Part Twelve
June 1994 – December 1994

    Schuldich thought that perhaps it should hurt to be beheaded. As it was, there wasn’t any pain at all. He could feel the pressure of his throat giving way, of sharp teeth breaking through the skin. He could feel hot blood running down his throat and could feel things shattering. He could even feel his body start to tilt forward, free of the head to fall to the ground. But there was no pain. So, all things considered, perhaps being decapitated by a giant spider wasn’t the worst way to go.

    He stared up at it, dimly aware of the thud of his body hitting the floor. It was as big as his entire apartment, and coarse hair covered its body. Eight giant eyes studied him, and eight legs twitched in anticipation. It gave him the heebie-jeebies, all giant and ugly and fucking creepy. His head started to roll forward and the mouth opened, and that’s when the pain hit, when he felt his skull being crushed as his head was torn apart and swallowed.

    Farfarello’s arms tightened around his shoulders; he felt the younger Talent smile against his temple as if somehow pleased by what had just happened. Schuldich reached up and pushed the other man back, glaring up at him. He had the feeling he wouldn’t be very fond of spiders in the future. When he pushed Farfarello back enough to see the other’s face, he saw that Farfarello had his other eye back…sort of. The eyelids had been sewn shut but they were open now, and broken thread dangled everywhere like eerie eye lashes. The eye was torn through the middle and colored red with blood. A single drop rolled down his cheek like a crimson tear, and he reached up to touch it before offering the wet finger to Schuldich.

    “I’ll pass,” the German muttered, brushing the hand away.

    Farfarello pushed back, running his fingertip down Schuldich’s face from the corner of his eye to his chin. Pain followed the move; when Schuldich reached up to touch it he found that Farfarello’s finger had torn his cheek open. He knew it would be gone when he untangled himself from Farfarello’s mind so he didn’t protest. “Bathe the children in tears of acid,” Farfarello said, moving his finger to the other cheek, “so that they might know truth.” He considered Schuldich for a long moment. “Truth,” he said again. “Pain is truth. Suffering is truth. Death is truth. Death is the only truth. A lie can always be taken back, can always be admitted and fixed. Death is final.”

    “You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Schuldich said, tilting his head to one side to study the Irishman. Farfarello reached up, touching a finger to his bad eye. Schuldich made a face as the Irishman’s fingertip ran over the cut flesh. “Some people wouldn’t mind it. There are things far worse than death.”

    Farfarello smiled, and Schuldich thought it was the most real expression he’d seen on the Irishman yet. It startled him, as it finally made the boy look his age. There was approval in his yellow gaze as he slid his eyelids closed over his ruined eye, and he leaned forward to cup Schuldich’s face in his hand. Schuldich wondered at his obvious delight over what the German had said and at length realized that it was the first real thing he’d ever said to Farfarello while trapped in his gift. More often than not, Farfarello spoke to him here, and Schuldich either returned his words with stony silence or with acid remarks. “Yes,” Farfarello agreed. “And I know all of them.”

    He pressed his lips to Schuldich’s forehead in a light, brief kiss and leaned back. A rock appeared behind him and he sprawled lazily backwards against it, Schuldich’s hair still in his fingers. Schuldich was waiting for the next monstrous vision to appear, but as long as Farfarello was talking to him none came. He made a mental note of this and decided he really should invest in conversations with the Irishman on his next visit. “Humans are fragile and stupid that way,” Farfarello told him, “and at the same time, incredibly strong. One man cannot do to himself what he can do to another.”

    “Not everything is lost,” Schuldich reminded him, reaching up to pull his hair free. Farfarello let him tug them away and instead laced his fingers together behind his head. “Not everyone is a cruel and sadistic bastard.”

    “I don’t know of them,” Farfarello returned, offering a careless shrug as he stared off into the distance. The wind carried the scent of blood to them. Someone far away was screaming. Schuldich joined Farfarello in his survey of the horizon and Farfarello leaned forward, taking Schuldich’s hair in his hands again and resting his chin on the top of the German’s head. “I don’t see them. All I see is you.”

    “Doesn’t help you much, does it?” Schuldich asked, voice amused even if he didn’t feel it. He took a step back, breaking the contact between them, but could only get so far with Farfarello’s fingers curled around hair. “I’m just another sadistic bastard in a whole ocean of them.”

    “But you’re mine,” was the easy answer, “and you’re all I have.”

