Separation Anxiety

"I hope I left her enough food."

Nagi's quiet remark earned him two blank stares. Only Farfarello didn't look back.

Nagi stared back at them, frowning in irritation. "For Irony," he snapped. "I left her a big dish of food before we left."

"Oh, Christ." Schuldich made a face and moved past the small boy, being sure to bump into him roughly. He stomped up the stairs, following Farfarello. "I forgot all about the little ratbag. If I'd known you'd left food out, I would've thrown it away. Then she could starve to death and save us the trouble of getting rid of her ourselves."

Nagi glared at his back.

Crawford remained silent. He'd forgotten about their unwanted guest as well. The past week had been a bit too hectic to think of anything but paperwork, travel arrangements, and conferences. Now he found himself sharing Schuldich's hope. Maybe she'd died. Or gotten out somehow. He should have left a window open.

They reached their floor, and he shifted his travel bag to his other hand to unlock the apartment door. Nagi and Schuldich were arguing about a movie they'd seen on the plane, and Farfarello was hovering in the background, face expressionless.

Crawford managed to get the door open and take three steps inside.

Then a black ball of fur was launching itself from the small table they kept by the door for keys and mail. Crawford stumbled back a step, yanking his gun from its holster as something hit him square in the chest and attached itself with tiny sharp claws.

"YOOOOWWWW!" Irony wailed right under his chin. Then she lost her grip and tumbled to the floor.

Schuldich had initially tensed in alarm at the abrupt "attack", but was currently leaning against the doorjamb, laughing himself sick.

Nagi's eyes were wide as he moved around Crawford and picked up the scrawny kitten. "I think she missed you, Crawford," he noted with a thread of amusement in his tone.

Crawford glared murder at the wriggling kitten in Nagi's arms, putting his gun away and reaching up to rub at his chest where Irony's claws had dug in painfully. "Schuldich, shut up," he snapped irritably. "Nagi, take that thing outside and kill it."

"She's just happy to see you," Nagi protested, holding the kitten protectively against his chest despite her struggles.

Farfarello came up behind Crawford and settled his chin on the taller man's shoulder, watching Irony with an arched brow. "So it would seem."

Crawford shrugged him off in annoyance and toed off his shoes. He went straight to his room, throwing his bag on the bed before inspecting the front of his shirt. There were tiny little perforations in the silk, which did nothing to help his temper.

"Jesus, squirt, think you left her enough chow?" came Schuldich's incredulous voice from the kitchen.

"I wasn't sure how much she'd eat.. Why won't she hold still?"

"She wants to see 'daddy'," Schuldich snickered.

Scowling, Crawford shrugged out of the shirt and spread the material between his hands, trying to judge if the damage was severe or if the shirt could be salvaged. First he was going to cram the furball down the garbage disposal. Then he was going to force Schuldich's hand in after it. At least if he was screaming in pain, he wouldn't be able to voice any more smart-ass comments.

There was no sound, but Crawford caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to find Farfarello just inside his doorway.

"Your cat missed you," the Berserker pointed out needlessly.

"It isn't mine," Crawford said shortly, balling up the shirt in disgust and tossing it into the nearby hamper.

Farfarello cocked his head. "You're stubborn. Even Schuldich calls her 'she' now."

"I don't want the cat, Farfarello," Crawford reminded him testily, prying open the clasp on his watch before dropping the timepiece on his nightstand. "I never did. If you want it, so be it. But you need to learn to control it."

Farfarello's eye narrowed slightly. "She's yours," he repeated, his tone almost a warning. He strode over to stand right in front of the older man. "You think you can win simply by acknowledging her existance. That's cheating, Oracle."

Crawford glared back. "This 'game' again?" he demanded impatiently. "I don't have time for this, Farfarello. Or for your ridiculous whims. Either you take care of the cat, or it goes."

Farfarello reached out suddenly and grabbed a fistful of the other man's undershirt. He yanked firmly, dragging him forward a step so there was barely any space between their bodies. "If you won't play with the cat," he said quite calmly, "then pay more attention to your dog."

Crawford seized the man's wrist, trying to loosen the grip on his shirt, but he might as well have been tugging at a steel beam. "I've had it with your 'games' and rules that only you understand," he said coolly. "I think it's time for you to spend more time in your room."

That meant straightjackets and hours and hours alone, and Farfarello's expression shifted into something more dangerous at the threat. He shoved suddenly, and Crawford stumbled back, his back connecting with the wall hard. He barely had time for a grunt of surprise; a second later Farfarello was pressed up against him, hands flying down to snatch the American's wrists in a painfully tight grip and prevent any retaliation. "Beat your dog and it might bite back," he warned, baring his teeth in emphasis.

Crawford tried unsuccessfully to pull his hands free, glaring back in mounting anger. "Get off of me, Farfarello."

Farfarello jerked, lifting his arms and pinning the other man's hands above his head, pressing them against the wall so hard Crawford's fingertips tingled with the lack of blood. Crawford tensed as teeth pressed against the side of his neck, but Farfarello didn't quite bite down-- barely. He went completely still, eyes darting towards where he'd put his gun down on the bed.

"This game gets boring when you don't play by the rules," came Farfarello's muffled voice from against his throat, tone almost impatient. He shifted and pressed up harder against Crawford, which was uncomfortable, invasive, and... alarmingly interesting all at the same time. "And I'm getting very tired of you misbehaving."

"Misbehaving?" Crawford repeated indignantly. "Get OFF, Far--"

"You won't play by the rules. And you still think you're better than me."

Crawford clenched his teeth and glared at the far wall. "I am," he said coldly.

The teeth against his neck bit down just enough to hurt, then abruptly disappeared as Farfarello pulled back to glare up at him. "Everyone else is playing by the rules."

"What the hell are you..." Belatedly Crawford realized that there had been absolute silence in the house since Farfarello had entered his room. His eyes darted suspiciously towards the door. Where the hell had the other two idiots gone? Why weren't they still arguing about cat food or movies? A small seed of unease began growing in his gut.

As if on cue, Irony came galloping in, crying frantically. She ran right over to them and, ignoring Farfarello completely, stretched up and dug sharp claws into Crawford's calf, demanding attention loudly.

Farfarello stared down at her for a long moment, then shifted his gaze to Crawford's face, expression impossible to decipher. Crawford ignored him, staring stubbornly down at Irony as if the Berserker was not even there.

The grip on his wrists tightened suddenly, grinding bones together, and he barely managed to supress a noise of startled pain. Then Farfarello was releasing him and stepping back, hands falling by his sides.

Crawford bent over briefly to scoop up Irony in one hand, pressing her to his chest to hold her still and turning an angry look on the silent Irishman. "Get in your room, Farfarello," he commanded in a voice that promised to reward disobedience with Bad Things. "Now." Irony wriggled and dug in with her claws, hiking herself up until she was draped across his shoulder, her rusty purr rumbling right in his ear.

Farfarello gazed back at him from under a hooded lid. He sent a brief glance towards the gun on the bed, then slowly turned and left as if nothing had happened.

Irony, ignorant of the tension still hanging in the air, rubbed her tiny head against Crawford's cheek and purred louder.