SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Seventeen
I've got places to be, minds to rewrite, and people to kill.

    The discreet "escape next door to brag at Prodigy" plan fails when Fujimiya Ran sees me moving out of the corner of his eye. As excited as he is over seeing Aya awake, he wants answers, and I'm only halfway out the door when his hand knots in the collar of my jacket. "Aya, I'm going to get the nurses," he says over his shoulder. "I'll be right back. I promise."

    I reach behind me to pry his fingers loose, but he shoves me out into the hall as soon as his sister answers and pulls the door shut behind him. As soon as it clicks into place he lets go, and I whirl around to offer him a haughty look. It doesn't matter that I'm as what-the-fuck'ed about this as he is; I'm not going to latch onto this ugly bastard of all people to rant about how cool I am. Well, I will, but without the touching thing and the "Did you SEE that?!" bit. The being cool thing is to be expected.

    "What did you do?" he demands, voice hoarse with raw emotion he can't hide.

    "I woke her up," I say, lacing my fingers together behind my neck. "I told you I was a telepath."

    He just stares at me, trying to figure that whole bit out. I guess he didn't believe me when I told him last night. His loss. His gain? I look past him towards the door and Ran steps in my way. "Why?" he wants to know. "Why did you help her? Why did you give her back to me?"

    "What, you want me to put her to sleep again?"

    "No," he chokes out. "No. I just-" He struggles for words and fails.

    I heave an exaggerated sigh and waggle an elbow at him. "I've got places to be. Anything else?"

    "You…" He struggles some more. "What's the catch?"


    "Why did you do it?"

    I consider him in silence for a long moment as I try to think up a really good answer to that. "Fujimiya Ran," I say at length, testing his name. I think about the times we've met before this and my thoughts go back to him and his bloody sword. "Weiß." The name triggers something in him and it's all I can do not to flinch as I hear it there in the air between us, in the space between our minds. Weiß: a four-man assassin unit that kills the men the justice system can't catch, your typical discount-sale vigilantes. Murderers? Beacons of hope for the so-called oppressed and innocents? I think about the children we helped sell last night.

    "I want your sword," I tell him.

    "My sword?" he echoes blankly.

    "Not literally. You've lost the right to stab me with your pointy stick, so I'm going to give you someone new to stab. When I tell you it's your time to kill, you'll do it."

    His expression hardens, but I can hear the conflict behind that mask. That's still just a little bit fucking creepy to be staring at his closed mouth and hear the warring debate, loyalty to his organization's ideals and obligation to someone like me for waking his precious sister up. "You work for Takatori," he tells me. "I can't support that."

    "Pfft. I don't give a rat's ass about Takatori. I work for Crawford." I waggle my elbow again. "Have you ever heard of Estet?" He twitches a little at that and I take it as a yes. I'm starting to wonder just who the hell Weiß works for. This "Kritiker"- who are they supposed to be? "We're going to kill Estet together. Eight is better than four." I remember Schreient then. "And twelve is better than eight." If Crawford thinks four powerless girls are a good aid, then four powerless men should be just as useful, right?

    Ran doesn't seem to know what to make of that. "If you're a telepath, then you're part of Estet."

    "I'm part of Schwarz," I remind him. "Stop arguing with me. You owe me your sword. You can't tell me no, so just tell me yes. When I tell you to, you're going to come kill with us."

    He stares at me for a long moment as he puts those pieces together, and then he inclines his head to me, apparently deciding that Estet as a target neatly ties both his group's morals and his obligation into one tidy package. "It is yours," he says, and my mouth curves into a triumphant smirk. He doesn't seem to like the look of it, because he sends a look over his shoulder. "Is she really…?"

    "She's going to be fine," I say, though that's anyone's guess. "We're done here. Yes?"

    "Yes," he agrees quietly.