    The words made Schuldich uneasy; blue eyes flicked up to Farfarello’s face before bouncing away. “SOL then, aren’t you?” he asked. “Let me out. I’m done for today.”

    He expected Farfarello to argue with him. He expected the Irishman to tell him that they weren’t done here, that they had just started. Instead he found himself back in the apartment a breath later, Farfarello sitting on his lap as he sat in bed. It took another moment for the Irishman to rouse himself enough from his gift to be coherent, and he offered Schuldich the vaguest of humorless smiles before sliding free and wandering away to stare down at his own bed. Schuldich brushed his hair out of his face before glancing down the bed to where Nagi sat tensely. They had been reading when Farfarello decided it was time for Schuldich to check things out in Nightmareland, and the boy hadn’t left for the session.

    Nagi had been here for almost six months now, and he still didn’t like the way Farfarello and Schuldich’s gifts acted together. It had taken him a while to establish what the hierarchy in Schwarz was, and at last he had put Schuldich at the bottom. Crawford was first, of course. Farfarello could have been third because his gift depended on Schuldich’s, but even though he listened to Schuldich randomly he still held the majority of the power in their twisted little relationship. Nagi rather disliked the Irishman. Even if Farfarello wasn’t always violent when he wanted Schuldich’s gift around his, Nagi tended to remember those times the best. He couldn’t forgive Farfarello for them, couldn’t forgive him for the few times Schuldich had been so shaken afterwards he couldn’t walk or go to work.

    Farfarello, on the other hand, found the boy vaguely amusing. The morning after Nagi and Farfarello’s unpleasant first meeting, Schuldich had chewed him out for using his gift on the boy. He found out later that the other two had heard him- if not his words, his loud and angry voice had carried easily enough through the wall. Farfarello had listened to his furious ranting in calm silence and then smiled and wandered off to find a drink. Schuldich had cursed him in six languages and stormed out, talking a walk around the block to calm down. Farfarello hadn’t used his gift on the boy since, though he did entertain himself by harassing the boy now and then. Nagi wasn’t stupid enough to use his gift on Farfarello anymore, and Farfarello decided that he would listen to Schuldich on this to some extent, but he still enjoyed bothering the child now and then. He never went too far, just enough to keep Nagi’s dislike of him sharp.

    And even though Farfarello generally went wherever Schuldich went, Nagi braved the Irishman’s eerie smile and soft taunts to stubbornly stick by the German’s side. Where Schuldich stood, Farfarello stood and faced him and Nagi hovered at his elbow. The boy had clung to Schuldich when he had returned from his walk, stopping the German in his tracks, as he babbled apologies for touching Farfarello when they’d told him not to. He saw the Irishman’s violence towards Schuldich to be his fault, and overhearing the fight the next morning had shaken him- especially when Crawford had helpfully explained that they were fighting over Nagi. Schuldich had rather uncomfortably shrugged the boy off and told him to get used to Farfarello, and retreated to his room to escape a compassion he didn’t know how to deal with. The boy’s misplaced guilt had lingered on for a few days afterwards, but eventually things had smoothed out between them.

    Nagi lowered his book, looking towards Schuldich now that the Irishman had finished and turned away. Dark blue eyes searched Schuldich’s face, and though he didn’t say anything Schuldich heard the unspoken question. ~Are you all right?~

    /Peachy keen,/ came the response, and Schuldich plucked up his book from where Farfarello had put it aside. /Aren’t I always?/

    ~It was short.~

    /I’m not complaining,/ Schuldich answered, flipping to find his page again. Nagi considered this, then made a face at the Nightmare’s back and went back to his own book. Schuldich smirked, amused, but didn’t comment. Silence fell in the room, unbroken even when Farfarello moved. The Irishman’s footsteps were silent and he went to stand by the balcony, one hand moving the curtains aside to stare out the glass balcony door. After a moment of consideration, he pushed the curtains aside and popped the lock for the door. Schuldich looked up from his book at the noise, curious. Farfarello had never used the balcony, and he wondered at the man’s sudden interest.

    Farfarello flicked him a thin smile over his shoulder, feeling the German’s eyes on him, and stepped out. Schuldich was about to turn back to his book and ignore him when he saw Farfarello push himself up onto the railing, sitting on the three inch wide surface. They were on the seventh floor; Schuldich felt his stomach give an odd lurch and he cast his book aside, shoving off from the bed to start towards the door. Nagi watched him, curious, and spotted the Irishman with a startled thought. Farfarello had left the balcony door open, and Schuldich stood in the doorway to glower at him. It was raining out. Even though the balcony had an overhang, it was wet and the railing Farfarello was so carelessly resting on was slick with water.

