SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Twenty-one
Look at me.

    The "Let's drive in tense silence" thing gets old after, oh, five minutes. No one's said anything since Crawford got in the car and I'm starting to twitch under the weight of my stupid awakened gift. Crawford's mind is silent but Nagi and Farfarello's thoughts are ticking over thoughts of blood and ruptured skin, and there's a blurred humming at my ear that's the whisper of thousands of minds flickering in and out of my range. They crawl across my thoughts, pain and pleasure and depression and joy, eating through me so fast and briefly that I don't know which thought is mine anymore.

    I move in an instant, slamming the heel of my shoe into the dashboard, and it brings me only a little satisfaction that I've just given Nagi a mini heart attack. Farfarello's mind goes dead silent as his animalistic mind checks out the threat, but he dismisses it in an instant when he realizes it's just me. Crawford's not impressed and doesn't even look my way.

    I kick the dashboard again but it doesn't help. I can't drown any of the voices out, so I start singing at the top of my lungs instead. "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles-"

    "Shut up," Farfarello intones from the back seat.

    "Über alles in der Welt-" His knife hisses as he pulls it free from a sheath and I decide to give up singing in favor of slanting a look at the man sitting in the driver's seat. "Are we there yet?"


    I give Crawford a few seconds before trying again. "Now?"






    I wonder if he'd let me keep this up all the way to wherever the hell we're going. "Now?"

    "No," he answers, just as calmly as the first time. Maybe he saw this annoyance coming and steeled himself against it.

    "You piss me off," I decide.

    "Duly noted."

    Silence settles for another minute and I start twitching again. I slouch down low in my seat and hold up my hands, counting the years off on my fingers. So much has been happening in the last few days; I'm starting to wonder if I can finally see the whole picture. "Six months ago Silvia broke your team. Four years ago you were in Europe working for Rosenkreuz and you found Farfarello."

    I hesitate, thinking on that, and reach up to pull down the sunshade. There's a mirror on the back and I peer at Farfarello on it. "You wanted to be a clergyman," I decide. "When Silvia said you were studying business at college, that was her lying. So when I laughed at you, that was you, coming back into your own body to come after me."

    Farfarello sends me a cool look and doesn't answer. I think about Silvia trying to strike me, that ugly look on her face, and her shoving hard at her eye afterwards. Her yellow eye. Farfarello's eye, which she kept hidden beneath a patch. I only understand it now. When Tot showed me that picture from the security camera, Farfarello had two eyes and they were both yellow. Farfarello still had ties to his own body that Silvia couldn't get rid of; Nagi said so. He was quasi-existing somewhere between Crawford's mind and his own, tangled up in a precognitive's shields and Silvia's power. Crawford gave her the patch for the accident that was going to happen and Silvia went ahead and took it to help blind Farfarello further.

    I think.


    I go back to counting, because math is easier than trying to make sense of that nonsense. I push the sunshade closed and look over at Crawford instead. Street lights flash across his face, glinting off smooth skin and glasses. He looks a bit like a mannequin: unreachable, perfect, expressionless. His hands move along the steering wheel, but they're just minute little tilts of his fingers. Schwarz's rock; Schwarz's cornerstone. The perfect precognitive who sacrificed his sanity and dignity for six months because he had to if he wanted his team to win in the end.

    I almost forget what I'm trying to say as I stare at him. Nagi is watching me where he's sitting behind Crawford on the backseat, but his thoughts are just a soft, disquieted whispering. Farfarello's mind is noisier and the annoyance is biting. I let it eat through me, tasting the disgust that's too familiar by now, tasting the distrust and menace.

    And nothing nothing nothing from Crawford.

    "Look at me."

    "I'm driving," is his simple answer.

    I push my seatbelt out of the way and reach out, taking the steering wheel in one hand. My other hand helps me find my balance against the back of my chair as I lean out of my seat and into Crawford's space. "Look at me, I said."

    Sharp metal slides along my fingers with just enough pressure to peel up a thin layer of skin. I refuse to look back at Farfarello and instead ease right up against Crawford. "Four years ago you were here in Japan, and you'd been here for six years. You met Nagi and Tot and Moriyama. You were with McKay then?"

    "McKay and I became Schwarz when we were eighteen," Crawford answers. "Japan was our first assignment."

    "You left."

    "I saw we needed Farfarello."

    I bare my teeth at him. "No," I warn him. "You wanted Farfarello. You need me."

    "Schwarz needs you," Crawford agrees calmly.

    "Fuck you."

    "Sit down."

    "I said fuck you."

    "I heard you," Crawford assures me.

    I give a vicious jerk of the steering wheel. Crawford pulls in the opposite direction at the same time, shoving the car hard in the other direction, so the car does little more than give a sharp jerk on the road. In the next heartbeat I'm slamming up against the passenger window, shoved there by Nagi's gift.

    "Stop it," he warns me quietly, and the car descends into silence once more.


    We're there before our guests from Estet are. I don't know where "there" is. Somewhere past the skyscrapers and the noise of the city, and I can finally breathe again without that noise in my head. We park our cars in a line and get out to stare out at something that almost passes as countryside in the dark. Weiß stands off to one side of us and Schreient to the other. I hear a familiar jingling in the dark and follow it to where Tot is perched on the hood of Schreient's car. She lets me take the plush Nagi from her. I'm not in the mood to stay and talk, so I bring the turtle peach back to Crawford's car and take up a similar perch on warm metal.

    Farfarello sends me a hooded look before moving up alongside Crawford. He only has to pause there for a second; Crawford gives a slight nod and the Irishman sets off into the darkness. I watch him leave and can feel some of the knot in my stomach fading the further away he gets. When he's out of sight I train my eyes on Crawford's back instead.

