SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Eighteen
You make for one pathetic sob story.

    Even though we're supposedly in this giant hurry, we take a few minutes to just stand in the subway station near some vending machines. Nagi doesn't have any money on him, so I end up buying both of our drinks. Nagi tries to tell me that it's not necessary but I figure I can do just one good deed for my newest teammate. After this he's on his own and he can worry about buying his own things. We stare each other down as we try and steel ourselves for what's going to happen. Nagi's drinking his tea like it's something amazing, looking torn between wanting to guzzle it all and wanting to take his time with it.

    "It's just tea," I point out when he stares down at the last sip.

    "I've been fed through an IV for six months," he reminds me. "This is the first real thing I've been able to taste."

    "You make for one pathetic sob story," I tell him.

    He shrugs, takes the last sip, and looks over at the vending machine. A second bottle of tea falls from its hook to clunk against the ground and he leans over to get it as I stare at him. He looks back at me before tossing his empty bottle at the trash can, and it sails through the air and into the appropriate hole a little too easily considering the distance between them. "I told you it wasn't necessary to buy me a drink," he says.

    "Bloody ingrate."

    "Let me grab Silvia first," Nagi tells me, ignoring that. "I can stop her from killing Farfarello's body, but you're going to have to go in as soon as I grab her because she'll start on his mind next. Farfarello's going to be helping you. He knows his own body inside and out, so he can help unhook her claws where she's driven herself into his mind."

    "She's basically just squatting in his skull, right? No problem."

    "It is a problem," Nagi sends back. "Minds and bodies are different for psychics. My gift is very physical, mind over matter sort of thing, and so is Farfarello's. We can both control our bodies down to a microscopic level. Yours and Crawford's gifts are purely mental. Farfarello couldn't take himself completely out of his body, so his ties to it are still there and she's choking them. The pathways-"

    I wave my hand at him. "Whatever," I say. "Just shut up, because you're not making any sense. Let's stick with the 'I'll keep her from biting her own borrowed tongue off if you erase her from his mind' type of speech. That one was easier to understand." Nagi just sighs and I wave a hand at him. "So grab her."

    "I'm not in range," Nagi explains, "and we're going to hit each other's range at the same time."

    I finish off the last of my drink and hand it to him to chuck at the trash can. He humors me as I sum up what's going to happen by ticking it off on my fingertips. "So basically we're going to head back there, you're going to grab the bitch and hold her still, Farf and I are going to kick her out, she's going to go crying back to Beijing, Crawford's going to fix himself on his own, and then we're going to figure out what to do about Estet."

    "If Estet isn't in the country already," is Nagi's grim response.

    "If they are?" I want to know.

    "Hope that they're not," he tells me. "Rosenkreuz wrote Schwarz off when it collapsed. Unless Crawford is proven to be a fully functioning precognitive- and Rosenkreuz recognizes the fact that yes, he did see two years down the road- we're going to be on our own for this."

    "And that's bad."

    Nagi presses a finger against his forehead as he tries for patience. "Estet is a very old organization, Schuldig, older than Rosenkreuz. Ever since the school was constructed, they've been buying its best teams. Rosenkreuz didn't want to let go of Crawford, and that's how the fight came about that destroyed our unit, and Rosenkreuz decided our loss meant we were useless, no matter how many people on the other team we'd killed. So it's going to be us against Estet's next-best team. Considering that Crawford's been broken for half a year, Farfarello's been unable to do anything with his gift, I've been comatose, and you're untrained… Do I have to spell it out for you?"

    I think about that. "Right. Estet is a bad thing. Can we go now?"

    "Can we? I don't know how to get where we live," Nagi reminds me.

    "Odakyuu line," I tell him, turning to point at the map. I hesitate and eye it, studying the squiggles that wrap themselves up and down the sign. "Why can't I read any of it if I can speak Japanese?"

    "That's just how your gift works."

    I scowl at that and lead him through the wickets. Nagi doesn't bother buying a ticket, not when his gift can flip the right switch to make the gate open for him, and we head down to the platform together. It takes a few minutes for our train to show up and Nagi flattens himself against one of the doors even though there are some seats open. I guess he's tired of the whole lying/sitting thing by now, so I stand near him. His knuckles are white where he's holding onto the plush and he closes his eyes as he sucks in a deep breath.

    I give him a few seconds before reaching out to poke his forehead. "What are you doing?"

    "Looking for her," he answers.

    I think about that. "You said she's out of range."

    Nagi cracks his eyes open. "You like talking."

    "I like knowing what the hell is going on." I think. "And talking."