    “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he wanted to know.

    Farfarello offered him a slight smile but didn’t answer, turning instead to gaze out at the city. Schuldich glanced through the bars of the railing, down to the street far below, and lifted his blue eyes back to Farfarello’s face. The Irishman’s hands were wet from where he’d boosted himself up; Schuldich could see the drops falling from his fingertips. “Get down from there,” he said flatly.

    “If I fell, would you catch me?” Farfarello asked.

    “I’d laugh as you hit the ground,” was the sharp response, “and piss on the blood puddle you left behind.”

    “Would you?” Farfarello wanted to know, and shifted. Schuldich took a step forward, fingers almost digging holes into the balcony doorframe, as his younger teammate pushed himself up to stand on the railing.

    /Crawford,/ Schuldich sent at him, mental voice sharp, /come get your suicidal teammate off the fucking railing. If he falls and kills himself, the Cabinet’s going to skin me alive./

    ~What is he doing?~ came Nagi’s frantic thought.

    Schuldich took another slow step forward, coming to stand right in front of the other man. “Get down from there,” he said, voice low. The Irishman was facing him, his back to the city and a certain death seven stories below. “Get down, now.”

    “You don’t like watching,” Farfarello said, lifting one hand to trail his fingers over the eye patch they’d acquired to hide his mutilated eye. “You don’t like being called away every day to watch a few things. I’ve seen them for years. They’re all I see, and I watch them alone. But you hate me because I make you see a few, once a day.” He lowered his hand, holding it out to Schuldich in offering. The German made no move to take it, staring up at the other man through narrowed blue eyes. “You are all I have. My Dream. And you are beginning to understand. Is that a good thing? Will it ruin you if you finally know the truth?”

    “You’re the one who’s been so hell bent on ‘educating’ me,” was Schuldich’s flat response. “Deal with the consequences; I’ve told you from the beginning that I didn’t want to see.”

    “If I gave you the chance to walk away, would you?” Farfarello wanted to know. “If I let you go and freed you, would you be happy? Would that make you happy at last?” He lifted his other hand, waving his arm to one side to indicate the city behind him. The movement made his body rock on the railing and Schuldich took another half step forward before he could stop himself. “You didn’t have the choice to be with me, Niklas. You’ve never had a choice. Here it is. You say you’re done. Are you done?”

    Schuldich didn’t answer, and Farfarello lowered himself to a crouch. His hand lifted, fingers running lightly over Schuldich’s cheek. Something raw and haunted twisted in his eye, something pained and longing that was almost violent in its intensity. “Am I?” he wanted to know. “Am I out of luck? Am I completely forsaken? I won’t keep going by myself. I can’t. If you choose to walk away, then choose it now.”

    Something sharp whipped across Schuldich’s empathy, something despairing and almost broken hearted, but before he could fully register it Farfarello was letting himself fall backwards over the railing. “Farfarello!” Schuldich found himself leaping forward without a second thought, using his gift to close the distance between them before Farfarello could get far. He caught Farfarello’s hand with one of his own and got his other fingers around the Irishman’s other forearm. The weight of the other man brought him sharply up against the railing, and as his feet started to lurch forward off the ground, he felt Nagi’s gift plant him roughly back in place.

    He gathered his strength and took a step back, pulling Farfarello upwards. Nagi’s gift helped just a moment later, yanking them backwards. Schuldich went stumbling back, banging into the second balcony door, and Farfarello crashed into him. They both fell, a tangle of limbs and rain soaked flesh. It took Schuldich a bit to get his breath back, as he’d lost it when he got smashed between Farfarello and the door, and as soon as he could breathe he pushed at the ground, trying to get into a less painful position. Farfarello was sprawled on top of him and he glared down at the other man.

    “What the hell was that supposed-” he started.

    The sentence went unfinished, as Farfarello reached up and planted a hand against the German’s mouth. He used his other hand to push himself up, until he had his knees and a hand to either side of Schuldich. The telempath glared daggers at him from where he was leaning against the glass door, both of them oblivious to where their teammates stood in the balcony doorway. Farfarello considered Schuldich in silence for a long minute, yellow eye searching desperately for something in Schuldich’s blue gaze. Schuldich continued to glare at him, uneasy with the emotions rippling across his empathy. Farfarello was in a strange mood today, more broken down than Schuldich had seen him in a long time. There was almost something vulnerable in Farfarello’s stare, and the German didn’t know how to react to it.

