Part Eleven

    Schuldich rapped on Crawford’s door, deciding to drop the child off there and avoid an immediate meeting with Farfarello. Crawford answered on the second knock, eyes going straight to the child who stood to Schuldich’s side. Nagi regarded the precognitive as fearlessly as he had stared at Schuldich; he had learned long ago that his gift could protect him and therefore saw no reason to fear either of them, even if he was a bit wary of their intentions. Schuldich hadn’t said anything else to him on the trip over, leaving it to Crawford to explain things. Schuldich flicked his hair over his shoulder, arching an eyebrow at Schwarz’s leader.

    “You’re welcome.”

    Crawford ignored him, opening the door wider instead and gesturing for Nagi to enter. The boy looked up at Schuldich, who tilted his head that direction. He stepped through the doorway, looking at the shoes that rested in front of him and then looking at Crawford’s socked feet. After some consideration, he toed his own ratty shoes off and stepped up into the apartment. Crawford looked back at Schuldich. The German scowled at him. “A warning would have been nice,” he said. “I had plans.”

    “I’m sure you did,” was the easy response, and Crawford shut the door. Schuldich flipped it off before heading to his apartment. Unlike Crawford, he left his shoes on when he entered his place. He thought it a rather ridiculous custom to remove one’s shoes, and he had refused to follow it in his time here in Japan. He’d offended quite a few people, especially when they ate out at nice places and he left his shoes on, but he’d gotten this far in life by offending people so he really didn’t care. Farfarello followed his lead, and no Japanese person had the courage to tell him he was doing things incorrectly.

    Farfarello was stretched out on his stomach in bed, and a single yellow eye watched Schuldich as he entered the bedroom. He sat up when Schuldich flopped down in his own bed, slipping off the mattress to come stand beside Schuldich. The telempath pretended not to notice him, folding his arms together under his head and gazing up at the ceiling. His mind curled towards the other room, brushing over the young Talent’s mind. His searching was interrupted when Farfarello poked him, and he sent a cool glance towards the Nightmare.

    “Did you find it?” the younger teenager wanted to know.

    “Find what?” Schuldich asked.

    “What Crawford sent you for.” Farfarello folded his arms over his chest, leaning over the bed so he could stare directly down into Schuldich’s face. “He said you left to get something.”

    “He’s a bastard,” Schuldich muttered, turning on his side to present his back to Farfarello. Crawford had told Farfarello but not told him. How typical. How irritatingly Crawford. He sighed, studying the wall across from him. When he was poked again, he refused to look over his shoulder at the Irishman. “Yes. I found it. It’s a kid.” He thought about that for a moment and finally glanced back at the other Talent. “Don’t you dare fuck him up with your gift, Farfarello. He’s as rare as you are. You mess with him and I’ll never touch your mind again.”

    “You have to,” Farfarello argued simply.

    “Don’t touch him,” Schuldich stressed.

    “I don’t want to,” the other answered.

    Satisfied, Schuldich went back to studying the wall. The bed shifted as Farfarello climbed on behind him and he scowled. “What do you want?”

    “I want you to see.”

    “I already went in there today,” he said. “I’m not doing it again. Once a day; that’s the rule.” The mattress shifted again as Farfarello laid down behind him. Schuldich could feel the heat of his body there and frowned. Funny that Farfarello was so cold to the touch yet he gave off heat. Schuldich would have thought the air around him would be chilly. It was odd. “Go back to your own bed.”

    “I don’t want to,” came the answer once again.

    The world was out to get him today, he decided. With an aggravated sigh, the German pushed himself up and crawled to the end of the bed. Farfarello watched him go in silence. “I’m going to go take a bath,” Schuldich informed him as he slipped off the edge without looking back, “and by the time I get out you will be in your own bed or I’ll kick your ass.”

    “Will you?” Faint amusement lined the words. Schuldich decided to ignore him.

    He had decided that the best thing about Japan was its bath tubs. The women were all right, but he liked the baths even more. He perched on the edge of the tub as it filled, his pile of discarded clothes to one side, letting a hand linger under the hot spray from the faucet. His thoughts drifted to the other room as he waited for the bath to be ready, touching Nagi’s mind. Crawford was talking to him about his gift and Rosenkreuz. It was a lot for the child to take in in just one night, to go from being a demon on the streets to a powerful brat linked to Rosenkreuz, but it all had to be explained tonight. Schuldich listened to the confused and doubtful thoughts of Nagi’s mind, running his gift through there. There wasn’t much that interested him, so eventually he gave up eavesdropping and turned back to the tub. A wrench stopped the flow of water and he lowered himself in, resting against one side and tilting his head back. Blue eyes slid closed and he gave a contented sigh.