    Nagi eyes me for a long few seconds and then points past me down the train. "Do you see that woman in red?" he asks, and I turn to look. She's easy to spot, sitting there like a frumpy apple on a stick, and I nod. "That purse at her feet- if you had telekinesis, you could pick it up no problem. After all, you can see it, right? You can see what it looks like, guess how it's going to feel, how much it's going to weigh, whatever, and then take it a step further to actually pick it up. That's basic."

    "She really shouldn't be wearing red."

    Nagi ignores me. "I won't be able to see Farfarello. If I wait until I can see him to grab hold of him, then we've already lost both of them, because she's going to feel me first. I have to do it by imprint memory instead- the memory that says I remember what Farfarello's body feels like."

    "So you are banging him."

    "I'm not," Nagi argues.

    "I banged him," I tell Nagi, and he gapes up at me. "Sorta technically," I add as I think about it. "You said he's in Crawford's body with him, right? So if I fucked Crawford, then I fucked both of them at the same time. Damn, I'm talented."

    "You-" Nagi struggles to find words for that. Somehow he doesn't look impressed.

    "Back to your story," I say helpfully. Nagi just continues to stare at me and I wave a hand in his face as the train slows at the next stop. "Your story," I insist. "So you know what Farfarello's body feels like. Don't forget that he's down an eye now when you're mapping him out. It got smushed out on the underside of a police car."

    "I know what his body feels like," Nagi says at last, "because I've had to heal him before. I can recognize my teammates' bodies like an extension of my own. Tot told me how far out the house is from the hospital and I know my range, so when we cross it, I have to find the pieces of me that are still in him. If Farfarello wasn't holding Crawford's mind together, he could come get me and guide me straight to it, but this works, too." Nagi glances up at the mini-map above the door. "Any other questions? We've only got two stops before I need you to shut up."

    I make a face at him for his rude attitude. "No," I say. "That's it."

    Nagi just nods and closes his eyes again, but we've only made it one more stop before he peers up at me. "You slept with Crawford?"

    "Tot didn't tell you? She was excited as hell about it when she found out."

    "Crawford is…" Nagi waves a hand as he tries to think. "Crawford is Crawford," he says at last. "He doesn't have time for things like that."

    "Now he does," I tell him, feeling annoyed.

    "…Right," Nagi says slowly, and I frown at him even as he closes his eyes.


    "Be quiet," he answers. "We're almost there."

    "Useless punk."

    Nagi ignores me. The train picks up speed between stations, only to start slowing down as it slides into another, and I know the second Nagi and Silvia find each other across Tokyo. Nagi lurches so hard he hits the door and I feel the mental impact like a stiletto-heeled kick to my skull. I catch at the dangling handles above us before I can crumple against Nagi and the inside of the train is half-gone as I feel something else- someone else- ripping into Nagi's mind. There's new glass there but I know instinctively that it's Nagi's, put in place to help take the brunt of what she's doing, but I also remember that they didn't hold the last time she went after his mind.

    It takes me just a second to decide and then the train vanishes entirely as I throw my gift into the fray. I feel it come alive in the snapping of voices around me, in the choked gasp it wrings from Nagi, in the fury that pulses across my nerves when Silvia notices it, and then I'm darting across the city on mental wires, following her back into Farfarello's body.

    She retreats before me, recoiling from Nagi as fast as she can go, and there aren't really words for the fight that happens next. It's all mental, all illogical, all vicious, and I can feel her and hear her as clearly as I know myself. She's screaming at me things I can only half-understand as her experience goes up against my raw strength, and I don't know what to do or how to do it, I only know I have to. I taste blood and my mother's hateful tears and the dust on the floor in Germany as we shred lines down each other's psyches, finding every weak spot in the other's being to pull into pieces. Eight-legged spiders come rushing out of one of the cracks in my mind to crawl all over me and I lurch back with a shout, feeling the prickling of hundreds of legs, waking up on the floor and finding them crawling over my hands.

    I taste her mockery through the bitterness of blood on my tongue and struggle not to lose it, shaking hands that don't really exist in an effort to get the spiders off. Something else something else thing of something else la la la like alleyways and airplane toilets and Crawford- Crawford ate the spider in Germany, took it off the wall and killed it because he knew I wouldn't like it, held onto me when the spider was in our boarding house and let me bite him because he thought he'd like how it felt, and Crawford always caught me when I tripped, didn't he, always had gum or a hand or a kiss to the elbow when I slammed it up against the wall and Crawford wouldn't ever be afraid of spiders never never never

    They burst like rotting fruit, leaving dust and blood behind on my hands and across my mind, and I can taste fear that isn't mine. It tastes like honey, sweet and thick enough to choke on.

    We hit Farfarello's body hard enough that I feel it jar in my fingertips, finally crashing out of the mental space between us into something that's real, and someone's waiting there for us.

