Part Seven

    Nagi had never understood the concept of a deadly silence until that morning. Maybe it was because he hadn't heard silence in years. Osaka never slept and his house had been pressed up against two others, its walls so thin he could hear when his neighbors coughed. The Schwarz apartment was far better insulated, and in the hours it took Farfarello to come back, it was hair-raisingly quiet. He was almost afraid to breathe, for fear of how loud it would sound in his ears, and he sat perfectly still on his bed. Eventually his thoughts drifted towards Osaka, and then towards Hidaka, but they kept circling back towards this morning's scene. Something about it felt terribly off, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

    The team came to life again with Farfarello's arrival. Nagi heard the door open and shut in the distance as the pale ghost let himself in. Right behind that was the click of Schuldig's door. Nagi slid off the bed and crept towards his bedroom door, and he pressed his ear against it as he listened for the fighting to continue. He could hear a distant rumble that he recognized as Crawford's deep voice, and Farfarello said something in answer. Nagi reached out with his gift, knowing he couldn't affect any of his so-called teammates but wanting to place them. The fact that he could gave him a little bit of relief, even if it was too shaky to take real comfort in. Crawford was still in the kitchen, with Farfarello stopped at the doorway to check in with him. Schuldig was down at the other end of the hall but moving, leaving his bedroom to join his partners.

    With a shortstop, it seemed, because a second later the knob on Nagi's door was turning. Nagi held it firmly in place with his gift.

    "Go away," he said.

    -Listen to me and listen to me good,- Schuldig said at his ear. Nagi shook his head, trying to dislodge the voice. -I said listen. We don't have much time.-

    Nagi grit his teeth. -What do you want?- he demanded.

    Fingernails slid up the door and he could imagine Schuldig sprawled against it on the other side, forehead pressed against the cool wood. -I don't like you one tiny, itty bitty bit. Regardless, you and I have to work together for a month. So do us both a favor and stay the fuck out of my way. You'll just make things more difficult for the both of us.-

    -No problem,- Nagi sent back flatly, but his skin was crawling. This felt—wrong. Something was wrong. Well, everything about this entire situation was wrong, but this—? He thought about Crawford and Schuldig this morning, and the way Schuldig today seemed so completely different from the Schuldig that had been in Kurogawa's office and Osaka.

    -You're not going to survive this month,- Schuldig predicted. -You've sparked his interest. Big mistake, kid.-


    -Definitely not smart enough to survive,- Schuldig mused. -See you in a week, brat.-

    -Are you leaving?-

    -Don't we sound hopeful,- the telepath drawled, and Nagi could hear the smirk in his mental voice. He didn't bother to explain, but he pulled away. The doorknob twisted back into place as he let go, and Nagi listened to him walk away. Nagi frowned at the door, completely confused now. The three older men were talking at the other end of the hall but Nagi didn't even try to understand what they were saying. It was far more critical to try and figure out just what Schuldig's words meant.

    Footsteps started down the hall towards him before he could unravel Schuldig's warning. The knob twisted again. Nagi tried to stop it automatically, but it swung open and pushed him back. That told him who it was before he even saw Farfarello in the doorway.

    "We're leaving soon," Farfarello told him. "Get ready."

    "Where are we going?"

    Farfarello quirked an eyebrow down at him. "Where else would we go but to work?"

    "We're going back to Kurogawa's office," Nagi deduced. The thought of seeing that creepy bastard again made him feel ill. "Do we have to?" Farfarello just gazed at him in silence. "How can you even stand being in the same room as him?" Nagi wanted to know. "He's the most disgusting person I've ever met. He- what he does to children is just-" He couldn't get the words out; they got knotted up somewhere in his mind around the memory of Kurogawa's studios.

    Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. "They aren't mine."

    "That doesn't make it right."

    "I care little for wrong or right. All that interests me is death."

    "He deserves to die."