    Silence fell over the room and he dozed off. He was woken up sometime later when something hot and heavy hit his forehead. Shaken out of his rest, he opened his eyes and looked around to see what had hit him. Fingers strayed to his forehead and came in contact with something sticky. Drawing his hand back, he saw blood on his fingertips. He looked up towards the ceiling again, but there was nothing there. Frowning, he smeared the blood on the side of the tub and let his eyes close again. Strange…




    He opened his eyes again, and this time found himself staring up at a child. It was attached to the ceiling, its wrists and ankles held in place by large bolts. Its face was frozen in an expression of horror, and its throat had been slit. Its skin was deathly pale; most of the blood had already been drained out of its body. Blood slid along the gash before dripping down towards him. It hit him on the forehead and slid down one temple. He blinked, and the child was gone without a trace. Startled, he sat up, and found that all of the water in the tub had turned to blood.

    Snarling a curse, he searched under water for the plug. His fingers tangled in something stringy, and he pulled it up to find himself holding the child’s head. He flung it back under the water, getting to his feet quickly. The water cleared as he was stepping out, but it didn’t help his temper. He grabbed his towel from the rack and wrapped it around himself, storming out of the bathroom in a foul mood. “God damn it, Farfarello,” he started, stomping into the bedroom. Farfarello was curled up in Schuldich’s bed, fast asleep. Irritated, Schuldich grabbed his shoulder and gave him a rough shake. “Hey,” he snapped.

    There was no response, and there wasn’t one for another three weeks.


    If Crawford noticed Schuldich was in a foul mood the next day, he did not comment. He acknowledged the German’s black mood in one breath and in the next carried on as if things were normal. In a way, it was normal. Ever since Farfarello had been added to their team Schuldich’s moods tended to jump from what had been normal- the easy, condescending amusement- down to irritation and impatience, and even further down to an acid mood. So when Crawford let him into the second apartment the next morning, he said nothing about the scowl that his teammate wore. Schuldich brushed past him wordlessly, stepping up into the apartment. He carried his breakfast with him, and he made himself comfortable against the bedroom doorframe to eat. Crawford said nothing about his shoes; he never ordered Schuldich to follow the custom he himself chose to observe.

    He’d moved Farfarello back to his own bed last night, lifting him off of one mattress to drop him on the other. He hadn’t bothered to be careful. Either way, the Irishman hadn’t woken. But sleep had been long in coming; something had been pulling at him, something restless and wary. He’d stayed in bed for five hours, too awake to sleep but too tired to get up. And when he’d finally fallen asleep… He’d woken up the same way he had been for the past three and a half months: lurching awake with a strangled cry on his lips and terror lacing through him. Except today he almost hadn’t realized he was awake until he registered that he was throwing up in the bathroom. And like every other morning, whatever haunted him at night hovered out of his reach, and within a few minutes the fear had faded. It left him tired from poor sleep and with a burning throat, and he was not at all happy about it.

    Crawford was fixing breakfast behind him. Schuldich didn’t turn back to face him but turned his eyes towards the balcony door. The curtains were drawn back to let sunlight filter through the glass, and through the door Schuldich could see Nagi. The boy was leaning against the railing, staring out at the city in wonder. He’d never seen it from so high up, and it fascinated him to see what it looked like from such a perch. He was dressed in one of Crawford’s shirts, which was long enough on him that it almost reached his knees. It was a sign that Crawford had made him bathe last night, for which the German was grateful. The child had been a mess. Schuldich reached out and touched his mind, sifting through it to see how the boy had reacted to what Crawford had told him. He was still doubtful about it- he didn’t believe such a thing was possible. He was still wary of the other man, but caution hadn’t been enough to keep him awake all night. Crawford, knowing that the boy would stay, had gone to sleep. Nagi had sat up for a long time, having a mental debate over leaving or staying, wondering at how the other man hadn’t seemed to care and just passed out. He had been mildly offended by it, and had contemplated killing him in his sleep. That was enough to send some amusement through Schuldich’s black mood. At least he wasn’t the only one who could be pissed off by Crawford’s arrogance and self-assurance, by the way Crawford could see what they would do in the end and therefore didn’t waste time worrying about it.

