Part Six

    Getting rid of Schuldig did nothing at all to make the apartment feel safer. Nagi's skin hadn't stopped crawling since they'd first gone to Kurogawa's place, and taking Kurogawa and Schuldig's vicious leer out of the equation didn't solve anything. He was still stuck with Crawford and Farfarello. It was twisted perversion replaced by cold sociopaths and he wasn't sure which one was better.

    Crawford sat him at the kitchen table for the rest of the morning so they could go over files. Farfarello read the papers aloud in a bored monotone and then took his time describing the schematics they'd been given. Crawford listened in perfect silence, fingers curved around a black porcelain mug. His gaze was on the sheets Farfarello was reviewing and he watched as Farfarello set each one aside. Nagi, in turn, watched him and wondered how such a sharp gaze could see absolutely nothing.

    But it wasn't nothing, was it?

    He told himself he wasn't curious, not when it came to such a horrible person, and he forced his attention back down to the sheets before either man called him out on his distraction. Like Crawford, he pointed his gaze at the layouts and reports and stared right through them. His thoughts, however, were fixated on escaping this madhouse. He could leave the money they'd given him, just so they couldn't claim he'd stolen their money. It'd be easy to steal money from someone else to get back to Osaka. No, they'd found him in Osaka. He'd have to go further. Maybe he'd go to Shikoku. Surely they wouldn't follow him so far. It would cost a fortune. All he had to do was wait until they were all asleep and he could bolt.

    Crawford lifted his fingers, gesturing for Farfarello to wait, and said, "You will not make it."

    Farfarello turned a sideways look on Nagi, a rather sizeable feat for someone who only had one eye. Nagi stared back at both of them, feeling ill. "What?"

    "Farfarello has already told you to stop hinging your hopes on escape."

    "And I've already told you that I want absolutely nothing to do with a group like yours. Take your money back and let me go."

    "You are wasting our time," Crawford told him, in a tone of voice that said that was the last thing Nagi should try doing. "This is important work and I will not allow you to jeopardize it."

    "Just let me go and find someone else," Nagi insisted. "I won't do this kind of work."

    "Hidaka does this sort of work," Crawford said. "Did you actually think you would find him in Osaka?"

    Nagi stared blankly back at him, searching blind eyes with more than a little bit of confusion. "Who?"

    Crawford slid the fingers of his left hand over the knuckles of his left. "The man who killed your family," he said simply, and Nagi's heart thudded so hard against his ribcage that he actually rocked forward in his seat. "He is in Tokyo now."

    "Wh- You—" He struggled for words he couldn't find or voice. His throat had gone dry and he swallowed several times, trying to un-stick his tongue long enough to get the question out. It should have been a demand, but it sounded far too unsteady. "How do you know about him?"


    The man had a name now, and it was Hidaka.

    "You were not the only choice of telekinetic I could have hired for this team," Crawford said, lifting his mug just enough to feel if liquid sloshed inside. When it did, he took a sip. "I researched the future very carefully to see which one would work best for and with our team. While I was peering into your alternative, I foresaw your reunion."

    "Then you- you know him."

    "We know of him," Crawford answered. "As of yet, he is of no real interest to us. Our paths with cross eventually. It is inevitable."

    Farfarello's smile was creepy. "Weiß," he murmured.

    "Weiß," Nagi echoed, looking quickly back and forth between them. "What is Weiß? Tell me!"

    "You demand so many things," Crawford observed, taking the last sip from his mug and setting it aside. "This is not the time to get into such matters. All you need to know in this moment is this ultimate truth: the only way you will ever find him again is through us. Decide which is more important to you: your flexible morals or finding him."

    Nagi's stomach clenched, but somehow he didn't think it was alarm. He hoped his expression was under control, not that Crawford could see it. "You think some murderer from my past is enough to make me stay with people like you?"

    "We did hire you," Crawford pointed out.