    I turn and pad next door to Prodigy's room, and I feel his eyes on me until the door shuts between us. I ignore him and prance across the room to Prodigy's bedside, and the silly grin I had to hide in front of Ran explodes on my face. "HAH," I say, throwing my arms wide. "I woke a girl up. She's sniffling next door."

    "From pain?" he wants to know, sounding a little wary.

    "Out of joy at my astounding generosity," I say, feeling a little annoyed. "Do you want me to try and wake you or not?"

    He thinks on that for a moment. "Please."

    "Right." I tug idly on my hair as I consider him, trying to remember how I found Aya. I skip the whole 'tell me about you' bit because frankly, I've heard too much from Prodigy already, and besides, he's a lot easier to hear anyway. He's used to focusing his thoughts for someone else to listen in on, I realize, because his mind is such a steady beacon. I try to brush those thoughts from my mind because if I stop and think about what I'm trying to do, it'll weird me out again. Instead I try and do what I did in Aya's room and let my mind do what it knows how to do, and I go looking for him inside his head.

    Prodigy makes it as easy for me as he can and leaves a trail of light down into the darkness where he's sitting. I reach for him and the hospital room abruptly gives out until we're standing across from each other in a dark place. I flick a spooked look around me at my new surroundings, but the teenage boy moves then and I look back at him. There's a sheet of glass between us that he's standing in front of and he presses both hands up against it. It's kind of strange to see him upright and moving and to think that this is the Naoe Nagi that Crawford named that plush after. I think the toy was a lot less trouble to deal with.

    "Hi," I say, because it sounds appropriate.

    "Schuldig," he says in return greeting.

    "Nagi," I say back at him.

    He pushes harder against the glass and I inch up on the other side to reach out and touch it. I'm not really sure what it is or where it is and I know better than to start poking at strange things, so I touch it with a fingertip first. It's hot to the touch, but not quite enough to burn, so I try three fingers, and then one hand, and then two. We line our hands up on either side of the glass but his are much smaller than mine, just like he is.

    "What's up with the window?" I ask.

    "Silvia put it here when she locked me down," he says. "I can't get rid of it."

    I make a fist and pound it against the wall, only to see Nagi give a harsh flinch back away from the wall. I arch an eyebrow at him. "That hurt?" I ask.

    "Just a bit," is his grumbled response, and he rubs at his head. "It doesn't matter. Just try."

    I try again, this time hitting with both fists, but the glass is stronger than glass and doesn't budge. Several hits later it's still not going anywhere and Nagi is hunched over gasping for breath, and that looks like blood splattered on the nonexistent black floor beneath our feet. I look down at the absence of a ground before fixing my eyes resolutely on Nagi again. Best not to think about the fact that I'm floating over absolutely nothing. Yeah.

    I drum my fingernails against the glass as I think. "Maybe I should stop."

    "No," Nagi manages to get out. "No. Figure it out."

    "You look like you're going to puke, and I'm not going to help you clean it up."

    "I can't puke in my own mind."

    "But you can bleed?"

    "Of course."

    "Do you ever say anything that makes an ounce of sense?"

    "Can you just keep trying?" Nagi asks, sounding a bit strained.

    "I don't have a fuck-all clue what I'm doing," I remind him.

    "You woke up another girl."

    "Yes, well, she didn't have this thing." I kick at the wall and Nagi coughs up blood. "Um, maybe I shouldn't do that again."

    "Maybe you shouldn't," he rasps.

    I think about that and stare at the glass wall. "This doesn't really exist, you know."

    "It sure feels like it."

    "No, I mean…" I press my fingertips up against it and grimace at the sheer impossibility of all of this. I close my eyes against it- as if my eyes really exist here- and give myself several seconds to panic and mentally flail about what's going on right now and everything that's happened in the last couple hours. I count to ten and then open my eyes again and shove it all deep. Impossible or not, ridiculous or not, it's real. I'm a telepath. Crawford needs me to be a telepath.

    Crawford needs me.