    Either way, Nagi had stayed, curling up in the first bed he’d slept in in who knew how many years. He had been woken up this morning when Crawford got up, even though he’d been exhausted and comfortable. Too many years on the streets had made him extremely cautious and a light sleeper, and the small rush of adrenaline and fear at the sound of someone moving around so close had been enough to wake him completely. Crawford had acknowledged the wary, startled blue eyes in one glance and had gone to get the newspaper from outside the door. Nagi had retreated to the balcony while Crawford read, wanting to put some distance between himself and the strange foreigner.

    A mug appeared to Schuldich’s left, almost touching his shoulder, and the telempath glanced that way to see Crawford holding out a mug of coffee in offering. He switched his bowl to the other hand and accepted it, moving enough that Crawford could get past him into the bedroom. He realized he was in a better mood; his empathy was curling around Nagi’s awe and it was cutting through the deep anger and resentment he felt towards Farfarello. When Crawford sat himself down on his bed and looked towards him, lighter blue eyes returned the gaze.

    Schuldich gestured towards the balcony with his mug. “This is going to change everything,” he informed Crawford.

    “Perhaps,” was the response, and Crawford sipped at his own mug.

    “I told Farfarello not to touch him,” Schuldich said, gently tilting his mug from side to side to watch the coffee swirl around. “I don’t think he’d feel much inclined to doing it, anyway… Back at Rosenkreuz he focused his attacks on the telepaths because they kept trying to touch his mind. Nagi can’t do that, so as long as he doesn’t use his gift on Farfarello, they should be fine.” He considered this, taking a long swallow from his drink. “On the other hand, it means Nagi won’t have a reason to fear or respect him.”

    “He does not need to experience Farfarello’s gift for himself to get an idea of what the man is capable of,” was Crawford’s easy answer.

    Schuldich eyed the precognitive in silence for a few moments. “Something tells me I shouldn’t like the sound of that,” he said dryly. Crawford’s response was a light shrug and Schuldich sighed into his drink, glancing towards the balcony again. Nagi turned around then and noticed him; two shades of blue studied each other. Schuldich lifted his little finger from the mug and waggled it in greeting before taking another swallow from his drink and turning his attention back on Crawford. He figured the older man knew already, but decided to say it anyway. “Farfarello’s asleep.”

    Crawford gave a nod, accepting that. Nagi watched them through the glass, uncertain of whether or not he wanted to join them. Crawford glanced his direction before finishing off his coffee. “He needs a new wardrobe,” he said, rising from his spot. Schuldich let him past and emptied his own mug before joining him by the sink. “You know what clothes are appropriate for the work we are doing.”

    “We’ve just found him,” Schuldich said, a small frown pulling at his mouth. “He’s untrained. Do you really think you can pull him in on this?”

    “He won’t join us immediately, but we may as well make use of him.”

    “I figured you would just ship him back to Austria.”

    Crawford was done washing his mug and the American stepped to one side to let Schuldich use the faucet. Schuldich caught him giving a slight shake of his head out of the corner of his eye. “Right now, Rosenkreuz would be the worst thing for him,” he said simply. “They would be overexcited to have a Japanese Talent on their hands and would spend just as much time trying to figure out how he can carry a gift when most other Japanese can’t as they would trying to train him how to teach it.”

    Schuldich answered that with a “Hm.” Nagi stepped inside then and Schuldich eyed him. “What’d you do with his clothes?” he wanted to know. “Can’t take him out without pants.” A small frown curved Nagi’s lips. He couldn’t understand them, as they were speaking German. German and English were the major languages at Rosenkreuz, and teachers used whichever one they wanted in their lectures. English had been decided on simply because there was a better chance of their students having some sort of lessons in it before. Those that knew neither were given both by the telepath instructors; those that knew some were given classes instead. Schuldich and the telepaths in training stole what they could from those around them in addition to taking a few classes, balking at the idea of letting other telepaths in their mind. Such a thing had made him fluent; his trip to America had made him sound like a native speaker. Nagi knew neither language, and he listened to the foreign words with confused thoughts. Schuldich would have to take care of that, he realized as he gave the clean mug a shake and set it back on the shelf to dry.

    “They’ve been washed,” Crawford answered. “He’ll be ready when you are.”

