Part Thirteen
December 1994

    Needless to say, things were a little awkward around Schwarz for a few days afterwards. Farfarello stuck to Schuldich like glue, as if not trusting him to go anywhere on his own. Schuldich tried his best to shake the Irishman, thoroughly unnerved by what had happened. Crawford said nothing about the new tension that hovered between his two teammates. Nagi picked up on it but only asked about it once, as Schuldich rudely shrugged him off when he tried to bring it up. The harshness that had faded between Schuldich and Farfarello flared again, and they fought horrendously for almost a week. Farfarello was furious with Schuldich for bringing that girl into their apartment, and nursed black feelings of pain, betrayal, and jealousy. Schuldich was off-balance from this violent hurricane of emotions, bewildered and uneasy by what he was picking up from his younger teammate. Not knowing how to react to such things, he hid behind the comforting familiarity of anger. There was resentment, too- resentment towards the Irishman for doing a 180 back into sadistic asshole mode, resentment that Farfarello thought he had the right to feel such things.

    So things were a bit rough for a while. Schuldich and Farfarello were both out of work for almost a week as they struggled to come to terms with each other. When they weren’t chewing each other out, Farfarello’s gift was making him more skittish than usual and Schuldich was out of sorts and nauseous from the savage locking of their Talents. Crawford was careful to keep Nagi away from them for the week and during that time said nothing to either of them about their destructive behavior, leaving it to them to figure things out. As much as Schuldich sometimes wanted the American to help smooth things out, he was also pissed at the man for seeing such a thing coming and saying nothing in warning. This wasn’t your usual sort of thing that didn’t have to be mentioned; this was something Schuldich was completely unprepared for and he really felt he should have gotten a heads up of some sort.

    There was a lot of door slamming in those days. Schuldich had never been one to practice such a habit but he made full use of it that week. If he was pissed, he was going to piss everyone off in hearing distance. The extra bonus was that it pissed Farfarello off as well. He’d slam the door as he left and Farfarello would open it right back up to snarl something after his retreating back before following him, slamming the door a second time.

    They’d already had two arguments this morning, so when Farfarello whirled on him that afternoon, Schuldich knew he wasn’t going to like at all what he saw when he stepped into Farfarello’s gift. He scowled at the man where he was sitting in his bed, defiantly lifting his book to block the Irishman’s face. Two seconds later the book was ripped out of his hands and thrown across the room, and he found himself glaring up at the younger Talent. He lurched forward, planting a hand against Farfarello’s chest to shove him backwards. Farfarello dug in his feet, refusing to budge far, and shoved back. Schuldich didn’t have anything to brace himself on and went sprawling on his back on his bed. Farfarello climbed on after him, catching his wrists and leaning his weight against them to keep them pinned to the bed. He had his knees to either side of the German and hovered above him, yellow eye flickering with a dozen violent emotions as he studied his Dream.

    A sharp flare of uneasiness struggled to wriggle through the anger as Schuldich tested Farfarello’s grip and found he couldn’t budge his hands. He shoved it away under another scowl, glowering up at Farfarello for all he was worth. “Get the fuck off me.”

    “Make me,” was the cold response. Schuldich tried the bonds again and just felt Farfarello’s fingers tighten. “You dragged her in here, you just picked some nameless child off the streets and brought her in here, but you won’t let me near you.”

    “I hate you,” came the easy answer, sharp and harsh.

    “You hate me but you’re MINE,” Farfarello said, the last word almost savage. His fingers clenched tighter before loosening and Schuldich fought not to wince at the flare of pain. He’d heard the words from Farfarello before; this was the third time now that he had echoed such a statement. “You said you were mine. You told me.”

    Schuldich gave his younger teammate a cool look, pulling back the furious expression to give his teammate one of total disregard and scorn. “I guess I lied,” he drawled. He heard Farfarello suck in a quiet, sharp breath, and the yellow eye glaring down at him narrowed further. “Who would want anything to do with you?” Schuldich continued. “You’re an immature and selfish and violent little git. You don’t give a fuck about anyone but yourself and if I had any say in it at all, I’d let your gift tear you apart. I didn’t catch you when you jumped from the balcony because I wanted to be stuck with you. I caught you because the Cabinet assigned you to me and if anything happens to you, they’ll skin me alive. That’s the ONLY reason I put up with you.”

    Absently he wished that he had never brought that girl home, that he hadn’t done something that would so violently rock the strange sort of peace made between the two of them. He hadn’t wanted it to come back to this. He hadn’t understood the change in Farfarello but it had been much better than what it had been before, much better than this anger Farfarello harbored towards him now. In the past, Farfarello had been violent towards him because he didn’t know any other way to act, because Schuldich had dug in his heels against where the Nightmare wanted him to go. This violence was stemming from anger, and it was much worse than what it had been before.

    Fuck Crawford, anyway. He really should have said something when he saw that finding a girl would create such a problem.

