Schuldich had said it before, and he would say it again. Telepaths were nosy creatures. On most days, encounters with telepaths and bearing the brunt of their curiosity was enough to ruin any bit of a good mood. Telepaths were a source of great aggravation for everyone. They were useful but no one liked them; no one liked the feel of another bearing witness to their most private thoughts. They were arrogant and self-assured, confident in everything they did and in their power.
But curiosity was deadly, and that was why Schuldich found himself stepping out of Rosenkreuz’s doors barely a month and a half after Owen’s death. He set his suitcase down on the porch, stretching his arms above his head and taking a deep breath. His lungs protested it, hating the feel of the dead air curling through him. He took another breath, letting the stale taste linger on his tongue. Free; he was free again. This was the last time he would have to taste this air for at least another year. He hadn’t been allowed off Rosenkreuz’s grounds ever since he visited that Irish girl. She had been determined pregnant just a short while ago, and visiting her was the only excuse to leave Rosenkreuz’s grounds.
A wild grin pulled at his mouth and he turned to face Crawford, blue eyes nearly glowing in anticipation. Schwarz was finally being sent out; they were finally going to be free of the school. He was eager for the work, eager for the fresh air that hovered just outside the gates. Crawford glanced his way when he felt the telempath’s eyes on him and studied the ecstatic expression for just a moment. Schuldich had been in a fantastic mood ever since the word had come in yesterday that they were leaving. The precognitive shifted his grip on his own suitcase, lifted it, and started down the stairs. Schuldich was quick to follow, and he heard soft footsteps behind him as Farfarello obediently trailed after.
The Cabinet was quite fond of the idea of owning a Nightmare, but as precious as he was to them, they could only handle so many people dying because of him. Two instructors, Aeris, Owen, and seven telepaths had all died because of him, all in just a month and a half. The telepaths were just too nosy for their own good. They couldn’t keep their gifts away. They were warned about him; they were warned not to touch him. But all of them thought somehow that their gift was stronger than the last man who had tried. Perhaps in some cases they hadn’t really meant to touch Farfarello; perhaps it was just an instinctive prod of their gift. The reason didn’t really matter in the end. All of them paid for such arrogance with instant death. The Cabinet had not been happy and had told Farfarello to stop killing them off. Farfarello wasn’t intimidated by the three and had ignored them. Anyone who touched his mind without his permission was going to die. The order had been reissued to the telepaths when the Cabinet realized their Nightmare wasn’t interested in listening to them, but it had done nothing. Three of the deaths had happened after the second warning. The Cabinet was saving the rest of their telepaths the only way they knew how, and that was to cast Schwarz out.
Japan, the land of the rising sun… Schuldich didn’t know much about it other than the language was made up of funky characters and the people made some great technology. Rosenkreuz didn’t bother teaching much about Japan. Once upon a time the school had been interested in it. Nowadays they had no reason to look that far east. In the last six decades the Inquisitions hadn’t found anything there, so now they only sent teams there every twelve to fifteen years. It was hard work for the telepaths, so when they did go, the groups were traded out often. There were just too many minds, too many people packed into too small of a place. Schuldich guessed it wouldn’t be long before they gave Japan up entirely as a searching ground. No one could explain why it was almost impossible to find gifts in a land with so many people, but with the rest of the world to plunder, no one really cared.
Schuldich wasn’t overly excited about their destination, eager as he was to get out of Rosenkreuz. He didn’t like the idea of going to such an overpopulated nation. But work was work, and they had been found a client through another team’s employer in Lithuania. Japan hadn’t requested teams in years… Schuldich was sure that Schwarz entering the nation would open up a whole array of opportunities for work. Perhaps they would find enough that they wouldn’t have to head back to Rosenkreuz any time soon. The thought pleased him.
Their driver was waiting for them by the gates, and they loaded their suitcases into the trunk. Crawford took the passenger seat and the other two slipped into the back. Farfarello ignored the fact that the backseat had three seats and picked the one right beside Schuldich. Schuldich hadn’t planned on bothering with his seat buckle but he changed his mind with the Irishman leaned sideways to rest against him. He gave the younger teenager a push, tugging at his buckle. “Get out of the way,” he told him, pushing again when Farfarello didn’t move immediately.
