SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Nineteen
You're as sane and useful as a half-eaten piece of toast.

    Farfarello is waiting in my new bedroom when I get out of the shower. All of my things are piled around the room where someone brought them over from Moriyama's place and I eye Farfarello, wondering if he's gone through my things while I was out. I take a moment to peer inside my bags, but nothing is missing. I'd know; I'm just possessive enough to remember every last thing I've bought. Farfarello says nothing to my suspicion, content to sit on the short desk across the room, and at last I finish drying off and get dressed.

    Farfarello watches me, but it's with the clinical detachment a doctor might have. I ignore him because it's not him I want watching me, and I pull my hair up into a rough ponytail to get the wet locks off my shirt. The Irishman slides off my desk as soon as the last button is in place and starts for the door. I watch him until he reaches the doorway and he pauses there to send me a hooded look over his shoulder.

    "We're going," he says.

    "Royal we?" I ask.

    Farfarello says nothing and we spend the better part of a minute staring at each other. At length he lifts his hand and points to the ground beside him, and I decide that's a "No, not the royal we". I scowl at him for being so unhelpful and cross the room towards him, and Farfarello doesn't budge until I've reached his side. As soon as I'm within reach, though, he reaches out and tangles his hand in my hair to pull me closer. The look in his eye curdles my blood. Can blood curdle or does it have to be a dairy product to manage that trick? I dunno. Mushy clots. Gross.

    "We," he says. "I am alone inside my head now."

    "Thanks to me." Farfarello doesn't look at all grateful. Prick. If anything his hand just grips tighter and I feel strands pop free of my scalp. "Don't make me go bald."

    "As if you have a reason to be vain," he muses.

    "I was still hot enough to fuck you," I point out.

    He turns a look on me that makes me infinitely grateful that I just came out of the bathroom, as it means I have nothing to piss down my own legs. It's not helped at all by what I can read lashing about in his mind and the blood leaves my face so fast I feel light-headed. Farfarello waits until he sees that change in my expression before letting go. I watch him as he turns and starts away and grab at the doorframe for balance.

    I really didn't need to know what I look like underneath all this gorgeous skin.

    He's halfway down the hall before I get the courage to inch after him and I follow him down the stairs. I've recognized this place as Schreient's by now but Farfarello takes me past the rooms I've been in to a large office. I see Nagi through the doorway as we draw close, but he's not watching for us. He's talking to someone who's out of sight and we catch the tail-end of that conversation as we step through the door.

    "-something about the train," Nagi finishes.

    "We will take care of it," is the calm response, and my eyes go immediately to the man across the room. Crawford is standing by an over-sized desk, leaning back just enough that the wood can take some of his weight. His attention is on a file in his hands as he lazily flips through the papers and I grind to a halt even as Farfarello moves further into the room. The three of us are left in some sort of broken line across the room from Crawford, with me frozen in my tracks and the other two off to either side of me.

    Never mind, you know, the fact that Nagi was a vegetable until who knows how long ago, or that Farfarello's mind and consciousness were smashed inside Crawford's skull. No, they're totally fine with this. Life as usual for Schwarz, and the fact that there's a shiny telepath near the door is nothing special. They knew this was coming years ago, and now that they're all up and about, they're picking up from where they left off.

    I feel the distinct need to hyperventilate as Crawford flips the file closed and looks up.

    Same body, same eyes, different man. There's no madness in that stare, just something distant and calculating. There's none of the wacky confusion that aggravated me so endlessly or the unquestioning acceptance I craved.

    And there's nothing- nothing at all- from his mind.

    "Farfarello?" Crawford asks.

    "It's contained," the teenager answers, flicking his fingers in disinterested dismissal. He means me and the damage in my head. I can read it in his thoughts and I'm not sure what bothers me more- the fact that he doesn't really care how much damage there was or the way he's completely unimpressed with what he found in my mind. I'd glare at him if only I could drag my eyes away from Crawford's face, but that's proving to be an impossible task.

    Crawford nods. "Schuldig will call you," he says, and Farfarello and Nagi both turn and leave the room. The door clicks shut behind them and their thoughts twist against mine, growing quieter as they disappear down the hall and leave us to each other. They don't fade out completely and I've still got the girls' and a dozen-odd strangers pushed up against my thoughts, so I can't really say that the seconds that drag by between us are silent. A minute goes past as we consider each other, Crawford with a dispassionate look on his face and me hoping my nausea doesn't show on mine.