    He decided then that he didn’t need the man to obliterate his shields for the Nightmare to drive him crazy.

    Then Farfarello lowered his hand and leaned forward, fingers skimming Schuldich’s face as he pressed a brief, simple kiss to the German’s lips. Without another word, he pushed himself to his feet and moved towards the door. Crawford and Nagi stepped aside for him, and Schuldich stared in startled silence after his retreating back. He lifted his hand to his mouth, wide blue eyes moving to Crawford’s face. He couldn’t tell anything from the American’s expression, and a moment later Nagi was beside him, asking if he was all right, asking if he had hurt anything in the fall.

    Schuldich and Farfarello didn’t say anything else to each other that day, and by the next morning Farfarello was back to his normal self again.


    Two weeks after Farfarello’s strange stunt on the railing, the Irishman came to stand beside Schuldich’s bed. The German finished his paragraph before looking up, sliding his bookmark into place. He knew what Farfarello wanted, and gave a weary sigh as he set his book aside. The Irishman had been less demanding about their little gift sessions since that had happened. The rest of the time, he was full of his eerie little smiles and was content to aggravate both Schuldich and Nagi. But when he wanted the German’s help, he no longer forced the older teenager to pay attention to him. Something had changed that day; something had changed the way they worked together. Schuldich wasn’t entirely sure what had been broken between them, what that day had managed to fix. He had pushed the day from his mind, too confused by it to think it over. As he looked up at where the Nightmare was waiting patiently on him to be ready, however, he wondered about it yet again.

    He knew what grabbing Farfarello had symbolized. The Irishman had told him it was all right if he watched him fall, but Schuldich hadn’t even thought before catching him. But even though he had saved the other man, that didn’t mean he liked this. That didn’t mean he suddenly changed his mind and didn’t mind at all that he was permanently bound to the other’s twisted black mind. He knew Farfarello had to know that. But somehow, something was enough.

    “Well?” he asked when Farfarello didn’t move.

    The Nightmare climbed onto the bed, moving around so that he was between Schuldich and the wall, and knelt there to study Schuldich. The German turned to face him, pushing his book under his pillow. They regarded each other in silence as Schuldich wondered over the delay. Finally Farfarello lowered himself down to the bed, lying on his side. It put his bad eye on top and Schuldich leaned back, tilting his head to one side to catch the man’s gaze.

    “Talk to me,” the younger teenager said.

    A small, confused frown curled Schuldich’s lips. “Talk to you?” he echoed. The request didn’t surprise him; he’d heard it way too many times before. He’d always ignored the younger man’s request in the past, and from the way Farfarello’s aura curled against his empathy, he knew Farfarello was waiting for him to refuse yet again. He studied the other Talent for another moment before finally stretching out at the opposite side of the bed. It hurt his neck too much to stay upright. They stared across the mattress at each other and Farfarello reached out, dancing his fingers over Schuldich’s cheeks before tangling them lightly in stray locks of orange hair. “What do you want me to say?”

    Genuine surprise; a yellow eye bounced from his fingers to Schuldich’s face, as if trying to judge whether or not he was being serious. Schuldich said nothing, and a moment later Farfarello scooted the slightest bit closer, fingers tightening possessively on the strands he was holding. “Something good,” he said simply. At Schuldich’s blank look, a small frown curved Farfarello’s mouth. “A good memory,” he clarified, “so I know what one is.”

    Schuldich glanced down at Farfarello’s hand. His arm was turned at the right angle for Schuldich to see the white scars that lined his wrist, and he studied them in silence as he turned Farfarello’s words over in his head. It had taken Nagi four months to spot the scars, mostly because he had never been close enough or in the right spot to see them. Schuldich had told him that the Irishman hadn’t made them, explaining that someone who was trying to help Farfarello had done it. Nagi hadn’t understood, but Schuldich hadn’t been interested in elaborating. He lifted a hand from the mattress, taking hold of Farfarello’s hand and turning it so that the overhead light fell on the mark.

    A good memory…? What did he consider such a thing to be? He struggled to come up with something. The years with Nacht had been good, but he didn’t think they were what Farfarello meant. He doubted Farfarello cared to hear about such things. A frown curved his lips as he thought, digging backwards in time as he looked for something, anything. Farfarello waited in silence, his yellow eye expectant as he studied Schuldich’s face. Past Rosenkreuz was his home life, but memories from that time were blurred. Once upon a time they had been clear. Years of using his gift, having his shields broken several times to let so many other minds in, and having one of those minds be Farfarello’s, had taken a toll on his own mind and memories were jagged.