    "We're going to kill him," Farfarello reminded him, and that brought Nagi up short. Belatedly he remembered Schuldig saying that in the car yesterday morning. Nagi had forgotten it amidst the rest of his nausea and horror. Farfarello smiled at the thought, all lazy and dreamlike, and tilted his head to one side to rest his temple against the doorframe. He pressed his fingers hard against his throat, feeling out his own heartbeat, and moved his lips around silent beats in time. "It will be fun. Maybe you would like the job."

    "I want him dead," Nagi said, "but I'm not going to kill him. I'm not a murderer."

    Farfarello's smile just widened, tilting more towards vicious hunger than anything else, and he slid out of the way. "Shower," he said, disappearing back down the hall.

    Nagi made a face at his back and went to retrieve his basket of toiletries. He spent his shower thinking about Kurogawa dying and wondering how Schwarz could be so callous. The man was a monster, yes, but he deserved to be put in jail. He needed to be beaten within an inch of his life and locked away where he could spend the next forty years of his life suffering and thinking about his crimes. Death was too quick, too merciful. Death was death, was very final. How could they take that right into their own hands?

    But then, hadn't Hidaka done the same?

    Nagi didn't understand how Hidaka could have done such a thing. More than that, he didn't even know why. He knew he'd hated his parents, but that was for how they'd treated him. What had they done to bring Hidaka to their doorstep with blades strapped onto his hand? Had they hurt him in some way? Had he come for revenge? What had they done that would drive him to actually kill them? How was it so easy for these men?

    A kick against the bathroom door startled him out of his thoughts and reminded him that they had to leave soon. He finished washing as quickly as he could and ducked across the hall into his bedroom. There were more clothes laid out for him and he hesitated upon seeing them, realizing belatedly just what a serious investment they were making in his presence. They'd actually planned ahead to the point of purchasing clothes in his size. A month of board and a million and a half yen; what were they hoping on accomplishing this month if Kurogawa was only going to be alive for another week? What big project was coming up that they needed a telekinetic for?

    Farfarello came to get him and Nagi moved to meet him, not wanting to get dragged out of the apartment this time. His wrist was bruised and sore from yesterday and the day before; he didn't need to add to those or to the bump on the back of his head.

    Schuldig drove again. Despite the fight this morning, the silence on the drive to Kurogawa's building didn't seem particularly tense. Nagi eyed the back of Schuldig's head warily, trying to figure out just what he was missing here. If Schuldig noticed the staring or his curiosity, he didn't comment. He parked them in the underground garage beneath Kurogawa's offices. Crawford was the first out of the car and Nagi moved when Farfarello did. He realized as his second foot hit concrete that Schuldig hadn't moved yet. He glanced that way to see the German staring straight ahead of him. The hand that still held onto the steering wheel was clenched so tight his knuckles were white.

    Crawford wasn't waiting for him. He started towards the elevator, supremely confident in every step he took no matter that he couldn't see where he was going. Farfarello flicked a look after him before going around to the driver's side. Nagi moved enough to close his door and Farfarello tugged open Schuldig's. The Irishman slid Nagi a sideways look.

    "Go," he said simply, and Nagi slowly started away from there. Farfarello didn't wait for him to get out of earshot before turning back on Schuldig. "We're here."

    "Thank you, Captain Obvious," Schuldig said, all condescending arrogance, and he finally got moving. The slam of the door echoed in the garage and the pair followed behind Nagi. Crawford pressed the button for the elevator and all four climbed on. Nagi studied Schuldig's reflection on the mirrored elevator interior, eyeing the daredevil smirk, before looking towards Farfarello's impassive stone.

    "We are going to check in with Kurogawa," Crawford said. "Schuldig and I have business with him today that does not concern either of you. I expect a full report of the building's security by the end of the day."

    Farfarello didn't answer; it would have been a waste of his breath. Crawford said it expecting it to be done, and Farfarello wouldn't refuse him. The rest of the ride up was quiet. The secretary waved them through to Kurogawa's office. The businessman was staring down at papers where they lay scattered across his desk. He didn't even acknowledge them until he'd finished going through the stack, leaving them standing silent and ignored by the door until he was good and ready. Crawford and Farfarello didn't seem to care, but Schuldig's smirk slowly stretched wider across his lips.