    “Right…” Schuldich headed towards the door, leaving it to Crawford to tell the boy the plans for the day. Adding an untrained telekinetic to their team… What a thought. Crawford was the most powerful precognitive Rosenkreuz had. Farfarello was a Nightmare. Schuldich was in the upper ranks with both his empathy and telepathy. And an untrained Talent? If anyone other than Crawford had made the decision, Schuldich would find it the most retarded choice ever made. As it was, he’d learned a long time ago that Crawford did know what was best for the team. With a sigh, he let himself into his own apartment to get ready for the day. His shower was quick, not because he was in a hurry but because when he stepped into the tub he could feel again hair wrapped through his fingers. He forced the thoughts from his mind, and as he stepped out of the shower he could hear Nagi’s thoughts.

    Crawford had sent the boy to this apartment to wait on Schuldich, and Nagi was standing uncertainly in the entrance, unsure of what to do. /You can come in, you know,/ Schuldich sent at him as he scrubbed himself dry, and felt the boy’s surprise at the voice. He laughed as the boy glanced around in search of him. Being told Schuldich was a telepath and having an example last night on the streets wasn’t enough; it would take him a while to get used to this. /Layout’s basically the same. It’s not like you’re going to get lost./

    The boy warily entered, and Schuldich opened the bathroom door as Nagi passed to offer him a wide smirk. One towel was tied around his waist and he worked on his hair with the other one, freeing a hand to flick his fingers in the direction of the bedroom. Nagi studied his face for a moment in silence before heading onwards, and Schuldich followed behind him.

    The first thing Nagi noticed was Farfarello, sprawled out on top of his blankets. He stopped beside the bed to study the man with obvious interest, fascinated despite himself at the man’s strange appearance. Schuldich slid past him to fetch clothes from his dresser, amused by the way Nagi catalogued his scarred teammate’s looks. “That’s Farfarello,” Schuldich said simply. Nagi recognized the name; Crawford had said a few things about Schwarz last night. “Unless we tell you to, don’t ever, ever touch him with your power.”

    Nagi glanced his way and Schuldich looked over his shoulder at him. Nagi was waiting for an explanation. He needed a good reason to find it worth his time to listen to Schuldich. He didn’t trust any of them, even if he was allowing himself to believe in Crawford’s words for a short time. Schuldich offered Nagi a humorless smile. “We’re all Talents,” he informed the child, “and two of us can kill you with just a thought.” Nagi didn’t feel any fear at such words, though he did take them to be a threat and didn’t appreciate it. Dark blue eyes narrowed slightly. “I’ve told him not to bother you, but if you use your gift on him… no promises.”

    With that, he turned to get dressed. Nagi turned back to studying Farfarello, remembering Crawford’s words from last night. Schuldich listened to them as well, curious as to what the American had to say. ~Farfarello has no reason yet to take any sort of interest in you. Be careful what you do around Schuldich, however. Farfarello is possessive of him and if you hurt him in any way, Farfarello will kill you. If you interfere with him when they are working together, he will hurt you.~

    Schuldich considered that. He had warned Nagi against using his power on Farfarello. Crawford had warned him against using his power on Schuldich. That left the small loophole of no one telling Nagi he couldn’t hurt Crawford. He debated whether or not to say anything and decided to leave it unspoken. Nagi had to make the conscious decision to go with Crawford on this, to think that it was possible to kill Crawford without savage consequences and still decide on his own that he didn’t want to. Schuldich finished the last buttons on his shirt and turned to Nagi.

    He was in time to see Nagi reach out and poke Farfarello. The boy was bold; Schuldich had to give him that. A grin spread on his lips as the telekinetic regarded the unresponsive form. “He’s not going to wake up,” Schuldich told him. “He’ll probably be asleep for a few days.”

    “That isn’t possible,” Nagi returned, the first thing the telekinetic had said to him since they’d bumped into each other last night. He turned to Schuldich, watching as the German pulled his still wet hair back into a ponytail.

    “With him, anything’s possible,” Schuldich said, wringing some more water from the tips of his orange locks before plucking his wallet up from the dresser top. He started towards the door, beckoning for Nagi to precede him. The telekinetic stood his ground, not wanting the German at his back, and Schuldich grinned, deciding not to press it and instead leading the way towards the entrance. “Crawford didn’t tell you what he is, did he?”