    The realization startled him. It was rare that he had ever stopped to look back in these almost eight years, rare that he had bothered to glance back far enough to try and remember life before Rosenkreuz. He couldn’t remember his mother’s face. He wondered if it should bother him that he was missing so much. He pushed the thoughts away, fighting forward in time as he looked for something. The prolonged silence didn’t seem to bother Farfarello. The Nightmare knew he was thinking about it and so wasn’t impatient for him to respond. Schuldich almost didn’t notice him, as he mentally searched the years in the Austrian school’s halls for a day worth mentioning.

    At last, he found it. “The day I met Crawford,” he decided, and Farfarello tilted his head to one side, a frown curving his lips in question. Schuldich knew he was waiting for the German to elaborate and had a mental debate about how much to say. “You were in Rosenkreuz for a little while, but you didn’t get to experience it like everyone else. Your power is different. It’s stronger and a lot more lethal than what’s walking through those halls. You spend seven years in classes learning how to destroy each other and how to not give a shit about anyone, and a good number don’t walk out alive. Words can’t really describe what it means to go through their training…” He let go of Farfarello’s wrist, giving a small wave of his hand as he thought. “Nothing I say about it could make you understand because of what gift you have and because you didn’t experience it for yourself.”

    Farfarello said nothing, just watched his face as he talked. Schuldich didn’t really notice the scrutiny, turning the day he’d been assigned to Oracle over in his head. “He got me out of Rosenkreuz early,” he said simply. “Took me away from their clutches when I was three years too young to be free, putting me onto a team that did work like this one does. They were decent years.” He focused on Farfarello again, a small frown on his lips. He wondered why he was saying so much. It felt strange to voice such things aloud when he’d kept them to himself for so long. “You don’t like him,” he told Farfarello. “But I’ll trust him. He’s never given me a reason to do otherwise, and in this godforsaken world he’s the only one I’ll give such a thing to. I’d trust him with my life.”

    Farfarello considered this in silence and finally reached forward, releasing his hair to let his hand rest against Schuldich’s face. His hand had always been cold before. Today it was randomly warm, and the heat curled through Schuldich’s skin from his fingertips. “Then,” he said at length, “I will trust him with you, too.”

    Silence fell between them as they drifted in their thoughts. Schuldich’s mind ran over everything that had happened since the Oracle had walked into his life, and Farfarello’s mind wandered wherever it wished. Almost six minutes of silence passed between them before Schuldich shook himself free of his memories and regarded Farfarello curiously. He found it strange that the Irishman hadn’t brought him into his mind yet. “Well?” he asked at length.

    Farfarello lifted his eye from where he was studying Schuldich’s hair where it sprawled across the mattress. He yawned and his yellow eye slid closed. “Good night,” was his easy answer. In just a few moments Schuldich felt his mind relax as he slept. Farfarello took random naps during the day, as he spent most nights awake in the other bed. Schuldich studied the smooth face in silence for a full minute before carefully sliding his book out from under his pillow. He found his spot in no time at all and went back to reading while Farfarello slept on beside him.


    They’d been in Japan for a year now. It had been a decently busy year, the first seven months tending to their first client before moving on. Like Schuldich had hoped, opportunities were starting to open themselves up to Schwarz, giving them reasons to stay. He had finally gotten used to the feel of Japan weighing against his mind, and while he would never like the dull pressure that always lingered against his gift, a stray thought of the way the dead air inside Rosenkreuz’s halls tasted in his mouth was enough to make it worth staying. Schwarz had turned out quite nicely, in his opinion. Nagi and Farfarello weren’t fond of each other but they could still work well together. Nagi didn’t like killing but he would use his gift to aid the group, defending them with his power and sending those that had to be killed Farfarello’s way to take care of. The Japanese youth had a wary respect for Farfarello now, after seeing him in action, and the rest of Schwarz in return was content with the way Nagi’s power was shaping up. He had had no formal training but his gift was strong enough that he could get some control over it, and in the eleven months they’d had him they could see a marked difference in the way he could use it. Looking back, it made him seem clumsy in his first months. He could do more delicate things now, and Schuldich knew the longer they worked with him the better he would get.