    Farfarello’s mind was out of whack; the vibrant emotions ran over Schuldich’s gift and he clenched his teeth against them, glaring defiantly up at the Nightmare as Farfarello glared back. He didn’t want to feel what he was picking up from Farfarello. He didn’t want to feel that cutting sense of betrayal, didn’t want to feel the choking pain and denial as the only thing he had left to believe in was being torn away from him, as the only thing he would ever trust and hope in crumbled in front of him. Schuldich was all he had, the only thing he had to keep him going through the days. The German didn’t want to feel anything in Farfarello, didn’t want to be able to feel the reasons under Farfarello’s anger because he wanted to be pissed at the man for ruining his life.

    And at the same time, he just wanted the anger to end.

    Neither of them had ever wanted any of this to happen… Not Farfarello’s gift, not to be locked together, not to have this anger sitting between them. It was a need and hatred born out of circumstances; neither of them had had a say in any of this but there was nothing they could do to change it.

    Stalemate, he supposed.

    At length, Farfarello’s fingers loosened on his wrists. Schuldich’s first thought was to shove the man away and he bit down fiercely on such a reflex, forcing himself to stay still as the Irishman slid backwards off the bed. Wary blue eyes watched as Farfarello took a step back, and only then did he push himself up to a sitting position. Farfarello was smoothing the anger from his expression, even though Schuldich could still feel everything with his empathy. And added to the pool of emotions was something Schuldich had never felt from him in the little over a year he’d been working with the Nightmare: defeat.

    Crawford’s words, unbidden, flickered through Schuldich’s mind. “His survival depends on you more than you will ever realize. He can’t explain it but he knows how much he needs you.”

    “Fine,” Farfarello said at last, voice soft. “Bring them home. I don’t care.”

    That was what it all boiled down to… That this massive fight between them sprang up because Schuldich had brought a girl home. The German still couldn’t come to terms with that, still couldn’t accept what had happened that night. Bringing her here had been what had destroyed their truce, and the reasons behind such a thing made his head spin. He couldn’t believe it and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He said nothing in response to the Irishman’s words, turning a guarded look on the younger Talent. Farfarello took another step back, and Schuldich realized then that Farfarello wasn’t just backing away from the fight- he was backing away from his Dream. Schuldich had been telling him for over a year that he didn’t want anything to do with the man, and saying it again when they were so far broken was enough. Farfarello would take his gift and retreat with it. He had offered a retreat before, but he had done it where Schuldich didn’t really have a choice in whether or not to keep him. To let him take it away would be to let the man fall seven stories to his death. This was a retreat of a different sort, a real one. And Farfarello didn’t expect to be stopped.

    That was what Schuldich wanted, so it was what Farfarello would do.

    Schuldich’s mouth thinned to a hard line and he looked away, pointing his gaze towards the balcony door. Farfarello turned away, starting out of the bedroom, and a brief, uneasy scowl pulled at Schuldich’s lips. “Farfarello,” he said, but the Irishman didn’t answer him. He heard glass clinking as the Irishman stood at the kitchen sink.

    Damn it.

    Fuck his empathy, anyway. There were a lot of people in this world he didn’t want to understand. Sometimes it was because he simply didn’t care. Other times it was because it was much too complicated to understand them. Farfarello was one of these. He didn’t have much of a choice, though, not when their minds were always so close together. It was hard to not feel Farfarello, to not think about where he was coming from. In Rosenkreuz, he hadn’t had the liberty of caring about why anyone did anything. He had felt the reasons behind what they did and shredded them anyway. But Farfarello was different, because he couldn’t escape from the man, because the man was completely dependent on him for his life and sanity. He couldn’t shrug the man off. He couldn’t walk away, as much as he wanted to sometimes.

    And despite everything, sometimes he didn’t want to.

    Fingers traced idly at the bruises on his wrists, running over imaginary scars.

    In the end, he blamed it on Nagi. He’d had five years at Rosenkreuz and two with Nacht to beat any semblance of compassion out of him, and then out of nowhere came a child with wide blue eyes and an innocence that Schuldich couldn’t make himself feel disgusted over. He ran through a mental list of swear words, reaching up to bury his hands in his hair. He gave the locks a savage tug and pushed himself up from the bed, rubbing lightly at his sore wrists as he moved into the doorway of the bedroom. Farfarello was unloading the shelf of dishes- a grand total of ten pieces- one by one onto the counter. When he was done, he started putting them back, one by one. Over and over and over. Schuldich watched him in silence and Farfarello refused to acknowledge his presence, focusing on what he was doing.

    Here he was, given a real choice to walk away from all of this. What the hell was he doing?

    He left the doorframe to stand beside Farfarello. The Irishman didn’t look at him but continued what he was doing. Schuldich took a cup away when the Irishman set it on the counter, pouring himself a drink from the fridge. He eyed Farfarello over the rim of his glass as he sipped at the juice, taking his final bit of resentment towards the teenager and burying it deep. He put the empty glass on the counter and Farfarello moved it to the sink without missing a beat. Before he could grab the next dish to put away, Schuldich reached out and took his wrist.