    "Hello, precious." A sibilant whisper from one mind to the other, a smile that's all blood and death and front gates to hell. His mind burns me when I go stumbling into him and I'd scream at what I find there if it didn't hurt so much.

    It takes both of us to pull her free. I crush her back into the darkness, fighting off her mental blows as best I can, as he jerks her claws out of him hard enough that I feel things rip. I feel the last piece give and there's a disorienting lurch as she screams and falls away.

    In the next instant Farfarello's slamming back into his body, filling it up more than she ever could and forcing me out, but I've just started to pull back when something else hits me.

    If I thought having my shields broken hurt, it's nothing against what it feels like when Crawford's unshielded mind meets mine. The second Farfarello wrenches free of Crawford's body, there's nothing left to stand between me and Schwarz's precognitive, and I feel myself evaporate beneath the weight of his power. I remember screaming hard enough that something tears, and then there's nothing but a violent and painful darkness.


    I wake up in a room that's not my room, on a bed that isn't my bed, and I'm not alone. I catch a glimpse of a dark ceiling and rusty red hair and I can't flinch away from the hand that comes down over my eyes and forehead. He says nothing but pushes against me, mentally and physically, until everything collapses again around me. The second time I wake up, he does the same thing, and it isn't until that third time that I pass out that it doesn't hurt so much to be unconscious.

    When I wake up again, I don't know how much time has passed, but I feel groggy as hell. I blink up at the ceiling as I wait for it to come into focus and it takes me a while to realize that my head doesn't hurt at all. The lingering pain from my shields falling apart and the screaming pain of both the fight and Crawford's mind are gone, leaving me feeling better than I have in weeks. I lift a hand to my forehead and rub at my temples just to test it out, and I grin a little up at the ceiling.

    The murmuring at the edge of my thoughts tells me there are others here and I listen as I try and recognize their voices. I've just put most of them in place when the door slides open, and I push myself upright in bed as Tot comes running across the room. She throws herself onto the mattress at the foot of the bed to let the sheets slow her down just a bit, but she still slams into me hard enough that we crash into the headboard.

    "Schuldig," she wails. "Schuldiiiiig!"

    I'm feeling good enough to help crush her up against me, and I start laughing. I'm not sure it's the most appropriate thing to do in a situation like this, but I laugh anyway. "Tot, Tot, I'm a telepath," I tell her. "Am I kickass or what?"

    "You are," she tells me happily. There was never a doubt in her mind, not about my gift or the fact that I'm fuck-all brilliant.

    I catch her shoulders to push her back a little and she holds onto my hair instead. "Where are the others?" I want to know. "Crawford?"

    "Away," says a new voice at the door, and I look past Tot to the man standing there. It's Farfarello, but I know instantly that it's really him. I feel him more than hear him against my mind, a crackling sort of hot whisper, and I can feel my back tighten as I stare at him. Tot is equally tense against me and she doesn't look back. Farfarello ignores her obvious discomfort- fear?- and pushes away from the doorframe to start towards the bed, and I eye him as I struggle not to toss Tot to one side and make a break for it.

    He lifts his hand and gives it a small wave, curling his fingers in a short beckon. "Move," he says, and Tot lets go of me and flees to stand by the far wall. The rest of her lady friends appear in the doorway to watch, but they're happy to keep their distance. Farfarello stops beside the bed and leans over, putting his face right in mine as we stare each other down.

    He smiles at last, the sort of smile one gives a kitten when he's wondering what it looks like dissected and put on display somewhere. "Schuldig," he says, testing it out. "Now we've met."

    "Berserker," I say slowly. "You smell like blood." He just smiles and I decide I don't want to wait for an explanation. "Where's Crawford?"

    "Away," he says again, straightening. I can breathe easier when he's not in my face. "He is resting."

    "And Nagi?"

    "Watching the Oracle. Get up and get dressed. Estet is moving."

    "Estet…" I grimace. He turns and starts away, and I watch the girls vanish out of his path. "You're welcome, by the way."

    He slows to a stop at that and looks back. "We're even," he tells me. "You threw her out and I sewed your mind back together where she and Crawford tore it apart." He offers me a slow smile that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. "Now move. Your Oracle is waiting to meet you."

    "See me," I correct him.

    His smile widens. "Meet you," he says. "You have not met the Oracle yet."

    He continues on his way out of the room and I stare after his back. "He's sane," I say, but Farfarello just steps through the door and wanders off down the hall. It takes a minute before the girls return, and Hel leads Birdie and Fake-Hair inside. Tot creeps back over to the bed and latches onto me. "He's sane now."

    "There's a shower down the hall," Hel says.

    I look over at Tot. She smiles and presses a kiss to my cheek. "It'll work out!" she promises me. "Let's go."

    There's nothing I can say to that, really, so I let her pull me to my feet.

Part 19
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