Farfarello eyed the buckle before leaning away, giving Schuldich enough room to snap the thing in place. He didn’t return to his original position, to Schuldich’s satisfaction, and instead stared out the window as the engine started and the gates opened for them. The drive to the airport passed in silence- verbal silence, anyway. The hum of Farfarello’s mind was always there, and past it were the threads of what Schuldich could catch from their driver. Schuldich thought about the last time he had been on a plane with Farfarello and rather hoped that this trip would go much better and that no one’s eyes got ripped out. It still sucked that it was going to be a long flight, but it would be easier as long as Farfarello behaved himself.
They were dropped off at the curb and they breezed through the front doors, ignoring the line waiting for check-in to carry their bags straight to the counter. The attendants marked their destination and set them aside, and several workers hurried up to carry the luggage directly to the plane without sending it through any security checks. Down to the concourse they went, and they were to wait there an hour before boarding began. Farfarello took up a spot by the window, staring out at the planes and the people milling around outside. Crawford and Schuldich sat, an empty chair between them, and entertained themselves with their thoughts. In Schuldich’s case, he entertained himself with the thoughts of everyone around him. There was a man in the crowd who was going to meet his fiancé for their wedding. Suddenly he realized that he was in love with his brother’s wife instead and he strode rather purposefully out of the concourse to announce such devotions. A smirk slid across Schuldich’s lips and he sank lower in his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him and crossing them at the ankles.
Crawford sent him a sideways glance, cool golden brown eyes knowing. Schuldich glanced back at him, letting the other man see the condescending amusement in his gaze. His smirk slid into more of a grin when he saw his superior’s face. Crawford could always tell when Schuldich was up to something. But then, since Schuldich was usually up to something, maybe it was more common sense than shrewd perception. Who knew?
He glanced towards Farfarello, who stood as still and silent as a stone, and one hand strayed to his shirt, fingers tracing the scar Owen had left him through the material. It was one of the nastier scars he had lining his body, and he had yet to decide if he thought it detracted from his good looks or if it just made him seem dangerous and experienced. He generally slid towards the former, resenting it because that Irish fucker had almost gotten him. It had been the Nightmare that had stopped things, but then, it had been the Nightmare’s fault he had been in trouble, because the man’s gift had broken his shields too many times. He had been working on fixing them ever since that fight, and half of the telepathic instructors had been helping him. He had picked them carefully; Zimmermann had suggested them but Schuldich had had the final say. They could teach him tricks to strengthen his shields but in the end he had also had their gifts lace through his in places, so that now his mind had the faintest brushes of them permanently embedded. He had been very wary of such a thing, but Crawford had encouraged it. So he had thought long and hard about who he had accepted help from.
Now he knew Crawford had pushed the issue because of Japan. Schuldich’s shields were still very good, but the fact remained that Japan was an odd and overpopulated unknown and his shields were bruised. He rocked his feet lightly from side to side, gazing towards the stewardesses at the far side of the waiting area without seeing them. He wondered how long Crawford had known about Japan, wondered if it had been decided long ago or if it was Crawford’s gift. He had never been able to tell just how far ahead Crawford could look. A step below full blown clairvoyance, Aeris had said. How strong was that? With Crawford’s shields, his gift was as unreadable to Schuldich as the man’s thoughts and emotions. He had come to accept that fact, more because it was necessary than because he’d come to peace with it, for he’d always want inside, but now and then it rankled him that the man was so forbidden.
But his time was coming… His fingers clenched into tighter fists where his arms were folded over his chest and his smirk gained a sharper edge. Crawford had to know Japanese before he entered the country… Sometime soon he was going to have to drop his guard and let Schuldich inside, and then things would be settled and Schuldich would finally have some answers. He had kept himself in check last time Crawford had brought the shields down for him but this time he would not be so careful. Crawford couldn’t complain; he’d warned the man last time that such an intrusion was coming. If Crawford heard his soft laugh, he didn’t comment.
