Part Seven

    Farfarello doesn't really get better. He's not keeling over anywhere, but there's something decidedly off about him. Maybe it's my imagination, but he looks whiter than before. I'm no doctor though, and the only way it really effects me is that it means Farfarello isn't going out on jobs with Kritiker. Crawford doesn't need to take me shopping anymore, so for a few days there's a funny sort of limbo around the place as we all exist around each other. On the fourth day Crawford leaves to go to work and I watch him go from the front door before going in search of Farfarello.

    The Irishman is sitting at the table in the kitchen with a piece of fruit in his hands, pale fingers curved around it, as he gazes through it. I come to an abrupt stop in the doorway, staring in surprise. It's a peach. No. I threw out the peaches. It's a fucking peach.

    "That's not yours."

    "Shut up," he says. "Leave me alone."

    "I threw those away."

    "No," he answers, slanting a hard look up at me. I feel it digging into my forehead but my eyes are still on the peach held so protectively in his fingers. "You crushed them and then left them in the fridge for me. I threw them away."

    "Details. Give it to me."

    "I won't."

    I stalk across the room for the table, but my hand is only halfway to him when silver blurs. I go still instinctively and stare down at the knife he's driven into the table top barely a breath away from my fingers. "What the fuck?" I demand, jerking my hand back. "You almost took my fingers off."

    Farfarello's fingers tighten around the hilt of his blade even as his free hand pulls the peach closer to him. "I said no," he tells me, very quietly. It's that kind of whisper Farfarello uses on the people he's about to start tearing apart and I can't believe he's using it on me. Fucking traitor; we're on the same goddamned team.

    "Are we, Schuldich?" he asks, jerking the knife free and pointing it at me.

    "Not anymore," I tell him.

    "Why do you hate me?"

    "You already know the answer to that. Give me the peach."



    "Don't make me repeat myself."

    "You're making *me*," I point out. I make a grab at the fruit and he smacks me with his knife. He manages to hit mostly with the flat of the blade so that he leaves just a thin line of blood across the back of my hand and I jerk my hand back with a snarl. "Farfarello, I am not fucking playing these games with you."

    "Is this what it was for?" Farfarello wants to know, still pointing his knife at me. He lowers his gaze from me to the blood on his knife to the peach. "Is this what it is now? A death match for a fruit." The corner of his mouth quirks up in the smallest of smirks but it's cold without any real emotion behind it. "Schwarz…"

    "Everything orange in this house is mine."

    "He isn't orange."

    Silence follows that flat accusation. When Farfarello lifts his gaze to me again, I offer him a black look. "You just can't see it," I tell him.

    Farfarello pushes himself to his feet and I follow him there, ready for a fight. Farfarello just eyes me across the table and then puts his knife away. There's a curiously blank sort of look on his face; maybe it goes hand in hand with that hollow, icy knot that's eating apart my insides. He put his knife away – why? Why won't he just fucking *fight* already? I have to be better than him. I have to be stronger. I have to win. I'll kill him and then Crawford will be free from him. I'll kill him for that peach. That's my fruit. Mine. Orange.


    "What do you want?"

    "Why do you hate me?"

    I can't believe he's asking me that. I just glare at him and it takes him a few moments more to come up with something else to say. "I should have killed you that day."

    I just stare at him, struggling to figure out how to react to that, but he's already moving towards the door. He's past me before I can think enough to move and I whirl around, grabbing my chair and hurling it at his back. He hears the clatter as it is jerked around the floor but he's too close to me to dodge it, and it catches him hard across the legs. It's not strong enough to knock him down but he comes to a stop with his back to me. Stupid can't-feel-pain Irishman.

    "Don't flatter yourself," I tell him.

    At last he slowly turns. "Schuldich. Tomorrow."

    I offer him a smirk. "Tomorrow you'll try?" I taunt him.

    His smile is small and vicious, hateful and bitter. "Tomorrow is the last day of the month."

    It takes half a minute for my mind to process this and what he means by that, and then I'm lunging for his throat.

