studying how hard it was for Crawford to keep it together, and separated their clothes into two stacks. Crawford brought his into the restroom, not out of any hint of modesty, but because moving was too hard on his gift-damaged body. He almost didn't make it to the toilet before he threw up and he had to lean against the wall to get dressed.

They took the elevator down in silence and had the valet fetch their car. Crawford did not hesitate to climb into the passenger seat, even though he knew sitting down was going to be a mistake. His body locked up halfway into the car; he had to grab at the safety handle to pull himself in the rest of the way. Farfarello was standing outside his door, waiting to see how he fared. It wasn't concern, not even curiosity. Farfarello was simply cataloguing tonight's damage, measuring everything Hoffmann had done and storing it away.

Crawford wanted to say "We'll kill him for this", but he couldn't, not when they were outside of their mental bond. Farfarello wouldn't understand. More than that, Farfarello, like Crawford, would know that Hoffmann's death wouldn't take back what they'd done to each other here today.

They said nothing to each other on the way back to Takatori's mansion and went up to Schwarz's floor without looking at each other. Farfarello went straight to his room and shut himself in willingly, and Crawford detoured to the bathroom to shower. He stayed under the spray until the hot water had run cold, but it didn't make him feel any cleaner.

Crawford had to wonder if anything ever would.


#28 : Crawford x Farfarello

Crawford made it halfway down the hall before his feet stopped walking. He stood silent and still in the middle of the hallway, staring ahead at his guides without really seeing them. His shoes might as well have been packed in concrete; they wouldn't budge to move another step forward. They would, however, let him turn, and he shifted to face the door at his right. The window at head-height was shielded by crisscrossing bars. It was hard to see inside the room past them, as the spaces left between the rows were only just big enough for the barrel of a gun.

"Flint's office is just at the end of the hall," one doctor said, a prompt to keep moving.

"Whose room is this?" Crawford wanted to know.

"He isn't on the market."

"I did not necessarily say I would be buying," Crawford returned. "I asked you who stays here."

The doctors exchanged glances, debating, and Crawford knew he wasn't supposed to see this room. His gift thought otherwise, and he had made a lifelong habit of listening to that power. Flint could wait. Schwarz wouldn't crumble if he failed to sign the pyrokinetic within the next five minutes.

Finally one of the doctors flipped through his charts and held out a file. It was full of medical facts and test results. Crawford didn't understand any of it, but the sheer wealth of information said at least a dozen doctors had been by, each meaning to prove their predecessors wrong in whatever they'd found. The only things that meant anything to Crawford were the date of the person's incarceration, which was a year ago, and the reports of how many personnel had died over the course of that year while attending to him. At the very end of the file was a report that stated the man had been on the brink of death when he'd been picked up from an abandoned Estet research facility.

The latter was reason enough to be interested. "Open the door," he said, closing the folder and handing it back. The doctors balked at such an order, but Crawford did not give them time to argue. He fixed them with a cold look, speaking with full authority as one of Estet's team leaders, and said, "Now."

They hesitated still, but they did what he told them to, and that was all that mattered. It took three keys to unlock the door and two men to open it. Crawford watched as it slowly swung open, then gazed past it at the light that was spilling across the floor from the doorway. A beam of light brought a sliver of a man into view where he was crouched against the back wall. A single eye glinted in the darkness, and then the light slowly spread wider to outline his entire body.

The man was trussed up in a straitjacket, with wide bands wrapped around his arms and torso in three places on top of the jacket. Chains curled around the floor around him, connecting him to the wall at his back by the straps across his body. The room smelled like old death where no one had given the walls and floor a thorough cleaning after any of the murders here. Crawford didn't smell the sour scent of unwashed flesh, which meant the doctors were at least taking good care of their prized find, likely for whatever reason was encrypted by medical speech in the file. He suspected strong tranquilizers were all that permitted such care.

The light switch was in the hallway. One of the doctors flipped it, filling the room with more substantial light than was filtering in around their bodies. Crawford slipped his hands into his jacket pockets and stood in the doorway. His gaze followed the chains, rapidly calculating the length. He adjusted for the angle from their bolts on the wall, came up with a number, and judged it against the distance between him and the far wall. When he thought he'd gotten it more or less right, he ran it through his gift. He was an inch off; he watched his throat get torn open by furious teeth. He adjusted his number accordingly.