Finally it was time for them to board. Farfarello was still at the window but turned as Schuldich got to his feet and followed the older two Talents to the first class cabin. He was stuffed into the window seat, the safest place for him to be, and Schuldich was given the seat beside him. Crawford was in the middle row, sitting on the end so that just the aisle separated them. The German pulled his buckle into place and folded his arms over his chest, giving the magazines in front of him a cursory, disapproving look. He had brought his own book, luckily. Farfarello was playing with his window shade, rolling it up and down to look out. Crawford sat silent and still, fingers laced together in his lap.
Farfarello didn’t like the flight. Things were fine for all of an hour before the Irishman got restless. He was steadily taking the magazines out of the net on the chair in front of him one by one and putting them back one by one, over and over and over. His thoughts rippled with impatience and irritation and Schuldich finally looked up from his book to send him a quelling look. He didn’t understand how the man could sleep for years at a time and not be able to just sit still for a flight.
“Go to sleep,” he said.
“I won’t,” came the answer. A yellow eye flicked towards him, and a restless, almost violent pulse went through the back of his thoughts. Schuldich let it sweep over him. He couldn’t identify it but not everything he got from Farfarello’s twisted mind was clear. “You sleep.”
“I’m reading,” Schuldich answered.
Schuldich decided not to answer that, turning back to his book instead. Farfarello plucked it out of his hands, dropping it down by his feet where the German couldn’t reach it. When Schuldich turned on him, eyes narrowed and mouth open to let the Irishman know exactly what he thought of him, Farfarello offered him a bland look. Amusement lit his single eye but the emotions that twisted his thoughts were darker and sharper. He reached up, icy fingers curling around Schuldich’s chin as he tugged Schuldich’s face towards his. “Now you’re talking,” he informed Schuldich, his mouth curving into that cold, eerie smile. “To me.”
“I have nothing to say to you,” Schuldich replied, tugging his face away. He didn’t get far before Farfarello caught him by the throat, and the Irishman yanked him back. “Let go.”
Farfarello’s smile turned lazy. “Make me,” he murmured.
Schuldich considered that for a long moment. Farfarello’s free hand lifted to trail through Schuldich’s hair, fingers twisting around the long locks as he waited for some sort of a response. Schuldich remained silent, glaring at the younger Talent. A stewardess came by, hesitating before asking them if they wanted drinks. Schuldich tried to tug away from Farfarello once more and felt the first layer of skin give way under the Irishman’s fingernails. He placed his order mentally instead and she left it on his tray before tending to Crawford. Farfarello lifted his gaze from Schuldich to stare at the young lady’s back.
“Don’t-” Schuldich started to say, but it was already too late. He felt Farfarello’s mind twist, felt something give in the lady behind him. She uttered a soft exclamation and Schuldich grabbed Farfarello’s wrist, yanking his fingers free so he could turn and look. The girl was standing in the aisle, hands limp at her sides. Crawford’s coffee was spilled all over the floor and the aisle seat that had been his originally. The precognitive had changed seats at one point, moving one more over. Schuldich didn’t remember him moving, but if he hadn’t he would be covered in hot coffee at this point.
The girl came back to her senses and began apologizing profusely, grabbing at rags to mop up the mess. Crawford accepted her embarrassed words in silence, watching as she cleaned up. Her hands were shaking and even if she was trying to concentrate on what she was doing, her mind was curling in horror around whatever Farfarello had decided to show her. Schuldich heard Farfarello shift; as he was turning back to look at the other man he felt wet warmth on his throat. He gave a little start, jerking away from the other man to lean against the far side of his seat. Farfarello laughed and Schuldich gave him a dark look, reaching up to rub at his neck. He felt blood where Farfarello’s fingernails had ripped the flesh; the younger Nightmare had been licking it up.
Farfarello leaned towards him, sprawling over the armrest that separated them. “Talk to me,” he said again.
“Give me my book back.”
“Talk to me,” the Nightmare insisted.