    I wake up in bed. I sit up and hear glass shatter against the ground. I fumble for the lamp and manage to turn it on, and stare down at white sheets stained purple from grape juice. The empty cup that had been left on the sheets near me is now broken on the floor.

    The door clicks shut and I hear Farfarello's boots going back down the hall.


    When I get up the next morning, they're already in the kitchen. Farfarello is picking at toast and eating another stupid peach and Crawford has his newspaper out. There's an empty mug on the counter by the coffee pot and I help myself to whatever's left in the pot. I stay by the counter for a minute, gazing across the room at them and feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. They're sitting at the same table – too close. It's the last day of the month. Farfarello is going to unleash his selfish, disgusting side today and he's going to break the team—

    Farfarello slams his mug down so hard it shatters between his hands and the table. I wait for an angry retort but nothing comes. When he finally looks up to meet my gaze I see that there's just too much resentment and anger there for him to figure out what words to use. I bare my teeth at him across the room and watch his mouth harden to a thin line. How does *he* think he can resent *me* when he's the one who refuses to let go?

    "Schuldich." It's Crawford's voice, hard as a whip. It's ridiculous that he's calling me to order when Farfarello's the one that just made the mess.

    "You can't stop it," Farfarello tells me flatly.

    "I will," I promise him. It's a threat and I know he can hear it in my words.

    "It's not your place. You asked for a month. We gave you a month. Your mind is stabile."

    "Don't try me."

    "Schuldich, don't start this," Crawford warns me. "Let it drop."

    "I won't," I tell him flatly. "Why should he have you?"

    "He doesn't want you," Farfarello sends back.

    "And he wants a stupid white freak like you?" I demand, and Farfarello doesn't- can't- say anything in response to that.

    But Crawford can and he does: "Yes."

    "You're lying."

    "Farfarello," Crawford says, very quietly. "Go clean up your hands." Farfarello doesn't move; he's still staring at me. "Farfarello," Crawford says again, and at last the Irishman pushes himself to his feet and stalks out of the room. The precognitive gets to his feet and tucks his chair in neatly and I set my mug aside, most of my irritation fading in favor of having Crawford to myself. I pull my hair in front of my face, considering the way he looks tainted through it.

    "What should I call you?" Crawford wonders as he picks up shards of Farfarello's mug. "What name should I use?"

    "Schuldich," I offer him. "Or lover."

    "You will never be the latter," Crawford says, turning to carry broken ceramic over to the trash can. "And you are no longer the first. What does that mean?"

    I eye him, sliding closer. Orange. Mine. "What *does* that mean?"

    "We have spent the past two months trying to put Schuldich's mind back together and we failed," Crawford says. "Perhaps we were foolish for trying in the first place. A telepath is his gift; without it he is nothing. That is what you have become: nothing." He looks over at me as I stop beside him and it's not Crawford watching me, it's Oracle. I'm annoyed to see that distance between us. I reach for him and he moves my hand away. "You are nothing but a shattered mind and hatred now."

    "I'm getting better," I tell him.

    "You've fallen too far. If you can go on missions with us, then what does it mean if you are not willing to work with Farfarello?"

    "We replace Farfarello," I answer. "He's just another Talentless-"

    In this moment, I can't remember Crawford ever hitting me before. I think I would remember, because it hurts like a bitch. I crash into the counter and have to scrabble at the edge to keep from falling down, and I can't breathe around the way my jaw feels shattered.

    "That Talentless," Crawford tells me quietly, "is the only string still holding you up." I try to sneer at him, but I'm not sure how well it works when I can't feel my mouth. Crawford doesn't wait to let me speak. "What happened to your gift when your mind imploded, Schuldich? It wrapped itself around the only two minds it could find. He doesn't have the right shields for that."

    "He can hear me," I tell Crawford.

    "You're tearing his mind apart with every breath you take, every hateful thought and flicker."

    "That's the best news I've heard all year."