    Schuldich considered it, pushing the front door open and leaning against it. Nagi had left his shoes at the door, and he waited for the boy to tug them back on. He supposed it made sense for Crawford to save the discussion of Farfarello for another day. There had been more than enough to talk about last night without dragging that maniac’s blasted gift into things. Nagi finished with his shoes and stood just inside Schuldich’s door, looking up as he waited for some sort of explanation.

    “Have you ever had nightmares, kid?” Schuldich wanted to know. The question brought a frown to Nagi’s lips. He didn’t answer out loud but Schuldich could hear it in his thoughts anyway. He gave a small tilt of his head. “Let’s just say that man is the embodiment of all of them, and leave it at that.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    Schuldich gestured for Nagi to leave the apartment and the child stepped past him, moving so that Schuldich could shut and lock the door. “If you’re lucky, you never will,” was the German’s simple answer, and he rapped his knuckles once against Crawford’s door to let him know they were going before leading the way out of the apartment. The office was in the lobby, and the landlord glanced up from where he was working at his desk. The top half of the wall was glass so he could keep an eye on things and be available for any residents that needed to find him, so he got a good look at who stepped out of the elevator. He immediately dropped his eyes back to his paperwork and hurriedly scribbled more things down. He was a bit frightened by his foreign residents, and hoped desperately that nothing would ever bring them face to face.

    Schuldich rather thought that that’s what he should want, because if Schwarz ever had a problem with the man, there was a real good chance of him not walking away from it alive. He ignored the middle aged man, stepping through the back door into the parking lot. Nagi stopped a few feet away from the car, eyeing it a bit warily. He couldn’t remember ever being in one. Schuldich didn’t wait on him but slid into the driver’s seat, and after a while Nagi finally approached and let himself into the back. He didn’t bother with his seat buckle but knelt sideways on the seat, hands on the door as he gazed out the window. Schuldich kept his amusement to himself, backing out of his spot and taking the ramp down to the main road.

    In just a few minutes they were at Jusco, the local department store, and he parked the car at the parking garage before leading Nagi inside. The telekinetic followed close behind him as they stepped through the glass doors. The boy’s thoughts told Schuldich he had gone to the department store in the ward Schuldich had found him in a few times, wanting to look around and get out of the cold. It had not happened very often, because he had wanted so badly what he had seen there.

    They started at the clothes section. Schuldich stopped right outside where the racks started and turned an expectant look on Nagi. Nagi, in return, turned a confused look up on Schuldich. Crawford had told him they were going to go shopping, and that had been it. Schuldich pointed at the clothes. “Go find stuff.”

    “What?” was the blank response.

    “You look like shit in those tatters. Go find something better to wear.”

    “I haven’t got any money.”

    “Who said you were paying for it?” Nagi’s immediate conclusion was that they were going to steal it, and he frowned up at Schuldich in disapproval. Schuldich rolled his eyes. “I’m paying for it, you nitwit. Now go.”

    Nagi turned uncertain blue eyes on the racks and didn’t move. Schuldich studied him in silence, dancing through his confused thoughts. He remembered when he had first joined Nacht and Aeris had brought him home everything he needed. He remembered how he had reacted to having so many new things, to see everything she had bought and realize it was for him. It was a little more extreme for Nagi, who hadn’t had anything at all in who knew how many years. At least Schuldich had had what Rosenkreuz and the Inquisition ranks had assigned him. Aeris had gone alone to do the shopping because Crawford said it would be quicker. Looking back, Schuldich knew it to be true. If he’d been allowed to go along, he wouldn’t have known where to begin.

    He sighed, an exaggerated exasperated sound, and pushed Nagi forward with a hand at the small of his back. They started at one end and worked their way to the other. Schuldich did the math to figure out what exactly the boy would need and how much of it. Nagi was bewildered and a little frantic to get away before long, overwhelmed by what was going on even as he desperately wanted the new things. It took them two and a half hours of Schuldich rummaging through the clothes and sending Nagi packing with armloads towards the fitting rooms. He used Nagi’s thoughts to tell whether or not the boy liked what they were finding. In the end it was easy, because Nagi had never had anything and therefore didn’t dislike anything. When they were finished he stood off to one side of the register, looking and feeling extremely frayed as he watched Schuldich pay for his things. The number the cash register spit out scared him. What scared him more was how easily Schuldich forked the money over.