Schuldich pushed him back, leaning down to try and get hold of his book. Long fingers strained as he stretched, but it was just barely out of his reach. Weight on his back- Farfarello had leaned forward to rest on top of him, folding his arms across Schuldich’s head and shoulders. The German sat back up, but didn’t get far. Farfarello laced an arm around Schuldich’s neck, keeping him close. Lips touched his temple; he felt Farfarello smile against his skin. Teeth closed on his ear. Schuldich hit him, swinging his fist to the side to catch Farfarello in the stomach.
Farfarello pulled him upright with a fist in his hair. Schuldich could feel stares on them; they were starting to attract attention from the other first class passengers. He was willing to bet that Crawford was the only one still ignoring them. Farfarello pushed the armrest up between them, fixing Schuldich with a calm look. Fingers uncurled from Schuldich’s hair and he held out his arms, twisting sideways to face the telempath. “If you won’t talk, then sleep.”
Before Schuldich could respond, he felt everything dropping away around him. There was a swirl of colors, violent and dark, half-formed images that raced around him and through him. At the end of his drop a dark figure was waiting, jet black and wispy, with eyes of fire. It lunged forward to meet him and Schuldich started awake.
He was disoriented for several moments, trying to figure out where he was and what had woken him. It had been this way since the middle of September, ever since he had woken Farfarello from his odd sleep. Every morning he was woken by some sort of frantic, violent fear. He could never remember whatever it was he had dreamed about that would wake him in such a way; he was left with just the traces of panic and a nauseating dizziness. He blinked a few times to clear his vision and found himself staring at a bunch of magazines. A lady’s voice was announcing that they were going to land, and he closed his eyes for a long moment before opening them again. The world stopped dancing in front of his eyes and he remembered where he was. In the same breath he realized he was laying half on his side, his head and shoulders resting in Farfarello’s lap. He pushed himself upwards, swearing quietly at the pain that spiked through the back of his skull, and turned a glare on the Irishman.
His teammate gave him a smooth look in response. Schuldich sagged backwards against his seat, wincing at the way his muscles ached. He must have been lying funny. He looked over towards Crawford, who was calmly putting his computer back in its case. The American glanced his way when he felt Schuldich’s eyes on him and Schuldich gave him a cool look before facing forwards. There had to be a rule against what Farfarello had done. That was the second time Farfarello’s gift had somehow knocked him unconscious.
It was night when they landed. They were the first off the plane and they made their way to baggage claim. In the parking lot, a man waited with their car. He had come over from Korea specifically to make sure they had a place to live and a car waiting for them; once they retrieved it he would return to his post. Crawford took the keys from him and he headed away. The suitcases were set in the back. A map was in the passenger seat, giving directions to their apartments. Schuldich scowled as he read them, knowing as he absorbed the words what it meant. There were two places; two apartments side by side. With three of them, it was obvious how they were going to be split up. He reflected that he was the most unlucky bastard in all of Rosenkreuz.
As he moved to sit in the passenger seat, Farfarello caught his elbow and sent a pointed look at the back. Schuldich yanked his hand off and sat down, not bothering to say anything but shutting the door and locking it. After a few moments, Farfarello slid into the back seat. Crawford slid the key into the ignition and Farfarello leaned forward on his seat, wrapping his arms around Schuldich’s chair so that his hands were locked together in front of the German. Schuldich tested the grip and decided Farfarello wasn’t going to be so easy to push off, so resigned himself to his unhappy fate and buckled himself in instead.
The apartments were a twenty minute drive from the airport, and Schuldich gazed out of the window as he circled the inside of his shield. The weight of Japan against his mind was physical, a pressure that was somewhat like Farfarello’s but without the jagged edge of death. He could feel them all pushing against him, could hear hundreds of curled thoughts speaking in rapid bursts. He didn’t like it, but by the time they reached their apartment he had judged it and decided it wasn’t a threat.