    "It wasn't worth it," Crawford tells me. "Not what it did to his mind then or what he let it do last week to help your mind stabilize. You didn't go to the grocery store and back again on your own power. He's been rebuilding his shields around your mind and gift to hold it in place and be the anchor that keeps you sane, but the madness that twists you now can still eat away at him. This," and he points at me, "is not what he made that sacrifice for. He did it for Schuldich. He did it for Schwarz. But Schuldich died a month ago, and you are nothing but a hateful wretch now."

    "I'm not seeing any downsides for me," I tell him. "Farfarello's going mad with my gift and I'm stabile. So let him collapse and we'll start anew. We don't even have to call it Schwarz. You don't have to call me Schuldich. We'll find something completely new, just for us." I reach for him again and Crawford's fingers crush my wrist. "Let go."

    "Stop falling," Crawford warns me. "We don't have much left for you to tear apart. You have to get past this. You have to learn how to hold up your own mind and you have to stop killing him. If you lose him, you'll lose yourself."

    "Say you're mine."

    "That I won't do."

    "Then you'll let him die?" I ask him, arching an eyebrow at him. "What sort of man is Crawford, to let his psychotic lover waste away just so he doesn't have to sleep with a half-mad telepath? You say you're mine and I'll let him go. I'll stop hating him. I won't have a reason to hate him anymore."

    "I don't know you anymore."

    "Maybe you should have foreseen the tower falling, then," I tell him. "Maybe Nagi died but maybe you should just admit to all of us that it was your fault for not seeing that coming. He didn't have to die. Is that why you're trying so hard with me and letting Farfarello fall apart for me? You know it's your fault and you're trying to keep together what you broke. It's not going to work."

    Crawford doesn't answer; he just pushes my hand away and starts for the door. "Seven years, Schuldich," he says from the doorway. "You and I have been Schwarz for seven years. This wasn't how I thought it would end."

    "You can change it," I insist, but he's already gone. I shove away from the counter, cradling one hand to my chest, and stop in the hallway. Crawford doesn't look back when he steps into Farfarello's room and I hear the lock clack into place.

    Fall, I tell myself, but my mind doesn't budge. Fall fall fall fucking fall take Farfarello out take him completely apart. Flicker. Flicker flicker sand and water and blood and Nagi and—

    I can't find a trigger. Whatever Farfarello did to my mind to protect the both of us keeps me from falling now. I hurry down the hall and catch at the knob, but it won't turn under my hand. I kick at the wood, trying to break it open, but it shudders and doesn't give. I kick again and again and at last something snaps and the door swings open.

    Farfarello is sitting cross-legged on his pillows in bed, wrapping bandages around his hands. Crawford is sitting further down on the edge of the bed, cleaning his gun. Neither look up at my entrance or comment on the broken door, and I hate them both in that moment for being in here. If they aren't fucking then they came here to get away from me. Trying to get a break from the madness- trying to get a break from everything that's changed. Maybe they just should have fucking killed me a month ago so they'd both have their sanity and their perfect fucking relationship. Maybe they just should have accepted that Schwarz was gone, destroyed with Nagi's death, and killed me too.

    "Why the fuck did you hold on?" I want to know. I don't know which one I'm asking. I feel so tired. Why should they feel like they can take a step back from me? Why should they be allowed to hide away? I can't get away from any of this.

    "You're Schwarz," Farfarello answers, as if that's everything.

    Once upon a time, it was.

    I leave them there, broken door still ajar, and go back to the living room. Nagi is waiting for me on the couch with a book and he arches an eyebrow at me as I sit down in Crawford's chair. I watch as he finishes reading and drifts off to sleep, and silence stretches through the house. The door never closes, and I can't hear if Crawford and Farfarello say anything else.

    It's… empty.


    We're empty.

    Trying so hard to hold onto what we used to have, trying so hard to hold onto a team… It's such a waste of time. They're finding out what I've already come to terms with: there can't be a Schwarz anymore. There can't be anything like what we had before. It simply won't exist.

    "Hey Nagi," I call, and he stirs a little to look back at me. "Are you getting lonely yet? I don't think you will be for much longer…"

Part 8
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