    Nagi stared back at him, torn. Had Crawford seen that he would stay for Hidaka, or would he stay because Crawford had told him he would? He thought about five hundred thousand yen and today's vicious client, and his skin crawled with revulsion. "No one is worth staying here. Maybe you haven't noticed, but you're all a bunch of psychotic freaks."

    "Nevertheless, I am sure you will learn to adjust."

    "I won't," Nagi argued. "Even if Schuldig wasn't a part of this, I wouldn't stay with you."

    He didn't see where the knife came from, didn't even see Farfarello move. There was just a flicker of light and then a wicked dagger was embedded in the wood beside his hand, so close that it had shaved a very fine layer of skin off. Nagi flinched back and snatched his hand away. Farfarello was impervious to both his warning glare and crackling power.

    "You seem to have made a critical mistake," Crawford said. "Schuldig is not the most dangerous person on this team. He is merely a telepath."

    "'Merely'? He can read minds and talk to minds and make me move against my will. On top of that, he's a perverted monster! I'm not stupid enough to think the two of you are anywhere close to safe, but I can recognize a threat when I see it."

    Farfarello and Crawford exchanged glances, both expressions unreadable. Farfarello was the first to break when his lips twitched. He caught himself, then didn't even try to conceal it, and his lips twisted into a ferocious little smile. There was something completely pitiless in the yellow gaze that slid back Nagi's way.

    "He is no monster," Farfarello said. "He is simply a telepath."

    "It's the same thing as far as I'm concerned."

    "He will be back tomorrow," Farfarello said, lifting one shoulder in a faint shrug. He wrenched his knife free and trailed the curved tip across his lip. His gaze was distant as he entertained himself with private thoughts, likely concerning the missing sociopath. "You will see then."

    "And you," Crawford said with the faintest emphasis, "will learn to be more careful. "Naoe's presence will help, but it will take time to fully affect him. Until then, you and Kurogawa are the major players."

    Farfarello slid his attention that way to meet Crawford's intense stare. The two considered each other in silence. Nagi thought he saw Farfarello's smile twitch a smidgen wider, but he couldn't be positive with the knife in the way. When he answered, his complacent tone was completely at odds with his expression. "Yes," he agreed.

    "Now," Crawford said, gesturing towards the papers. "I will not be interrupted again."

    Nagi wanted to argue, but the cold warning in Crawford's eyes and the considering look in Farfarello's made him think twice. He shut his mouth and turned his gaze on the papers, deciding to keep his peace—for now.


    Nagi woke up on the floor, feeling sluggish and sore. He was sprawled out on his side with his cheek pressed hard against the cool wood and his sheets tangled around his legs. He twitched his fingers against the ground just to make sure they were working and slowly slid his gaze around the room. There was a second bed across the room, but no occupant, and he stared at it as he waited for his mind to clue him in. The pounding headache was making it hard to think and he lifted his hand to his head. His fingers found a clump on the back of his head where his hair was matted together and he grimaced at the pain. He picked carefully at the clump and came back with flecks of blood, and he stared down at his fingers as he tried to figure that out.

    "Mom?" he started to say, and that was trigger enough. His parents, Hidaka, Osaka, Tokyo, and…

    He swore under his breath and carefully eased himself upright. Getting to his feet took work and he held onto his bed for support to make sure he didn't fall down again. Moving made him dizzy and he sent a dirty look at Farfarello's empty bed. He'd been so sure the other man had been asleep. He'd waited for hours, and he'd been so, so quiet. He'd even used his gift on the floor, holding it up under his weight to make sure it didn't creak.

    He barely remembered Farfarello getting up, definitely didn't know how Farfarello had crossed the room so fast, and he didn't remember anything after that. A glance down at a bit of dried blood on the floor made him wonder how he hadn't cracked his skull open when Farfarello had apparently slammed him down against the wood. He muttered choice phrases under his breath, every colorful word his mother had ever uttered, and started for the door on unsteady steps.