    They each carried two bags, and Schuldich led him straight around the rest of the department store without stopping to find the rest of his things. Towels, bathroom accessories, shoes… He made Nagi carry most of the bags, as the boy could use his gift to keep the weight manageable. By the time they were finally done he was starving, and they took the elevator down to the second basement where some restaurants were. He ordered for both of them, as he didn’t think Nagi was capable of ordering for himself. They sat in silence as their food cooked, Nagi staring numbly at the table and Schuldich looking around to see if there were any attractive faces around. Even after their plates had been set before them, Nagi made no move to eat.

    “I know you’re hungry,” Schuldich said, arching an eyebrow up at him.

    Nagi obediently reached for his chopsticks, but they fell from shaking fingers before he lifted them far off the table. His aura was flickering; Schuldich dimly recognized the way it felt to his empathy but he was still surprised when Nagi buried his face in his hands and started crying just a breath later. He froze, blue eyes wide as he stared at the other’s bowed head, wondering how he was supposed to react to such a thing.

    “H-hey…” What the hell was he supposed to do? Why did Crawford leave this to him, of all people? He sent a quick glance around, looking to see if someone else saw so they could come do something about it. No one else noticed, as Nagi’s tears were mostly silent. Damn… He looked back at the child, letting Nagi’s ragged thoughts run through his gift. He couldn’t tell whether the boy was happy or sad; his thoughts and emotions were a tangle of both. Days like today, shopping for new things and eating out, were things he should have been able to enjoy with his family. But his family had left him because he was a demon, and he had been alone for so long. And out of the blue this strange looking foreigner had plucked him up off the streets and dropped him into a world where demons weren’t demons but special people and it was with these people that he got to buy things just for him and sleep in a real bed and take a real bath. It was just too much for him, after so long of being lonely and cold.

    In the end, Schuldich decided not to say anything. He just sat in silence, studying his drink as he waited for the boy to compose himself. As he waited, he tried to count the winters he’d seen in Nagi’s mind the night before, wanting to get an estimate of the boy’s age. At length he decided the boy was either nine or ten. He opted to go for ten. If they did get around to sending him to Rosenkreuz, his power was already strong enough that it would advance him through the ranks like Schuldich had. One year wasn’t much of a difference but he remembered the resentment everyone had felt towards him for being such a high rank at a lower age. One year could make the difference between admiration and resentment, depending on what Nagi’s power did.

    Nagi scrubbed his face dry on his napkin and studied his plate with sudden fascination, not wanting to look up at Schuldich now. The German considered him in silence for a few moments before reaching out and poking each plate. “Still warm,” he declared, and plucked up his chopsticks again to shovel the food into his mouth. Nagi hesitated a moment longer before finding his chopsticks. His fingers were clumsy on them, as it had been many, many years since he had used them. Schuldich didn’t see the glance Nagi sent him but he could hear the boy’s thoughts as he tried to figure out how the German was using them, and he paused in his eating long enough to turn his hand where Nagi could see them. The boy adjusted his grip accordingly.

    “You’ll be January,” Schuldich decided, and Nagi turned a blank look on him. “You can’t remember when your birthday is, so now we’re going to say it’s in January. You’re going to be ten years old, by the way.”

    “Ten?” Nagi echoed.

    “It’s the closest I can get, unless you can find something better.” Nagi considered that for a little while and shook his head. “Then it rests. You’re too young to have a bank account. Once you start doing work with us, I guess whatever’s yours will go into one of ours… Suppose we can just give you an envelope to stick it in so you don’t have to come to us when you want to buy something.” Nagi’s expression was blank but he didn’t say anything. Schuldich decided not to elaborate, though he remembered his own reaction to the news that he was going to get paid. He wondered when Nagi was going to start working with them. Crawford said the child wouldn’t work with them immediately. What would they do until he did? They had to find some way for him to entertain himself while they were gone.

    “Eat up,” he said, gesturing to Nagi’s plate. “We’ve got another stop to make before we head back.”


    Crawford watched in silence as the two Talents moved around the apartment. Nagi’s new belongings were spread out on his bed and he stood there for a long time, just staring at them, before trying to figure out where to put them. Now and then Schuldich would look up from where he was working to offer a location, and Nagi would accept the suggestion immediately and go to put the current item away. Crawford had no complaints about what they’d bought- not even for the desktop computer Schuldich was putting together. They’d made a Jusco representative load it and a small desk set into the car for them, as their hands had been full.