It took less than a minute, and when he had it sorted out, he started into the room. He stopped in the exact spot he needed to if he wanted to be right out of reach. He could practically feel the doctors' alarm, but they kept quiet and hung back to watch. He said nothing to them to send them on their way just yet, content to study the crouched man.

If the doctors were alarmed, this stranger was the complete opposite. The smile that pulled at full lips was vicious and mocking. For as slow as it formed, it was quick to disappear, leaving behind a stony, pale façade. The man slowly unfolded from his crouch, rising to his feet more gracefully than anyone in a straitjacket had a right to. Once he was fully upright, Crawford could see the restrictive bands strapped between his thighs.

He knew beyond a doubt that this conversation would go nowhere so long as they had an audience. He also knew what would happen if he looked away from the man. Crawford knew his numbers were good, so he looked over his shoulder at the doctors. He heard the chains rattle even as he saw horror wash out the doctors' expressions, but he didn't bother to look back at the sound of metal snapping tight. Breath was short and harsh against his throat as the stranger hit the end of his chains hard enough to knock the air from his lungs.

"Step back into the hall and close the door behind you," Crawford said. "This does not concern you."

"Mr. Crawford, this is an unacceptable risk," one of the men protested

"Your insubordination is more-so and is twice as likely to get you terminated," Crawford said. "You will step back into the hall and close the door. If you make me say it one more time, I will call Personnel and have you replaced."

No one retired from Rosenkreuz; they were retired from life when Rosenkreuz had no further need of them. The doctors were human enough to weigh his life against their own, and they stepped back into the hall. The door was loud as it slammed into place, and the doctors locked him in. He knew they would watch through the bars, but the window and door were thick enough that they would not be able to hear. Satisfied that he finally had some privacy, Crawford turned to face his newest problem.

The other man was a good head shorter than him and dangerously pale. He looked bleached, from his too-tawny eye to his white skin to his whiter hair. The only real color about him was the gray of the bands that wrapped over his stark white jacket. He was attractive despite his washed-out appearance. Crawford catalogued that reaction and set it neatly aside as unhelpful and unnecessary.

The abundance of white created conflicting signals of innocence and insanity. Crawford settled on less used imagery: the white light at the end of the tunnel. This man was nothing if not murder in a compact form. The second twist of want was more for that danger than for the man himself. Crawford thrived on power and pain, and this man was exactly that.

The man had taken a half-step back, giving himself a little leeway in his chains. He looked amused by his miss rather than angry. The look in his eye was a lazy challenge. Crawford was not inclined to turn him down.

"I assume that you speak English or German," Crawford said.

"I assume that I speak both," was the response, half in English, half in German.

His English was twisted with an accent that Crawford placed as Celtic, but he had not heard enough of that sort of accent to determine if it was Scottish or Irish in origins. Crawford opted to stick with English, since the accent meant it was this man's mother tongue. "I would have your name."

"I would have a reason to give you it."

"As you wish." Crawford started to turn away, as if he honestly didn't care how well this conversation went. He half-expected the other man to call his bluff, because Crawford had to have locked himself in this room for a reason. The European had to know he was being played with, but that didn't ease his curiosity any. This man's file wasn't in any of Rosenkreuz's official paperwork, which meant it was likely that only the medical ward knew he was here. Crawford was his first brush with the outside world in a year. The Oracle only made it a step away before the man spoke.


Crawford turned back on him, satisfied by that bit of cooperation. "I am Crawford, team leader of Estet's Schwarz. I have come to contract a fourth man for my team. I already have a person in mind, but my superiors felt I should at least give you passing consideration. Perhaps you would like to try justifying that request."

"If you need it explained, then you have no right to call on me," Farfarello said. "So much power, don't you want a taste of it?"

"You're not strong enough to tempt me."