    "You have rotten taste," I tell the plush.

    His namesake is close enough to catch that comment and the short telekinetic looks my way. He thinks I'm talking to myself, so I point at him. His thoughts twitch in response, nervous and confused about how to react to my constant comments about the pair of them. "What the hell is Farfarello's problem, anyway?" I want to know.

    "Look at it from our perspective," Nagi tells me, moving a little closer so he can keep his voice down. "I don't know you outside of what Tot told me at the hospital and those two know you through the smokescreen of madness. The last time we were functional was six months ago, and now as soon as we're back together again, there's you. We lost McKay, a man we trusted at our backs, for you. We don't know anything about you except that Crawford had the vaguest visions that your power was going to be enough for us. That's all we have going into this fight a second time, but we don't have the time to learn when Estet is moving so quickly. This isn't easy for us to deal with, either."

    I don't say anything to that and silence stretches between us. When Nagi's voice comes again, it's quieter, and I don't have to look at him to know he's speaking directly to my gift. "I met McKay six years ago, and Farfarello knew him for four. But Crawford? Crawford knew McKay for ten years," he says softly, "and there wasn't anything he could do to save him. He knew two and a half years ago that McKay was going to die, but even with all that foresight, there was nothing he could change to stop it."

    I look over at Nagi again and study him. I wonder how many of the shadows on his face are from the night and how many are from his dark thoughts.

    "How old are you?" I ask bluntly.

    He looks a little thrown by the question. "Sixteen." I sigh a little and hold out the plush. Nagi frowns at it. "What?"

    "Just take it," I tell him, a little annoyed.

    He reached out and takes it from me, still confused, and we go quiet. He looks from me to the toy and back again, and finally gives up and turns on Crawford to wait. It doesn't take him long before his grip on the toy has tightened, and I hear it jingle a little as he crushes it up against his chest. I think about the girl on the train trying so hard to be brave because she had to be and scrub a little at my forehead. This team of mine is going to be the death of me and whatever's left of my sanity.

    Scrubbing at my head aggravates the paper cut scratch on the back of my hand and I grimace down at the thin line of red. Maybe Farfarello's diseases will kill me first.



    The fuck-?

    My mouth is open to demand an answer, but there's no time to voice it.

    "Close your eyes," Crawford says.

    "Boom," comes a sibilant whisper at my ear, and in the next breath, the sky explodes.

    Fire rips across the night like the entire world is going to go. I swear viciously as I slam my hands against my eyelids. Weiß is reacting off to one side of me, pained curses and shouts, but they're drowned out as someone starts screaming. It's a woman's voice. My first thought is that it's Tot; my next thought is that it's my mother. Blood clotting and drying against broken cobwebs, and I still remember how she smelled.

    The screaming escalates into shrieks, all ragged pain so rough they should be shredding the woman's throat muscles, but I realize in the next instant that only three of us here can hear them. In the splotches of red and black on the backs of my eyes I can watch Farfarello as he devours a woman's mind. He tears it into an ugly mess with a single-minded viciousness, and there's nothing the woman can do to stop him.

    Silvia is a different story. She hits Farfarello's mind so hard I feel it in my stomach. She's much stronger now than she was just a few hours ago and I belatedly remember Crawford's warning that the distance from her own body- her own cells and life source- were what was damping her down to a manageable level. The other mind- the pyrokinetic, I realize belatedly- is too far gone for Silvia to save and the woman doesn't even try. She just returns the favor and starts tearing Farfarello's mind open.

    "Schuldig!" It's Nagi's voice at my ear, and I force my eyes open.

    Looks like Estet's caught up with us. A ring of fire has lit up the night, blasted out away from us by Nagi's power. There are twenty of us trapped inside its snarling, crackling walls, if my gift counts them right. Even the firelight isn't enough to light our visitors up, not when they're so far away from us. I can barely see them as dark smudges against the flames. There are twelve of us and eight of them, but numbers don't look like they're going to help us. All eight of the people that came to see us have powers. I can feel it in the funny tilt to their thoughts that's so different from Schreient's and Weiß's.

    Schreient is already flying forward across the grass towards the eight and Weiß follows their lead. Crawford and Nagi and I can fight from back here. Technically, so could Farfarello, but he's having far too much fun further ahead.

    If that can really be called fun. I feel his mind take another hit from Silvia, hear the two snarling at each other, but Farfarello refuses to draw back out of the pyrokinetic's mind until her consciousness finally ruptures like overripe fruit. His own mind gives a vicious shudder in the next moment as Silvia digs even deeper. I guess this is the point where I try to be useful, and I move out to meet Silvia with my telepathy.

    "Hey, bitch," I call out to her. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"

    "This is mine," Farfarello snarls at me.

    "You can have her body," I tell him.

    "I'll deal with you in a second," Silvia promises me, all venom and ice.

    "Leave it," Farfarello warns me.

    "Farfarello." That's Crawford's voice, searing through my gift all the way to Farfarello's mind. There's a short, almost violent pause, and then Farfarello pushes Silvia as hard as he can. Their minds and powers have been tangled against and through each other, but now he forces her out of him and into my waiting gift. I'm smiling when she hits my mind even if my ears are ringing and I can already taste blood.

    Crawford's trusting me to take care of her.

    I don't know what I'm doing, but I do it anyway. I grab hold of Silvia and pull her close, and we fall together into my mind. I take her down to where there's no hope or escape or freedom, where there's no color other than the splash of red blood against faded floors. I pull her deep to Germany, and Silvia fights me the whole way down. Neither of us have a clue what it really means to be a telepath, but the rudest awakening is on Silvia. She's not the only wicked bitch in my head.

    My mother's waiting for us at the bottom.

Part 22
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