He took his time exploring his new temporary home, ignoring the yellow eye that followed him as he wandered. Both beds were in the same room, and the bedroom was separated from the hall by a sliding frosted glass door. The toilet and the bath were in separate rooms, and the bathtub was narrow and deep. They had a little stove; a tiny kitchen lined the hall opposite the bathrooms. It was decent; the only fault Schuldich could find with it was the man waiting for him on one of the beds. He left the room, wandering next door to Crawford’s apartment, and found it to be identical. There were even two beds, which he found curious because the second one should have been already removed for them.
He perched on the second bed, watching Crawford as he unpacked. “How about I sleep in here and Farfarello gets his own place?” he suggested, though he already knew the answer.
“That bed isn’t for you,” Crawford responded easily, laying his clothes neatly out on his mattress.
“No one else is using it,” Schuldich pointed out.
“Not yet,” the precognitive answered.
Schuldich sprawled backwards, propping himself up on his arms, and arched an eyebrow at the taller man’s back. He didn’t bother pressing for an explanation… Experience told him it would just be a frustrating conversation full of dead ends. Silence fell between them until Crawford finished unpacking, and then the precognitive turned to face Schuldich. The German took a look at the calm eyes studying him and pushed himself to his feet. There wasn’t much room between the beds, so there was barely an inch of space between them. He tilted his head back to keep the other man’s stare, sapphire and wheat judging each other.
“I will take the Japanese now,” Crawford said.
Schuldich couldn’t stop the slow smirk that curved his lips; eager anticipation laced through his veins. “Will you?” he asked.
Crawford didn’t respond, but Schuldich felt the cool shields give way. He pressed forward even before they were completely gone, gifts lacing inwards. Everything around them faded away; all he could see was Crawford’s eyes as his telepathy and empathy racing around to see what there was. What he found stopped him in his tracks, and he was only dimly aware of rocking backwards on his feet.
“What the hell?”
Crawford had a second set of shields.
“A telepath could never understand that those are there for his protection,” Crawford said. There was amusement in his gaze, even if his voice held none of it. Schuldich struggled forward again, gifts pressing up against the second layer. They were as thick as the first. If he’d investigated the first time Crawford let him in he would have felt them. These ones hadn’t come down the last time, when he had given Crawford languages before. He found himself sorely disappointed and he scowled at the American, telepathy scrabbling ineffectively at the surface of those thick guards. How in the hell did someone shield their mind like this? He was violently jealous and irritated at the same time. “A telepath is more concerned with his own curiosity and satisfaction, and very rarely stops to think that perhaps there are some things he shouldn’t be allowed access to.”
“How the hell did you get those?” He sounded sullen even to his own ears. Blue eyes searched Crawford’s stare and he saw a power rippling in their depths. It took his breath away; his lungs froze inside of him as he stared at a power he had never been able to feel before. Crawford’s eyes held a very old power, and the way it shifted in his eyes reminded Schuldich of Farfarello’s gift. A step down from a clairvoyant…How powerful was that? Crawford’s eyes were threatening to swallow him whole; he couldn’t feel the power but he had the feeling that it would tear him apart if he could. He struggled to look away; at the same time, he fought to not break the stare. He was intimidated and intrigued, and he ignored the little voice inside that was whispering warnings.
“Do you really want to see what’s inside?” Crawford asked him. “Or do you just think you do?”
The power retreated; Schuldich found himself staring up at the Crawford he knew, at the man he had worked with for several years. He realized his lungs were burning and he exhaled shakily, drawing another breath in quickly. Silence fell between them for several long moments. Finally Schuldich reached out, twisting the language he had absorbed through Crawford’s mind. He reached out and touched Crawford’s shields one more time before pulling back, and he felt the first layer fall into place.
“You don’t want to know,” Crawford answered for him. “People are always curious but in the end, they really don’t want to know what is coming for them. It is better for their sanity if they don’t have to deal with it. Sometimes in the aftermath they will wail that if only they had known, that perhaps they could have protected themselves better against tragedy, that they could have somehow planned better. But knowing would not help them. Knowing would only ruin them.”
“You know what’s coming for us.”