    I slide my fingernails down the glass with a hand that shakes only a little and stare through the wall at my trapped teammate. Teammate. Schwarz. Psychics. I think about sleeping on the floor in Germany, and Mom in her boots and looking like an international spy straight off the posters outside the movie theater. I guess my guess was more accurate than I'd realized before. I think about her hate and her pain and her bitterness that had choked the entire place, and I think about blood. Her hands in my hair, her fingernails raking over my scalp deep enough to bleed, and the pain. Was that pain more from her gift than any physical damage?

    Mom, why didn't you want me to find this? You useless catty bitch. I need to understand this.

    I have a place. I have a name. I'm tangled up in such incredible things, no matter how unreal they sound. This whole trip has been one "What the fuck?" after the other, but… But that's all right. Drugs and police chases and fighting the police and powers, and it's something big and unreal and I have a place in it.

    I want this. I want all of this.

    Think, Schuldig. Think.

    You have to figure this out.

    "This doesn't exist," I tell myself, sliding my hand over the glass. This isn't real. It's just an image in a mind, a shield put in place by a stupid bitch from Estet. Crawford said I'm strong. He said I'm the strongest telepath he's seen. I can do this.

    Mom, I'm going to be someone, no matter how hard you tried to teach me I couldn't be.

    I push against the glass, staring at my fingers and ignoring the sheen around them. The glass is just a shield and the shield's a mental thing. Mental things can be crippling, but they can be undone. Everything can be undone. This is nothing. This is nothing.

    It gives a little under my hand, feeling less like glass and more like putty, and I push harder. This isn't here.

    My fingertips fall through and I choke on the pain that burns up my arm. I jerk a little but refuse to jerk back, and force my hand through before I can worry about the shield sealing up around my wrist. I bring my other hand back to the glass and force it through, and Nagi stares as my arms start sliding through behind my hands. I press my forehead against the glass and take a deep breath. The glass offers up a hard resistance against my face, but it's not really glass. It feels hard as a rock but that's just my mind, and I can get through it. I feel it melt, feel it burn, and I gasp for air as my face breaks through on the other side.

    The glass shudders around me and I feel like I'm choking on water. I gave a vicious shake of my head as I try to clear it from my throat, but it's drowning me. I can feel it tracking out of my mouth and down my chin and throat and I fight panic, telling myself it isn't real. Nagi moves up to me where I'm half on my side and half on his and laces his fingers through mine, giving me something solid to anchor myself to. I pull on him, but my hand goes back to my side and his just bangs against the glass.

    "Just fucking BREAK already!!" I snarl through the water, and I jerk my other hand.

    His knuckles hit the glass. I jerk again and this time his hand goes through. I have to pull my head back to my side, but I'm still choking, and I can't stay here. Whatever that woman wrapped around his mind, it wants to kill me. I wrap both hands around Nagi's free one and fight the instincts that want me to pull out back to reality. I didn't leave the damn plush behind in the trash can or on the street for good; I'm sure as hell not going to leave its namesake here behind such a stupid wall.

    I want to be someone.

    I want-

    I pull, and glass shatters under Nagi's weight. The shards hit me all along my face and arms and I can't swallow a pained curse.

    "Go!" Nagi says, pushing at me, and then he's forcing me out of his mind.

    I come back to myself choking and gasping, hunched over Nagi on the bed, but I'm not the only one coughing. When I have the strength to push myself up, I force myself up on my hands to stare down at his face, and Nagi stares back at me. He blinks a couple times, then looks around the room as if he's making sure he's awake. The sight of the machinery around him seems to be enough reassurance, because in the next instant, his lips curve in a smile and he starts laughing.

    I start laughing, too, though I'm not entirely sure why. I don't know whether to feel freaked out, or reassured, or amazed, or hysterical, but I don't try and figure it out. I've decided to stop worrying about this, because worrying won't get me anywhere.