    The computer hadn’t been what Schuldich had first thought of buying. He had examined books first, until he discovered that Nagi couldn’t read. Reading was something his telepathy could help with, but it made him wonder about the rest of the boy’s education and he’d next gone to find school books. At length he realized that Crawford’s most likely reaction to Nagi bringing text books home would be to put Schuldich in charge of his education. It was then that he’d found the educational software, and thought that interactive learning would be best. It was something Nagi could do by himself so Schuldich wouldn’t have to deal with it.

    Finally Schuldich was done plugging all of the cords in and he pushed the power button, taking a step back to watch the monitor light up. The stack of programs they’d bought were sitting to the side of the monitor, in as many subjects as they’d had. He didn’t know what Nagi needed to learn, so had bought all of them to be on the safe side. The operating system loaded properly and Schuldich gave a self-satisfied nod before turning to Crawford. “I’m done here,” he said simply, and Crawford nodded in acceptance.

    He headed for the door and Nagi looked up from where he was folding his clothes. Schuldich had had to show him how to fold the shirts, because the way the boy had been doing it originally would have left creases in funny places. Schuldich could feel the boy’s stare on him, could feel the mixed anxiety and confusion lacing through the telekinetic’s mind. He was at the door when the boy finally spoke, the quiet words sharp with a tangle of emotions as they finally burst from the child.

    “Thank you.”

    Schuldich stopped with his hand on the doorknob, staring at the door for a long moment before finally turning to stare back down the hall at where Nagi was in the bedroom doorway. Gratitude for finding him, for bringing him here, because even if he wasn’t entirely sure where here was or what exactly they wanted from him, it was still better than being on the streets. Gratitude for taking him out today, for buying him things and giving him things, because having things meant that you belonged somewhere.

    Schuldich hadn’t heard those two words in years, and he wasn’t really sure how to react to them, especially when Nagi really meant them. He had offered a sarcastic “Thanks” to Crawford a few times in the past, but there was a sharp difference between those and what Nagi had just said. He studied the boy in silence for a few moments, wondering at the odd uneasiness such words cause. ‘Whatever,’ he wanted to say. Instead, he just waggled his fingers at the boy in farewell and stepped out of the apartment. He stood in the hall for a moment longer after the door was shut behind him, frowning at it in small confusion. At last he pushed the boy from his thoughts and let himself into his own apartment to find a book to read.


    It took a few weeks for Nagi to get fully accustomed to being with them. He spent the first few days waiting for one of them to announce they’d changed their mind and wanted him out. The first time they left to go to work, he’d watched them go from the hall, wondering if they were really going to come back. It took a little while for him to realize that they would, and that neither of them were disgusted to see him still there when they got back. Even after he accepted this, he would see them off from the hall before retreating to his room. He spent the majority of his day on the computer, playing with the software Schuldich had bought him. Before leaving for work the first time after getting Nagi, Schuldich sat down with Nagi and tweaked his mind and his eyes to work together, teaching him to read so he could actually use the software. It worked the same way telepaths taught themselves and others languages, making associations between what the mind already knew and what it didn’t. A few days later he brought some easy books home, starting simple until Nagi’s mind recognized that it could do this. Learning from a telepath was quite a jump from learning by oneself. Whereas children learning how to read had to start slow because they didn’t know enough, Nagi’s reading was accelerated and fully dependent on the rest of his studies. If his mind knew it, he could read it, and it was easy to watch his skills jump as he spent more time with the educational software.

    He came to Schuldich’s room to read, Nagi sitting at one end of the bed and Schuldich sitting at the other, one with a relatively easy book geared more towards what people his age would read, and the other reading some thick book about the history of some faraway place. They could spend hours like this when nothing else was demanded of them. It took a while for Schuldich to convince Nagi to stop knocking and just come in, as the door was always unlocked and he saw it rather pointless for the boy to continuously ask permission. Now and then the three went out in the evenings, Crawford or Schuldich wandering by themselves or taking Nagi with them, or the three of them going together. Nagi had yet to leave the apartment by himself, though his confidence was growing the longer he stayed and the more he walked with one of the others. They would give him a key to the apartment when he was ready.

    Nagi was finally used to things when Farfarello decided to wake up, and that effectively threw a wrench in the neat routine they’d all established for a while afterwards.