“I always do.” Crawford’s eyes studied him, and Schuldich realized the man was reflecting on the German himself. And he realized that perhaps he really didn’t want to know. He gave Crawford a wary look, stepping sideways as he started towards the door. Crawford’s gaze was heavy, thoughtful, and he didn’t like it. He turned away, heading down the hall. Soft footsteps followed him, and he stopped right outside the other man’s door to look back at him. Crawford waited in silence for him to speak, one hand on the door.
“Just so you know,” he said, “if that thing’s gift ever gets hold of me, you’ll lose us both because I’ll slip up on the next mission.”
Crawford’s gaze was unreadable. “No,” he said, “you won’t.”
And with that, he shut the door.
Even though the rules of the jobs had been explained to Farfarello many times before, Schuldich found himself stressing them again the night before they headed out. They had had a day to rest; tomorrow they would start working. For the first part, Farfarello was not required. They had been sent here because one of Rosenkreuz’s other clients had a friend who was starting a sister company in Japan. For the first few weeks they would monitor the place, watching the progress and checking to see everything was to their satisfaction. The loyalty of the employees must be insured. When everything was approved and it had made some headway, Schwarz would look for threats to its success and weed them out, as well as acting as go-betweens for associations that would be beneficial. They were to get loyalty through death or bribes, and it didn’t really matter which. For now they would keep the deaths low, as Japan was still the unknown country that refused to breed gifts. That meant Farfarello had to be kept in line, and Schuldich was giving him a lecture on keeping his gift in check. It would have been simpler if they could just lock the Nightmare in the room during the day, but Crawford said that would be a very bad idea. That meant Schuldich had to keep a close eye on him.
Farfarello listened to the speech in silence and just shrugged when Schuldich was through. The German didn’t know if that was in agreement or refusal, and eyed the other man. “Don’t screw this up for us,” he warned him.
“You don’t trust me.” Farfarello sounded amused. A small smile curved his lips and he leaned forward over the edge of his mattress. Schuldich was sitting on the edge of his, and he wondered how the Irishman could keep his balance enough to lean so far out. The younger teenager searched Schuldich’s eyes. “You don’t trust me, but I’ll trust you. Let them live, let them die. Your call. I won’t listen to him.” A small tilt of his head indicated the other room, indicated the precognitive. “Just you.”
“I suppose I should be flattered,” Schuldich said dryly.
“But,” Farfarello said, and fell quiet. They studied each other in silence. Schuldich waited to see if he would finish the sentence. Farfarello slid forward, climbing off his bed and coming to stand before the German. His hands cupped Schuldich’s face; long, cold fingers brushed over smooth skin. “Only as long as I can believe in you.”
Schuldich felt like the other man was waiting for an answer, but he had nothing to say. Instead he reached up, brushing Farfarello’s hands away. Farfarello’s hand snagged in his hair; what might have been odd tenderness earlier vanished as he jerked Schuldich’s head up. The force brought Schuldich from the mattress and he clutched at Farfarello’s wrists, standing in an odd crouch because Farfarello wouldn’t let him straighten or sit back down.
“Don’t,” Farfarello warned him, voice a soft, deadly warning, “ever let me lose faith in you.” Schuldich tried to think of something to say in response but words failed him. Farfarello gave him a rough shove backwards, knocking him further back on the mattress, and climbed on after him. He sat himself on Schuldich’s thighs, his knees on the bed to either side, and he curled his hands in Schuldich’s hair again. A rough yank brought Schuldich upright- or as upright as he could go, with the younger Talent perched on top of him. “Now,” he ordered, voice flat. “Now.”
With that, his gift fell backwards. Schuldich stared up at him in silence, struggling for thought over the sudden vacuum in his mind, over the pain on either side of his skull. But there was nothing to say, nothing that could be done. So he reached out with his gift, sliding through the hole Farfarello had made for him, and let the other man’s mind consume him.