    Farfarello was crouching in the hall just off to the side of the bedroom door. He offered Nagi a bored look as the telekinetic made his way into the hall. "We all warned you."

    Nagi bared his teeth at the other man in silent hate and wobbled his way into the bathroom to try and wash the blood out. It was awkward going and it hurt to touch the knot, but he grimly kept at it. He'd just cut the water off and dried his hands off when he heard a door open in the distance. He moved into the doorway, trying to work up the courage to give Crawford a piece of his mind and wondering if Farfarello would attack him for it.

    It wasn't Crawford at the door, however, but Schuldig. The telepath had a paper cup of coffee in one hand and folders in another. Nagi scowled, shrinking back a little further out of view. Schuldig didn't seem to notice, more interested in getting his shoes off. Farfarello rose to his feet and started down the hall to meet his teammate. Schuldig stepped up into the apartment just as Farfarello reached him and the two stopped right beside each other. Blue and yellow met and held and Farfarello was the only one that smiled.

    "He's still mad at me," Schuldig deduced.

    "When is he not?" Farfarello returned.

    Schuldig's mouth twisted in a slight grimace. Farfarello stepped down off the small ledge to toe into his shoes. He left without another glance back, and Nagi was left alone in the hallway with the telepath. He offered the older man a fierce glare, daring him to pick a fight when he was already unhappy and in pain.

    Instead, Schuldig just quirked an eyebrow at him. "Aren't we in a foul mood this morning," he drawled. "It's your fault for being dumb enough to try and run away."

    "Shut up."

    "Cute kid, Crawford," Schuldig said, lifting his voice just slightly.

    "And your reports?" was Crawford's response from out of sight.

    Schuldig mimed blowing a hole in his skull and moved up the hall into the kitchen. Nagi listened to chairs creak as the two men got settled, and then papers fluttered as Schuldig arranged his files. Nagi crept further down the hall towards the doorway, listening as they started discussing Kurogawa's facilities. Schuldig hadn't been here yesterday when the others had been dissecting everything they'd heard or noticed, but he'd apparently gone over it mentally while he'd been away. On top of that, he had all of his mental observations to add, and he filled Crawford in on his first impressions of the behind-the-scenes work.

    It was chilling listening to him speak, and not just for the subject matter. The fact that Schuldig had actually been in and out of people's minds yesterday, scooping up everything they had left unspoken, was unsettling. He traced out mental hierarchies and sub-plans and the finer details Kurogawa hadn't wanted to get Schwarz involved in. Crawford listened to all of it, occasionally pressing for more details and more often verbally tagging which matters he wanted Schuldig to further investigate.

    The fact that Schuldig sounded… well, sane… That was another disturbing bit. His voice was different, his speech patterns were different, and when Nagi finally made it to the doorway and looked in at them, his expression lacked any hints of his cruel humor. Nagi watched him as he spoke, feeling more than a little confused and a lot more wary, and waited for the façade to crack and reveal his true self. Schuldig noticed the attention and flicked him an amused look, but the only other emotion Nagi could read in that glance was condescension. He didn't even miss a beat in his explanations, not even to throw Nagi a mental taunt.

    At last he was finished. He waited in silence as Crawford considered everything. Crawford was gazing through Schuldig, taking his words and putting it up against their futures. Nagi stepped into the kitchen at last and went to pour himself some water from the filter in the fridge. Neither man said anything about him helping himself to their dishes, so Nagi gave in and glanced over the contents of the fridge. His stomach was telling him in no uncertain terms that it wanted food.

    -Just eat already,- Schuldig sent at him. Nagi started at the sound of the telepath's voice right at his ear and looked back, but the man hadn't gotten up from his seat. His attention was still on Crawford as he waited for the verdict. -You're no use to us if you're weak from hunger. We did tell you we'd be giving you room and board in exchange for your services here.-

    Nagi opened his mouth to answer, looked at Crawford, and then tried thinking his response back. 'What are you playing at?' he demanded.