    "Schuldig," Crawford says at last. "How is your head?"

    "I don't know you," I accuse him quietly.

    This man wouldn't kiss my elbow if I banged it on the wall. He'd just ignore my pained curse and keep going.

    Would he make me leave in the morning?

    I think I'd be too afraid to even try and find that answer out.

    "We've met," Crawford tells me, "but not under the best of circumstances. I have the advantage here in that I knew what to expect from you years before we first crossed paths, but I will admit you have exceeded my expectations. My visions were blurry at best, distorted by the great time I was trying to look through."


    "Farfarello has managed to repair the tears in your mind, but you will have to work through any lingering soreness. There is clean-up work to do and Estet will be upon us in a matter of hours. You killed eleven people and knocked the others out on the train in your hurry to get your gift back away from my mind, and Nagi had to bring you the rest of the way here. As you have likely noticed, we are at Schreient's safe-house, but it will only be useful for so long."

    "I think I'm overdue for a meltdown, so I'm going to leave now."

    "You don't have time for such things," Crawford tells me before I can turn away. He sets his files to one side and starts my way and I don't realize I'm giving ground to him until I hit the door. Crawford doesn't seem at all bothered by my retreat or the way I grab blindly at the doorknob and hold onto it, either as a threat to leave or some sort of support. The Crawford of yesterday would have looked hurt that I was trying to run away. This one looks vaguely amused, if anything.

    "Are you afraid of me?" Crawford asks.

    "I'm leaving."

    "You chose Schwarz," Crawford tells me. "Maybe back in Germany you didn't know what you were getting into, but you sat down in the hospital room and you chose us. Schwarz is a lifetime commitment, Schuldig. You have nothing else outside of us, especially now that your telepathy is awake and you've used it against Silvia. Estet will be looking for you and the only chance you have to survive is with us."

    "With you," I shoot back, giving him an incredulous look. "You're as sane and useful as a half-eaten piece of toast. Farfarello is a total and complete freak who got his eyeball smashed out on the underside of a car. Nagi used to be a boy then he used to be a plush and now he's a kid again and let me emphasize the KID part, and he just woke up out of a coma."

    "Nagi was never a plush," Crawford points out easily. "We simply used his name so that Farfarello and I would keep that toy close to us. It gave our shattered minds some mental and emotional connection to it, and thereby forced us to remember that he was missing. It also kept that letter to you safe and kept Silvia off-guard."

    "Well aren't you just brilliant."

    "If I was brilliant," Crawford corrects me calmly, "I would have found a way to make Rosenkreuz listen, so that I would not have had to lose my team."

    I stare back at him in silence, remembering Nagi telling me that Silvia's team killed two of the original Schwarz. "You lost last time," I remind him needlessly. "What makes you think you'll win this time?"

    "Because this time, we have you," he says.

    I flinch against the wood, unable to stop myself from reacting to such words but wishing desperately to believe him. It's a stranger's gaze that's staring at me but the face is so familiar. I want to reach out and touch him just to see if he'll let me, but will he let me because he wants me to touch him or will he let me because that supposed gift of his says to let me?

    That thought brings me up short. "Did you let me fuck you because you knew it'd make me stay?"

    Silence stretches between us as we stare each other down, and I give him thirty seconds before I twist the knob to beat a frantic retreat. Crawford plants his hand against the door by my shoulder to hold it in place. His answer is slow to come and there's something almost reluctant about the words even if I can't hear it in his tone.

    "I don't know."

    I get the feeling a guy who can see so much must hate saying such things. It's the first uncertain thing I've heard him say, even when he was cracker jacked as hell. It was always "I see", "I know", "Of course". His answer jars me as much as it must jar him and my fingers go still.

    "I could see you were coming," Crawford says after another pause. "I could see you would be enough, and see where to find you, and what the trigger would be to make you ours. But for any precognitive to see two years down the road is unheard of, so to think I would have received every detail is asking too much even of me."

    "Then why?" I demand.

    "We will figure it out later," he tells me. "For now, we have other things to worry about. Your strength saved you against Silvia this time, but she was fighting at the disadvantage of being in someone else's body. The next time you see her, she will be in her own body and she will have Estet backing. We will have the four of us and Schreient."