    His relationship with Farfarello had changed as well, these past five months. Sometimes Farfarello would lose control and the violence Schuldich used to have directed towards him and now only saw directed at their clients would surge up again. For the most part, he struggled to control it. Now and then he didn’t even bring Schuldich into his mind, randomly opting for conversations instead. It had been a week and a half now since Schuldich had last peeked into that bleak landscape, and while he was grateful for the reprieve he wondered what consequences it was having on the Nightmare’s mind.

    Crawford was preparing the one year report for the Cabinet, and Schuldich stood off to one side, watching him. A mug of coffee was in his hand, and he sipped at it as his thoughts slid between Rosenkreuz and the Nightmare. “They’re not going to be happy,” he said at last. Crawford didn’t look up from his work but Schuldich knew he was listening. “They wanted me to make progress with Farfarello, but I haven’t been able to do anything with his gift. It hasn’t gone anywhere towards reaching the physical world, staying within his own mind.”

    “They’ll be patient,” Crawford assured him.

    “What reason do they have to be?” the German returned.

    “I told them they would get what they want,” was the easy response.

    “And they trust you so much, do they?” Schuldich asked dryly. He lifted his mug to his mouth for another sip but froze with it against his lips at Crawford’s next words.

    “I’m the one that told them they would get him,” he said simply. Schuldich’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly, and Crawford finally lowered his hands from the keyboard of his laptop to turn his eyes on the nineteen and a half year old. Schuldich’s blue eyes were demanding an explanation and Crawford set his laptop aside, rising to his feet and passing the younger assassin on his way to refill his own coffee mug. “I told them years ago that a Nightmare would be brought to Rosenkreuz. When I saw it was time, I let my first telepath die and came to Rosenkreuz both to fetch you and to speak with them about him.”

    “You saw him that long ago?” Schuldich asked blankly.

    “Ten years ago,” was the precognitive’s easy confirmation. “They will trust me regarding Farfarello because of that, because I was able to promise them that they would someday get everything they dreamed of through him. They let me have you because I told them it was necessary, and they will trust me when it comes to the pair of you.” It didn’t bother him at all to be telling Schuldich this, to inform the German that he’d been thinking of how to orchestrate their lives for ten years now. He filled his mug and set the coffee pot back in place, turning to study Schuldich. “You have made progress,” he said simply. “It will take more time to get where they want him to be, but they will wait. They know they will get it, so they will wait because I have told them to.”

    “Ch…” was all Schuldich could think of to say in response. He turned this over in his mind as Crawford went back to his computer. “You’re a mind job, you know that?” he said at last. “And I thought Farfarello was bad… The two of you are fucking impossible.” He downed the rest of his drink in two swallows and washed his mug out in the sink. “Nagi?” he wanted to know, though he could have easily reached out and placed the boy with his gift.

    “He’s taking a walk.”

    “Right. I’m going out.”

    Crawford considered this in silence for a moment before golden brown eyes flicked towards Schuldich’s face. “I’m leaving to join Nagi when this is finished. We will be out late.”

    Schuldich accepted that with a small wave of his hand and vanished out the door. He opened the door to his own apartment to announce to Farfarello that he was leaving, a habit he’d picked up a month and a half ago for reasons he wasn’t entirely sure of, and he was off. His feet carried him to a bar just a couple streets away and he immediately drew attention to himself by his strange looks. The bartender recognized him, as Schuldich came here frequently, and his drink was ready for him by the time he reached the counter. The lady knew where his tastes ran by now and knew he wasn’t picky, so she had started taking the liberty of mixing him something she believed he would like. She was generally right, so Schuldich had no complaints.

    There were six others here, four businessmen and a couple. Music played from the overhead speakers and Schuldich indulged himself in the rare habit of smoking. He did it randomly, now and then deciding that it was time for a cigarette, often going for months before having another. He lit up and the bartender set an ashtray down in front of him before moving to tend to the businessmen. An hour passed as Schuldich drifted in his thoughts. After thirty minutes the couple left, and at the hour mark some college age girls came in. He catalogued them with a glance and they returned his gaze with blatant interest, coming to sit on the stools beside him. Ten minutes later they were chatting and he’d already decided that one of them was pretty enough to take home. He hadn’t been laid in a little over a year.