    Nagi had just stepped into the apartment when Schuldich heard Farfarello’s mind snap awake, and he threw out a mental warning for the boy to wait. He had been at the sink, pouring himself a cup of juice, but he set it down when he felt Farfarello wake up and glanced towards the bedroom. Nagi had frozen at Schuldich’s words, crouched from where he was straightening his discarded shoes.

    A moment later, Farfarello appeared in the doorway to the bedroom. Nagi was surprised to see him awake. They’d explained a little about his gift to Nagi, telling him about the way the Irishman would randomly fall asleep for unknown periods of time. Farfarello’s eye was on Schuldich, but flicked past him when he spotted the boy crouching at the other end of the hall. He started towards them and Schuldich turned, effectively blocking the hallway to be a small barricade of sorts between the two.

    Farfarello obediently stopped in front of him, yellow eye studying Schuldich’s ribcage as if he could see through the German to where Nagi was still waiting. Finally he flicked his gaze to the side and helped himself to Schuldich’s drink when he spotted the cup sitting on the counter. He set the empty glass back down and turned his attention on Schuldich’s face, studying the telempath’s hooded gaze. “I want to see him,” he said simply.

    “You just did,” Schuldich answered.

    Farfarello’s mouth twitched into the beginning of a coldly amused smile. “Afraid I’m going to hurt him?”

    “Go back to sleep,” was the smooth answer.

    Farfarello reached up and tangled his fingers in Schuldich’s hair, pulling his face down. Their faces were just a breath apart and they studied each other, judging each other. Schuldich was not at all happy to see the Nightmare awake. Farfarello was generally in a savage mood when he first woke up- he was going to want Schuldich to touch his mind and the German would leave the session feeling more torn apart than usual. He could see it in that yellow gaze, in the violent swirling of power. “Come talk to me,” the Irishman breathed, a barely audible whisper.

    Behind them, Nagi’s thoughts swirled with confusion and apprehension. He’d been told a little about the Irishman but not enough for him to really understand what was going on here, not enough to know how to judge Farfarello’s personality. He’d been told Schuldich’s gift worked with Farfarello’s but the how of it had been left out because it hadn’t been necessary, not with Farfarello resting.

    “You drank my drink,” Schuldich said, pointing a finger at his cup. “Why should I do you any favors?”

    Farfarello took a step backwards and yanked Schuldich forward by his hair as he moved. Schuldich reached up, grabbing hold of Farfarello’s wrist, and offered the Nightmare a venomous look. Farfarello gave him a flat look in return and took a few more steps back towards the bedroom, dragging Schuldich with him. /Looks like you’re reading in your own room today, Nagi./

    ~What is he doing?~ was the boy’s anxious answer. ~Why are you letting him?~

    /What makes you think I can stop him?/ was Schuldich’s response.

    “Let him go,” Nagi said out loud. Farfarello stopped and looked past Schuldich, offering the boy a cool look. Nagi rose to his feet, a frown on his face as he stared down the hall at them. Schuldich realized then that Farfarello had only stopped because Nagi had grabbed him with his gift, and sent him a mental warning to just shut up and get out. Nagi ignored it. “Let him go. Don’t do that to him.”

    “Nagi-” Schuldich twisted, trying to get out of Farfarello’s grip, and chanced a quick look at Farfarello’s face. Farfarello was regarding Nagi in silence, and then a slow, amused smile curved his lips. Schuldich felt his power ripple and it touched Nagi just a breath later. The boy fell to his knees under the onslaught, grabbing at his head, his eyes blank with horror. “Farfarello!!” Schuldich reached up, tangling his fingers in Farfarello’s short hair with a savage force, and yanked him forward so that their foreheads collided. Farfarello’s eye snapped back towards him and before he could react, Schuldich threw his power forward, slamming it straight through Farfarello’s mind. Farfarello, like he expected, dropped Nagi immediately and brought his power up around Schuldich’s, and the world dropped away around them.

    Neither noticed when Crawford fetched the shaking Nagi from the apartment just a moment later. It was another four and a half hours before Farfarello let go of Schuldich. The Irishman held his hair out of the way as he was sick in the bathroom, and idly played with the orange locks when Schuldich retreated to bed right afterwards, his long fingers gently running over the German’s face as if in apology for the violence earlier. He stayed in Schuldich’s bed that night, stretched out behind Schuldich, and the German didn’t have the strength to tell him to go away.

    He didn’t dream that night.

Part 12
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