    "And Weiß," I say helpfully.

    "Weiß," Crawford echoes.

    "Redhead with the shiny pointy thing and his team." I use my hands to map out the shape and length of his sword between our bodies. "I contracted him to our side in exchange for waking up his sister. The rest of them have my phone number so they can call. They haven't tried yet?" I pat down my pockets and pull out my cell phone. One missed call, unknown number. "Oh, they already did."

    I turn the phone to show him the screen, but he's staring through me at something else.

    Somewhen else? It's a little creepy to think about it.

    "Good," Crawford says as he pulls himself out of his daze. "Return the call and tell them to come here. They will agree."

    "You take the fun out of conversations when you know how they'll end."

    "I don't see everything," Crawford points out, "just enough."

    I don't bother to ask if he sees me kissing him. I'm not even sure I'll do it, because I'm afraid of the reaction, but I'm moving before I can think twice and sealing myself up against him. He goes tense at the touch and the arm that slides around his shoulders and I burn my mouth against his. He relaxes but it's more because he's forcing himself to than anything else. I don't really care why because he's not pushing me away- not that there's anywhere to push me with a door at my back.

    He tastes the same whether he's a whacko or sane, but for some reason, I feel myself start to freak out again. I twist my head away and push him back. He doesn't need any help from me to get back out of my space and I manage to not look at his face as I vanish out into the hall. I bring my phone with me and take the stairs to more familiar rooms. Tot is on my bed, curled up around Plush-Nagi as she painstakingly sews it back together. Her mouth is open to offer me a greeting but her expression twists into something pained when she sees the look on my face. I don't slow but climb onto the bed, and she actually throws the plush aside to wrap herself around me.

    We sit in silence for seconds or minutes or hours, my fingers digging bruises into her small back as she holds on tight. My cell phone is staring up at me where it hit the sheets behind her and I stare past her shoulder at it.

    "Hey, Tot, I'm a telepath," I tell her.

    "Yes," she answers easily.

    "And Crawford sees the future. And Nagi can float things. And Farfarello's a freak."


    This is reality now. This isn't a pipe dream. I gave myself those ten seconds to completely freak out in the hospital before I sealed it all away to help Nagi, but after seeing Crawford, after seeing all three of Schwarz, that barrier is ripped to shreds and I've probably smashed Tot's breasts a permanent size smaller from how tight I'm holding onto her.

    A part of me thinks it's exhilarating and wonderful. Another part of me is thinking about Silvia's hatred and Weiß and killing people and the children we sold and Crawford staring at me as if I was just someone else on the street.

    "I want a nikuman."

    "There," she says, letting go of me with one hand. I twist to look and she's pointing at a package on my dresser. "When you were asleep. When Farfarello was looking at your head. Crawford said, 'go get a nikuman. Schuldig will want it.' Tot went. When you went to the shower, they said, 'go warm it'. Tot warmed it."

    I stare at the bag for several long seconds and then slowly let go of her. It really does have a nikuman inside and I hold the warm bun in my hand. I can just study it in silence for a minute as I think about Crawford and me and Schwarz and Weiß and Tot and this fucked-up place they like to call Japan just because "Oh My God What the Fuck" doesn't look so good on a map.

    "Hey, Tot, when shit starts happening, don't die or anything, okay?"

    "Pfff," Tot says, sounding vaguely offended. She reaches out and plucks up an umbrella she's propped against the bed, and the flick of a switch has a blade shooting out of the end. I recognize the umbrella, all the way down to its heart-shaped handle, but it's the first time I've seen the blade. She taps it against her face and smiles at me, all yeah-right innocence and pretty. "They're scum. Tot can take care of herself."

    I just stare at the umbrella and the blade and her and the nikuman, and I can't help it. I start laughing again. Tot puts the blade away while I eat, and she props herself against my shoulder to wait when I call Weiß back. The little one picks up and I drum my fingers on Tot's head as I stare through the far wall at a shattering reality I can't say I miss all that much.

    "Here's how this is going to work," I tell him, and he doesn't try to argue. I'm Schuldig. I'm the Mastermind. I'm Schwarz. If the world sees it fit to turn itself upside down on me, then I'll see to it that I get what I want from whichever world I end up in.

    Starting with one know-it-all precognitive.

Part 20
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