That earned him a smile, a slow, wicked expression. The other man leaned forward as far as he could, pulling his restraints taut. Crawford had not a single doubt in his mind that he would be dead if only one of those bolts would give. He took a step forward rather than back, moving right into Farfarello's space, stopping just a tiny bit out of reach. The man didn't take the bait; he knew he would miss if he tried to take a bite out of Crawford's throat. He wasn't up to humoring Crawford's arrogance by trying. Instead he rolled his head to one side, slanting a cold look up at the American out of his single good eye.

"Maybe you should look again."

"I have seen more than enough," Crawford answered, affecting boredom. "I am not impressed."

"One wonders what sort of man he is, who thinks he can hold my leash so easily."

"If I were your master, I would not need a leash."

"I would not heel when you said heel."

"But you would kill if I said kill, and I daresay you would enjoy it."

"None so much as I would enjoy yours. You have not answered my question."

"I am a prescient."

"Then look again," the European invited him a second time.

Crawford did not expect to see much when it had been barely more than a feeling that had brought him into this room in the first place, but it was worth a try. He opened his gift, looking for anything of interest, and was promptly lost in a vicious rush. Colors and sounds tangled around each other, sharper than he'd ever been able to see them. He could almost feel the heat of blood as throats were sliced open. He watched Farfarello move like a whirlwind in his mind, tearing through bodies like fingers through water. There was a flicker-short burst of orange light, Schuldig propping his arm on Farfarello's shoulder, an indication that the team would fit well around this strange man, and then—

Hands pushing at shoulders, shoving him up against the wall so hard he hit with a meaty bang, almost hard enough to crush the air out of his lungs. Fingernails tearing skin deep enough to draw blood, fingers twisting so roughly in each other's hair that they pulled strands loose. A mouth moving against his cheek, opening on a ragged breath, lips twisting in a snarled demand. They were both playing with fire, wrapping themselves around something that could kill them in a heartbeat, but that was the attraction, that was the damnable draw, and they were quite willing to take the risk. He shoved a knee between Farfarello's legs just to hear the sharp breath the other sucked in, and then Farfarello was sliding a leg up Crawford's to dig into his hip.

"Ohhh," Farfarello mused, distracting Crawford from his thoughts. "That was unexpected."

Crawford blinked his way free of his power and realized he'd been had. He didn't know what Farfarello had done or how, but he knew the European was the reason his visions had been so lucid, just as he knew Farfarello had seen what he'd seen.

"You're an Amplifier," Crawford deduced.

"You're going to take me out of here today," Farfarello returned easily.

"It seems I am," Crawford said.

"I do not care what you saw," Farfarello informed him matter-of-factly. "If you put me on a leash, I will kill you."

Crawford thought he understood then why Estet had left Farfarello for dead. Likely someone had made that mistake, and Farfarello had not taken well to being anyone's dog. He'd bitten the hand that fed him, and Estet had beaten him within an inch of his life in return.

"I have no time to waste on housetraining pets," Crawford said. "I need killers who can think for themselves but who still know to follow orders when they're necessary. We are a very busy team."

Farfarello didn't trust him, but Farfarello didn't trust anyone. He was still willing to take a chance on Crawford telling the truth if it meant getting out of here and getting a blade in his hands again. He took a step back, conceding the argument, and Crawford went to signal the doctors to open the door. They locked Farfarello in and brought Crawford down the hall to an office where he could start writing up paperwork. It took a dozen phone calls and over an hour to clear the acquisition, since the medical ward fought him every step of the way, but Crawford won.

Two hours later they opened Farfarello's door, handed Crawford the keys, and went to barricade themselves out of reach. Crawford crossed the room alone, walking past the safe point on the floor and going to meet Farfarello where he was standing propped up against the far wall. Shreds of self-control were all that kept Farfarello from killing him for such arrogance and Crawford knew it. As he twisted the key in the first of Farfarello's locks, he turned his head to meet Farfarello's stare head-on. Murder, mockery, and calculating interest; Crawford knew from the look in Farfarello's eye that their entire career together would be an uphill fight. He also knew they'd be fucking before the month was out.

Judging from the cold smile that twitched at the corner of Farfarello's mouth, the European knew that, too.

Crawford decided it would all be worth it.


Part 2
Back to Mami's Fics