They had been there almost two months before Schuldich found out why the second bed was in Crawford’s room. It was the end of the year; the streets were crowded as everyone celebrated. Tomorrow it would be 1994, and the entire nation partied in preparation. Schuldich wove his way through the streets, making his way to the subway. Bodies pressed up against him; hands tangled in his hair. Laughing voices called to him and a dozen different songs blared from radios all over the place. He lit a cigarette and perched it between his lips, starting down the stairs into the subway. Crawford was watching Farfarello tonight. Schuldich needed a break from the other man and he had been steadily making his way as far away from their apartments as possible. He bought a ticket and took the escalator down to the tracks, leaning against a pillar to wait. He was almost on the opposite end of the city from his teammates. He wasn’t required back until the following night, though he wondered how Crawford would deal with Farfarello when the Irishman realized his Dream wouldn’t be coming back tonight. A smirk curved his lips. Let Crawford deal with the man…Schuldich had been fighting with him for two months now. The recent two weeks had just started the line of deaths, and Farfarello was restless and agitated from having to restrain his gift. Schuldich’s sessions with him were becoming darker and more violent. He had a constant headache these days, a mix of the Nightmare’s mind, the weight of Japan, and his bad sleep.
The subway arrived and he stepped onto it, not bothering to put out his cigarette before boarding. A couple people glanced his way but none dared say anything. He propped himself against the opposite door, hands shoved in the pockets of his ankle length black coat, and surveyed the car with a bored glance. A few were staring at him, but they quickly looked away when their eyes met. He could feel their curiosity and fascination; he let it roll over him in a colorful wave. The train slowed, reaching the next station, and the doors across from him opened. A couple people exited and a few got on. Schuldich curled his gift outwards, letting it run across the station.
It startled him. He straightened, eyes narrowing, and plucked the cigarette from his lips. Japan wasn’t supposed to have any Talents. A few quick strides carried him towards the doors; he leapt lightly out just before they could close on him. Mixed relief and regret followed him as he abandoned everyone on the train, and he wove his way through the subway to the escalators. His mind reached out, feeling for that power again. It was a steady pulse in the background, weak but there. He tagged it to find its owners mind, and the thoughts that swirled through him had a young tone. Whoever it was would have to be young, otherwise they would have been picked up in the last rounds, but the power was too strong to belong to a young child. The younger Talent was cold, cold and hungry. Those thoughts were at the front of everything, and they were strong enough that his empathy could pick up on it.
He took the stairs two at a time, moving quickly up towards the exit and shoving past those that got in his way. The stairwell was a perfect wind tunnel; gusts of icy wind tossed his hair every which way and ate through his thick jacket. Then he was outside, and he turned his feet in direction of the gifted child. The mental signature was familiar; it was a young telekinetic. He found the Talent in question a couple streets over. He was crouching against the side of a convenience store, arms wrapped around his knees as he stared out into the busy street.
Schuldich stopped on the corner of the sidewalk, just ten feet away, and studied him. The boy lifted his gaze and their eyes met. Soulful dark blue eyes inspected Schuldich without any trace of fear, almost without any interest. Schuldich stared back, studying the shaking form. It might be the way the boy was sitting, but he looked awfully tiny. Even from this distance he could see the boy shaking. It was beyond trembling into quaking, and he was rocking slightly to bump against the wall. Schuldich tilted his head to one side, taking a final inhale from his cigarette before dropping the butt to the ground. He ground it out with the heel of his shoe and exhaled smoke into the air. Ten feet away, the boy’s breath made a similar cloud.
His gift touched that mind again, searching the power before digging through the mind again. He was rewarded with a string of memories that were all the same; years of living out here. He survived by his gift; when he couldn’t stand it anymore he would use his gift to fetch him food, but he didn’t like it. He didn’t like stealing, even if it was necessary. Far in the distance were memories of a home, but his parents had been killed years ago. He couldn’t remember their faces; he could barely remember his name. His age was hard to determine because the memories were too muddled.
“How old are you?” he asked.
The boy answered him with silence. His thoughts took on a sharp, dark edge. Apparently others had approached the boy, asking him the same. But what they wanted was him, because they thought he had a pretty face, because they were sure he would do anything for money. He’d ended up killing one of them; the others he had run from and used his gift to help him escape. He couldn’t fight most with his gift, because he remembered what happened the last time he had shown it to someone. A demon, he was a little demon.