    When Kurogawa finally spoke, he started the meeting off with, "Have you reconsidered your asking price for the child?"

    "We went over this yesterday," Crawford told him.

    "We're going over it again." Kurogawa pushed himself to his feet and started their way. Nagi watched him come with a hot look of warning on his face. That only seemed to encourage Kurogawa and the sick interest in his eyes made Nagi want to scratch an invisible layer of slime off of his skin.

    Schuldig moved to meet Kurogawa, one arm out to block the businessman from moving past him. Kurogawa tried to brush the arm aside, but Schuldig wound it around his chest instead to stop him in place. Kurogawa pushed anyway, but there was enough strength in the German's lanky frame to hold him still. The telepath turned his head to look back at Nagi, putting his mouth at Kurogawa's ears.

    "Don't touch what doesn't belong to you," Schuldig warned him, low and amused. "You're forgetting a rather crucial detail here: you need us a hell of a lot more than we need you. You're an interlude project for us and we wipe our asses with the kind of money you're giving us to save your sorry skin. You cross our team and we'll have Nagi turn you inside-out before you can blink."

    "Remember who you're speaking to," Kurogawa said, face red with fury.

    Schuldig smiled. For a moment he looked like Farfarello had yesterday at the table, when it had just been Crawford and Farfarello and Nagi. It was a vicious, deadly, amused smile, and Nagi hesitated at the sight of it on Schuldig's lips. For a moment he thought he understood, but then it was gone, because Farfarello was smiling at his side. Kurogawa froze for a long second, then slid his gaze from one psychopath to the other, reading the twin expressions of death.

    "Remember who you're speaking to," Schuldig told him softly. "Do not fuck with us."

    Silence stretched in the room, just a hard blink away from turning murderous, and at last Kurogawa stopped straining against Schuldig's arm.

    "If that is out of the way," Crawford spoke up, "we have business to take care of. Schuldig, let him sit down. Farfarello."

    Farfarello got his expression back under control again; Schuldig had a visibly much harder time of it. Nagi watched his mouth tremble as he forced it back into smoother lines, and then Farfarello's fingers were on Nagi's shoulders. It was a light touch this time, but still a silent order, and Nagi knew Farfarello wouldn't hesitate to use force if he thought Nagi would resist. Nagi saw no reason at all to resist the chance to leave that room, so he turned and walked out. Farfarello followed on his heels and closed the door again behind them, and they went back to the elevator.

    Nagi waited until the elevator doors slid shut behind them before speaking. "What the hell was that?"

    Farfarello glanced his way but didn't answer, more interested in pushing the button that would take them up to the roof. The keypad beeped back at him, warning them that the roof was restricted access. He pulled his key card out of one pocket and swiped it, and the elevator started up.

    "I don't understand," Nagi pressed, insistent on getting an explanation. "He doesn't make any sense. What does it mean? What exactly is a telepath? How could he hurt me in Osaka and defend me today? How could he want to tear me apart at the apartment my first day here and not be at all interested in me this morning? Is he bipolar? Does he have multiple personalities?"

    "He is a broken telepath," Farfarello said, not sounding at all concerned. "Telepaths read minds by linking themselves to other people. Stronger telepaths absorb minds, adopting personalities of those they're around. They can hear what's being currently thought, but also understand how the mind works and make accurate predictions for what-if scenarios. When they're finished, they drain themselves empty of everything but themselves."

    The elevator slid to a stop and the doors opened to let them out onto the rooftop. Farfarello went first and Nagi hurried to keep even with him. "Broken," he echoed. "What does that mean?"

    Farfarello looked almost bored by his curiosity. "It means broken; it means his gift doesn't work right." He seemed about to leave it at that. Nagi tried to stop him with his gift, only for his power to go right through the other man. He sped up to get in front of him, planting both hands against Farfarello's abdomen to stop him. He wasn't entirely sure why Farfarello let him. "He can't control how much he absorbs; he can't control when. It'll rot his mind out in time, just as Crawford hopes it will. Schuldig knows it."