    "Mastermind indeed," Nagi says, offering me a wry smile, and this time his mouth moves when he talks. "Thank you, Schuldig."

    I offer him a smirk. "Any time. But next time, I want painkillers on hand." I push a hand against my throbbing temple and finally manage to straighten, and I stare down at him. "Now what?"

    "Give me a few minutes to rebuild my muscles and we can leave."


    "I'm a telekinetic," Nagi reminds me patiently.

    "Last I checked, that meant moving things around the room."

    "That's the most common use." He lets his eyes fall closed so he can concentrate.

    I think about that. "Move something for me."

    "What?" He cracks open an eye.

    "Move something for me," I say again. "I want to see it."

    He blinks at me as if not understanding that demand, and then opens his other eye and looks around. "Like what?"

    "I don't know. Surprise me."

    In the next second my feet have left the floor and I'm spitting startled curses as he sets me down on top of his mattress. I feel his grip vanish and pinwheel my arms to make sure I'm balance, and Nagi's mouth curves in a small smirk as he closes his eyes again. "Like that?" he asks innocently.

    "What the hell?" I stare down at the bed and then at the floor where I was standing. The feeling of flying leaves my heart racing, but in that 'wow cool' sort of way. "Hey, do that again."

    "I need to concentrate, Schuldig."

    I scowl at him and poke his foot with my shoe. "Do it again. Did I wake you up or what, you ingrate?"

    Nagi sighs and floats me to another corner of the room, and I'm grinning like an idiot as I go bouncing back to his bed. "Now can I work?" he wants to know. "We need to get back before Silvia starts getting too suspicious. After we kill her and make sure Estet doesn't come after her, I promise I'll float you some more. Okay?"

    I think on that. "Promise?"

    "Promise," Nagi says, and I settle down to wait as he works on building his body up again. It takes ten minutes and it's boring as hell after the rush of everything from swallowing the pill on, but it's probably good for my health that my heart rate can finally slow down a little. I watch as his fingers lift from the sheets one at a time, and then there's silence for a long time until he finally shifts and pushes himself upright on the bed. He looks a little dizzy as he sits there, but it passes and he eases himself off the bed and to his feet.

    "That's handy," I say.

    "Yes," he agrees, and then he notices the plush in the corner. "Did you bring that here?"

    "Nagi, meet Nagi." I go to collect the plush and hold its small hole together to wave it at Nagi. "He talks less than you do, but he already signed away your money to me from our first couple jobs. It's too late for you to ask for it back."

    "That's fine," he assures me, and he holds out his hands for the toy.

    I hesitate for just a moment before handing it over, and Nagi slides a finger down its hole, rearranging the fibers to knot them together. "I say again: handy." I turn away to let him carry his plush back with us and start for the door, and Nagi steps neatly over the blood on his floor to follow me. There are people waiting for us right outside the door, and the littlest one in front jerks back a little where he'd been about to nod.

    I blink at them and the two in back exchange looks. I can hear them muttering up against my thoughts and I hear Ran's name. "Weiß," I say. It's more a guess than anything else, but their expressions tell me I'm right.

    "I would like to talk to you," the little one says.

    "I've got places to be, minds to rewrite, and people to kill. Can it wait?"

    "My teammate called me to say what you'd done for his sister and what you wanted in exchange," he says. "To be honest, I don't trust your intentions, and I don't agree with his choice to accept what you demanded from him. I think we should talk."

    There's a pen sticking out of his shirt pocket, so I reach out and pluck it free. "I don't have time right now," I say again, and I click the pen out and write my phone number across his cheek. He twitches a little but lets me do it. "That's my number. Try again later." I toss his pen back at him and he catches it when it bounces off his chest. "Nagi?"

    "Coming," is his easy answer, and I slide past Weiß and start down the hall. Nagi follows right behind me, and none of the three white assassins try to stop us.

    Schwarz intimidates everybody.

Part 18
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