“You want to meet a real demon, you should meet Farfarello,” Schuldich responded, amused.
The boy just blinked at him. Schuldich reached out to the next person that left the convenience store, taking their bag from them. They didn’t resist him but continued on their way. When they got home they would wonder what happened to their groceries. Schuldich didn’t bother to move closer to the boy yet, because he knew that approaching could trigger an attack. Instead he sat himself on the curb, digging through the bag to see what it was. It was a decent find…Alcohol, pastries, and some ice cream. He set the Asahi beer on the sidewalk beside him and chucked one of the pastries at the boy. It landed a foot away. Dark blue eyes studied it but the boy made no move to take it.
Interesting…A Japanese Talent. It had been so long since Rosenkreuz had found one. He regarded the other curiously, wondering what about the Japanese blood made it so rare for a gift to bloom, wondering what about that scrawny boy made him able to carry a power. It amused him that he was finally of age to be assigned to an Inquisitions team and he was finding a Talent. He popped the top of his drink and took a few swallows, not bothering to break the other’s stare. Finally he gestured to the pastry with his can. “If you’re not going to eat that, throw it back and I will.” A small hand took hold of the bag and it was tossed back, landing by Schuldich’s knee. The German grinned. “Don’t want to owe me anything, hm?” he asked, amused.
/I don’t want what they want,/ he informed the boy, making sure the other was facing him so he’d see his mouth wasn’t moving. His lips curled into a smirk as the child’s eyes narrowed in surprise and suspicious. /I could feel you…You have something I want. You can move things because you want to, can’t you?/
The boy thought perhaps he was imagining things, that perhaps his hunger and the cold were getting to him. Schuldich took another swallow, lifting his shoulder in a shrug. “You’re not imagining anything. What you have that makes you consider yourself a demon…There are lots of others with it. We call it telekinesis.” He leaned back, propping his hands on the sidewalk behind him. The boy stared back in silence. “There’s a school in Austria that teaches people how to use their gifts.”
“Go away.” It was barely audible.
Schuldich reached out with his empathy, ensuring that the boy wouldn’t attack him, and got to his feet. He carried the groceries over to the boy and lowered himself to a crouch in front of him. The child’s thoughts were wary, but as anxious as he felt for some reason he found himself very reluctant to defend himself with his power. Schuldich smirked, reaching out and setting the pastry down in front of the child once more. He considered calling Crawford and telling him, but decided the Oracle had probably already seen this coming. His thoughts drifted to the second bed in the American’s apartment and he shook his head with a laugh. “Son of a bitch…” he muttered.
“Go away,” the boy tried again.
“You think I’m going to hurt you?” Schuldich asked, arching a brow at him. “If I wanted to, I could. I could kill you where you sit before you even managed to touch me with your power. But no. I’m going to take you back with me. Crawford’s going to want to have a look at you.” He tapped the pastry. “Eat up. It’s a long ways back.”
Silence, for a long time. Dark blue eyes searched him; tangled thoughts raced through his mind, heavy with distrust. “What do you want?”
Schuldich realized with disgust that this meant he would be returning tonight, that he would have to deal with Farfarello again. He kept the scowl from his face, remembering the way he had told Crawford he wouldn’t be back until tomorrow and the older man had replied “Whenever.” Instead he let a smirk slide across his lips again.
/To show you that you’re not special,/ he informed the boy. /To show you that you’re not alone./
He was put under heavy scrutiny for several minutes before the boy picked up the pastry with shaking fingers. He tore the wrapper free and let the wind carry it away, and ate the snack in three bites. Schuldich dug another one out of the bag and turned it over; it was snatched from his fingers and the boy ate that one as well. Schuldich was amused, but relieved at the same time because the sharp edge of hunger that laced the other’s thoughts was fading. Schuldich handed him the ice cream next, and this was eaten more slowly. The boy licked his fingers clean and Schuldich let the grocery bag go, let it go sailing after the food wrappers. He rose to his feet, beckoning for the other to follow him.
“Let’s go, Naoe Nagi.”
And when he turned to head back to the subway, smaller feet hurried after him.
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