    -Aren't you a suspicious little brat?- Schuldig asked, sounding amused. Nagi sent him a cool look for that.

    Crawford spoke up then, interrupting the mental conversation almost as soon as it had started. "Investigating Kurogawa's ties to the Hitachi factor will be your first priority. We need to understand all of his alliances. He is still holding out on the particulars of his arrangements with them, so we will have to guide him to where he will reveal himself to you."

    "He's going to fight it," Schuldig pointed out, but he made a little note on his sheet. "I'll get it from him, but it might take me a day of digging. That mind is a bit whoo." He spun his finger at his ear.

    "The maximum time you are allowed to mind-sit at one time is thirty minutes."

    Schuldig visibly balked at that. "Thirty minutes?" he echoed disbelievingly. "You can't be serious. Note to precog: thirty minutes won't get me anywhere in there. Once I pull out I have to start all over again."

    "We've dealt with the consequences of your absorbing time and time again," Crawford said. "Yesterday is a perfect example of that. I ordered you to keep your time to forty-five minutes."

    Schuldig opened his mouth to protest that, then shut it again. The easy expression on his face was starting to harden, but it looked more defensive than anything else. "Go on," Crawford encouraged him. "Either you are going to admit that you disobeyed my order, or you are going to admit that forty-five minutes was too long for you to handle."

    "I can handle it," Schuldig insisted in a tight voice.

    "I'm starting to think you can't handle anything anymore."

    That accusation hit hard. Nagi saw it in the way Schuldig's expression went perfectly blank. The shocked look didn't last for long before the telepath looked furious and offended. "You don't have the right to say that to me," Schuldig said in an acid tone. "You have always known what it would cost Schwarz to have a telepath, so reap the rotten harvest you've sown. You have fucking Farfarello on your team! They warned you what it meant to mix the two of us and your sight confirmed what a shit-stupid idea it was. It was a cocktail for disaster from the beginning and I dare you to blame any of it on me when it finally blows up in our faces."

    "I gave you a trial period. You gave me your word that Farfarello would not be a problem."

    Schuldig laughed at that. The sharp edge sounded like bright anger; it sounded like incredulous desperation. "You signed me on for a three-month contract," he reminded Crawford. "You failed to mention that Rosenkreuz was going to extend it to a year if the first contract was completed successfully. Of course I underestimated the damage."

    "Then perhaps you should spend more time cultivating self-control."

    "Self-control has nothing to do with it and you know that."

    "Denial isn't going to be enough to save you this time."

    Schuldig's face went white. Nagi wasn't sure if it was hate, anger, or fear. None of the emotions bled through into his hard words: "Fuck you."

    "I suggest you start pulling your weight around here, Schuldig," Crawford told him coldly. "I am growing tired of cleaning up behind your instability and you know what will happen if Schwarz is deemed better off without you. This is your last stop. No one else wants the repercussions of hiring damaged goods."

    Schuldig started to move, but Crawford was ready for him. His hand snapped out like lightning and caught Schuldig by the collar of his jacket. "I did not dismiss you," he warned Schuldig in a quiet voice.

    Schuldig stared back at him. Raw hate darkened his eyes and twisted his mouth into a hard line, but he didn't shake Crawford free. It was an obvious struggle before he could speak again, and how he managed such a neutral tone when he was so angry, Nagi didn't know. "Thirty minutes," he agreed. "I'll do it in thirty."

    "See that you do. Dismissed."

    As soon as Crawford let go of him, Schuldig leaned towards him. "Tick, tick, tick," he whispered in vicious warning, and then he shoved himself to his feet and stalked out of the room. He slammed his bedroom door so hard behind him Nagi thought he felt the ground shake.

    Crawford had nothing to say to him, so Nagi was more than happy to make himself scarce. He shut himself in his temporary bedroom, and the hours until Farfarello returned were silent and tense.

Part 7
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