    He switched the focus of his attention on her, teasing her with lazy sarcasm and amused eyes. She was a little embarrassed by the attention and a lot flattered, and her friends were highly entertained. He paid for their drinks and they spent an hour and a half talking, him randomly weaving his empathy through her. He didn’t alter her too much, so that by the time he announced that he was leaving and invited her on a walk with him, she accepted of her own free will. She did so with a quick glance towards her friends and a small blush on her face, but followed behind him readily enough as he exited.

    She wasn’t new to this, not by a long shot, but he would be her first foreigner. The thought amused him, as did the thought of what would happen if she got pregnant with a Talented child. He made a note to introduce her to… what was his wife’s name again? Either way, he’d make sure to let them meet should such a thing happen. It’d really piss the Irish girl off that he’d ruined someone else’s life on top of hers.

    She boldly laced her fingers through his, keeping up an easy conversation about this and that as they made their way towards his apartment. He was relieved that she wasn’t an airhead. Rather, she was a law major at her university, and so the conversation was intelligent. Imagine that, a girl who was both attractive and brainy. He stopped outside the steps to his apartment and she glanced towards the building in question before looking towards him.

    He leaned towards her, tugging her forward by her hand to kiss her. She returned it easily enough, even if he could taste the light thread of nervousness with his empathy. They were drawing attention, both because they were kissing in public and because she was kissing a foreigner. “It’s cold out here,” Schuldich murmured against her lips, dark eyes and light blue hovering close to each other. She searched his gaze, grabbed hold of her nervousness, and shoved it away. “Let’s go up,” he said when he knew she was ready.

    She nodded, offering him a small smile. “Let’s.”

    He did a quick mental check to find Farfarello and was satisfied to find the Irishman in Crawford’s apartment. They’d run out of food in theirs, and Schuldich hadn’t gone shopping yet today. He turned to press the elevator button, using the excuse to turn his back on her to send the Irishman a mental message. /Stay there, Farfarello,/ he said, grimacing at the way Farfarello’s power felt as their minds touched. /I’m going to be using our room./

    There wasn’t a response from the Nightmare but Schuldich knew he heard him, and he turned a lazy smile on his companion when the elevator arrived. He tugged her up against him when she had stepped inside after him. “There’s a camera in here,” he told her, amusement lacing his voice. “Shall we give the landlord something entertaining to watch if he chooses to watch the tapes?”

    That amused her; she offered him another small smile before leaning forward to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. They were at the seventh floor just a moment later, and Schuldich did another quick check to make sure Farfarello had listened to him before letting her inside his apartment. She led the way to the bedroom, the embarrassment she had felt under his attention at the bar completely gone, and turned to face him when she stepped inside. “Which one?” she wanted to know, as there were two beds. He just grinned at her in response, seating himself on the edge of his bed and tugging her down into his lap. Fingers tangled in hair as they kissed, hot breath mixing as they tasted each other. Hands ran over clothes and under them; they struggled with buttons even as their mouths warred with each other. He managed to get her shirt undone first and slipped a hand inside, running his fingernails lightly over smooth skin before reaching around back to find the clasp for her bra. She got his shirt over his head until the only thing keeping it from falling free was the hand he had out, and he drew his arm back to let it drop carelessly to the floor. She leaned forward against him, pressing herself up against his hard chest as they kissed again. A hand slid down his chest, smooth skin finding the hem of his pants and yanking at it. He kissed a trail down her throat as she managed to get the buttons undone and she leaned backwards away from him, offering a smile before sliding free from the bed, lowering herself to her knees before him. He watched her through hooded blue eyes, a smirk curled on his lips, as she tugged at his pants more. In a moment she had what she wanted and she studied his freed erection for a few moments before reaching out to take it in one hand. As she was leaning forward to replace her fingers with her mouth, a shoe scuffed against a hard floor.

    Both heads turned to see Farfarello standing in the doorway, and Schuldich’s partner froze in what she was doing to stare. She couldn’t decide whether to be terrified or intrigued by his appearance. Schuldich was annoyed, and he scowled over the girl’s head at his teammate. Farfarello’s face was perfectly blank, his yellow eye fixed on the kneeling Japanese woman.

    “Who is she?” he asked, and his voice was a little too quiet.

    “Get out of here, Farfarello,” was Schuldich’s irritated response.