    "What?" Nagi asked blankly. Farfarello brushed his hands aside and started for the edge of the roof. Nagi stared after him, mentally reeling. If he said he was upset over the thought of the telepath's slow spiral down to self-destruction, they'd all know he was lying, but it was still startling. A tiny bit exciting and satisfying, but still, strange. "What is wrong with the pair of you?" he called after Farfarello. "Why do either of you stay?"

    "I already told you why I stay," Farfarello answered. "Schuldig stays because this is his last stop. He should have been terminated months ago. Crawford requested to use him up first." Farfarello offered Nagi a razor-sharp smile over his shoulder. "Schuldig didn't have a choice. Oops. What a slow death it will be."

    Nagi gaped at him. "Don't you care at all?"

    Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. "It wouldn't change anything if I did."

    "You're a freak."

    Farfarello didn't bother to respond to that but motioned for Nagi to join him. They went around the roof on a slow circuit. Nagi wasn't entirely sure what they were looking for, but Farfarello was studying everything as if memorizing where every last nut and bolt were. They went from the roof down one floor. The offices there were empty, but Farfarello inspected every one. Nagi trailed after him, letting him do whatever he was doing, more interested in chewing on that heads-up regarding Schwarz's telepath.

    It took him three floors before he realized the full impact of what Farfarello had told him.

    "Wait," he said, stopping halfway to the stairs. "Wait."

    Farfarello turned and looked back at him, unimpressed by the delay. Nagi stared at him, telling himself that he was reading this wrong, but there was a sinking feeling in his stomach. "The Schuldig I saw this morning- that was the real him, wasn't it? Him without you or Crawford or Kurogawa or anyone else in his mind. This morning, he didn't care about me one way or the other. He was amused by my presence, but he didn't want to hurt me, not like he wanted to yesterday, not like he wanted to in Osaka."

    Farfarello just tilted his head to one side, waiting for the rest of that thought.

    "That means that…"

    //"Schuldich likes to kick kittens. I like to kill them. Don't cry. You'll make me want to kill you."//

    //"Be careful. The more you fight, the more I want to hurt you. Don't set him off. He is already unstable."//

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

    //-You're not going to survive this month. You've sparked his interest. Big mistake, kid.-//

    "Schuldig doesn't keep trying to hurt me because he wants to," Nagi said slowly, feeling cold all over. "He keeps trying to hurt me because you want to."

    Farfarello said nothing to that immediately, but it didn't take long for his expression to crack. His mouth twitched and he was turning away even as the smile curved across his lips. Nagi stayed frozen in place as he watched Farfarello continue on towards the stairs. The Irishman paused with the door partway open to send Nagi a lazy look over his shoulder.

    "You're not special," Farfarello informed him. "I want to hurt everyone."

    "Even Crawford?" Nagi asked, making no move to join him.

    Farfarello's smile widened enough to show his teeth. "Perhaps most of all," he said. "We're going." Nagi still didn't move. "Do not run from me," Farfarello suggested. "I will have to chase you." He turned back into the hallway and it took everything Nagi had to stand still. He couldn't make himself go to meet Farfarello, not after that unwelcome insight into the man's view of him, but the warning in Farfarello's voice was all cold truth. If he retreated, Farfarello would come after him. The man had fierce self-control if he hadn't acted on his vicious intentions towards Nagi yet, but Nagi didn't know what it would take to make him snap. He didn't want to find out.

    Farfarello caught him by his wrist and pulled him towards the stairs, and Nagi fought to keep from digging his feet in. "Are you going to kill me at the end of the month?"

    "I haven't thought that far ahead," Farfarello answered.

    "What would it take to buy my safety?" Nagi asked. "The money you gave me in Osaka? The money Crawford is offering me now?"

    "I care little for money."

    "There has to be something."

    "Only time will tell," Farfarello answered, and they didn't say anything else to each other that day.

To Be Continued…
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