    Farfarello ignored the command. After a few moments, the girl rose to her feet, studying Farfarello for another minute before approaching him. “Maybe he can stay too,” she said simply, tossing the suggestion over her shoulder at Schuldich. She missed the way Farfarello went rigid when she stopped in front of him; she didn’t know him enough to read the danger that he was right then. Schuldich could feel something black twisting through the Irishman with his empathy and he studied the silent seventeen year old warily. The Nightmare’s mouth was pulled into a thin line and he did not react when the girl leaned forward to press a questioning kiss to his lips. She got the hint after a few moments and turned away, deciding to discard him for Schuldich. She only made it one step towards Schuldich before Farfarello reached out, bringing his hands up to her throat.

    In one swift move, he broke her neck, and her dead body thudded to the ground.

    Schuldich leapt to his feet, startled and irritated. “Farfarello, what the fuck? Can’t you just listen to me for once and stay the hell away when I want you to?”

    Farfarello looked up from where he was studying the fallen form to meet Schuldich’s gaze, and the anger glowing in that single yellow eye took Schuldich’s breath away. Before the German could think of a way to react, Farfarello had closed the distance between them in three long strides. Schuldich’s first thought was that the man was going to hit him and his hands flew up in defense. Farfarello grabbed his wrists, yanking his arms to either side, and pulled Schuldich forward to crush their mouths together. Schuldich stared at him over the kiss, blue eyes wide in shock, and Farfarello’s yellow eye burned into him in return. When he got control of his surprise, he yanked back. “What-” he managed to get out, but Farfarello had already abandoned his wrists to take hold of his face. He was pulled forward again into a second kiss, and absently he wondered where in the hell Farfarello had learned to do such a thing. Farfarello’s mind was out of whack, louder that Schuldich had heard it in a while. Anger was the most vibrant of the emotions he could feel, anger and something keenly like betrayal. It sank through his empathy and he struggled to swat it free, reaching his hands up to grab at Farfarello’s wrists.

    “You can’t have them,” Farfarello whispered raggedly when Schuldich managed to get free again. “You’re mine. You’re mine!”

    “Let go,” Schuldich managed to get out, too confused and surprised to be angry anymore. He was uneasy all of a sudden, and winced as Farfarello’s mind rocked against him. Need, despair, hunger, fear, betrayal… He shook his head against the onslaught, tucking his gift closer in to himself to try and untangle it from Farfarello. The Nightmare took advantage of his distraction to shove him backwards, and Schuldich hit his legs on the side of the bed and went tumbling with the other teenager on top of him. Farfarello caught one of his wrists again, pressing it against the mattress as his free hand slid down the German’s bare chest.

    I want you. I need you.

    Farfarello’s mouth was on his again, but it wasn’t as furious of a kiss this time. Schuldich stared up at him, still heavily bewildered by his teammate’s actions and completely unsure of how to respond. Farfarello’s eye was glowing with need, the need for Schuldich to see, the need for Schuldich to understand. Soft lips slid away from Schuldich’s, skimming his cheek so the Irishman could lightly bite at his ear. Schuldich lifted his free hand from the mattress to shove his face away, and Farfarello dipped his head to the German’s chest instead, mouth worshiping the hard skin there.

    I’ll kill for you. I’ll live for you.

    Need, hunger, despair… Schuldich closed his eyes tightly against the world, gritting his teeth as his empathy swirled around him. Then Farfarello’s hand slid over his abdomen towards his pants. The German’s breath caught in his throat and he clenched his fingers in Farfarello’s hair, giving him a savage yank in warning to stop. He tried to get his other hand off the mattress but it wouldn’t budge, not when Farfarello was pushing so heavily against it. He winced at the pain in his joint, thinking that if Farfarello pressed any harder something was going to break. Farfarello’s other hand slid back up his side to his hair, and he hovered over the German, staring down at him. Schuldich stared back.

    I’ll die for you.

    And then Farfarello let him go, pushing up from the bed and storming out. The front door slammed behind him, and it was a long time before Schuldich could sit up again. He stared at the dead body on the floor in front of him without seeing it, blue eyes blank as he struggled to understand what had just happened. He was still wide awake when Farfarello returned two hours later but he pretended to be asleep, curled on his side with his back towards the younger man. Farfarello got rid of the body and when he returned, Schuldich heard him stop beside the German’s bed.

    Fingers touched his cheek, and he thought that perhaps he could feel them shaking. “Mine,” came the broken whisper, and then the fingers vanished as Farfarello retreated to his own bed. When Schuldich heard the mattress squeak faintly, his eyes slid open again, and when Farfarello’s mind calmed down in sleep he reached up, touching his cheek where Farfarello had touched him before sliding his hand over to cover his mouth.

Part 13
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