    Farfarello went still; Schuldich could see the tension in his shoulders. He tugged the Irishman around to face him, studying that closed off expression with a guarded one of his own. “I won’t,” he said simply. Farfarello didn’t understand; his lips twitched into the barest of frowns. “I won’t bring them back here.” He’d find somewhere else to take them, perhaps, but he would never make the mistake of bringing girls back to this apartment ever again. He hoped Farfarello appreciated this; he hoped all of Schwarz appreciated such a compromise. A year ago he would have told the Irishman to blow himself and walked away.

    Farfarello was silent for a long time, yellow eye searching Schuldich’s gaze. “Are you mine?” he asked at last.

    Schuldich hesitated before answering, wondering about all of the meanings behind that simple question. “How should I know?” he said at length, because it was the safest thing he could think of to say in response.

    Farfarello sagged forward against him at those words, forehead propped against the German’s shoulder. Schuldich didn’t move, not even to let go of the wrist that had gone limp in his fingers. After a moment, the Irishman straightened with a brief brush of his lips to Schuldich’s shoulder. The telempath let go of him and took a few steps back. Farfarello finished putting the dishes away and turned to face Schuldich. He lifted his hands, touching his fingertips to his forehead in a silent question. Schuldich studied him in silence before starting backwards, retreating back to the bedroom. Farfarello followed behind him, blue and gold locked together, and they knelt facing each other in the middle of Schuldich’s bed. Farfarello reached out, fingers hesitant at first as they brushed the telempath’s cheek. Then his fingers tightened into a possessive grip in Schuldich’s hair, not pulling hard enough to tug at the German’s scalp but enough to get the message across. He leaned forward, touching their foreheads together, and Schuldich let his gift slide through the hole the Nightmare’s gift made for him.

    And the bedroom was whisked away.


    That night, the four of them went out to eat. It was Nagi that told them where the unit was going to go, when he showed up in their apartment late that afternoon. He’d been sent by Crawford and came with a book in hand. Schuldich was washing the cup from earlier at the sink and he sent the boy an amused glance when Nagi lingered uncertainly in the doorway. The fighting of the week had unnerved Nagi. He’d seen Farfarello’s moods go up and down but nothing in the year he’d been with Schwarz had prepared him for a week of violent arguments, slamming doors, and bruises left from fights. He knew the group wasn’t perfect but he hadn’t expected to see it drop so sharply. Schuldich had a feeling Nagi would be pretending Farfarello didn’t exist for a while.

    “You can come in, you know,” he said.

    With a glance past Schuldich, Nagi toed his shoes off and stepped up into the apartment. He came to stand beside Schuldich, lifting down one of the clean cups from the shelf to get a drink from the fridge. His eyes frequently flitted towards the bedroom, but Schuldich said nothing. He dried his glass and set it away, and led the young telekinetic down the hall. Farfarello was curled up in bed, dozing. His eye slid halfway open when Nagi stepped into the room, gaze lazy and only half focused. Nagi turned his gaze away immediately. Farfarello wasn’t interested enough in the boy to wake up completely and let his eye fall closed again.

    Nagi sent him a rude look when he heard Farfarello’s breath even out again and climbed onto Schuldich’s bed. The German laughed softly, sprawling out on his back so his legs dangled off the side of the mattress. He had no book today; he wasn’t in the mood for reading. Instead he let a CD player rest on his stomach and he adjusted the headphones on his ears, turning the music on. He studied the ceiling as the songs played, and eventually dozed off. When he woke again, the CD was over and Crawford was standing beside the bed. Schuldich gave a slow blink, tilting his head to find the clock. Dinner time.

    He yawned, pulling the headphones free and setting the player aside. Nagi had already closed his book and the two watched as Schuldich sat up, one hand raking idly through his hair to check for tangles. “You’ve made up,” Crawford said, a pointless if accurate observation.

    “Thanks to your solid contributions to the mess, yes, we’ve finally managed to resolve things,” was the German’s dry response. He flicked Crawford a cool look before getting to his feet, and he tugged at his shirt where it was hitched up in random places. Farfarello woke up at his voice, and he took note of the presence of the rest of Schwarz before sitting up. Schuldich beckoned to him, suddenly hungry. “I’m starving. Let’s go.”

    He and Farfarello were the first out of the apartment, as Nagi and Crawford took an extra second to toe into their shoes, and Schuldich locked the door behind them. Farfarello stayed close to him like he had been this last week, but the angry reasons behind such nearness were missing. Schuldich ran a questioning hand over the boy’s emotional state. Farfarello was a little confused, a little uncertain- a good bit wary, and yet a little hopeful. He didn’t really understand what their fight had accomplished. He didn’t really know if he should pull together the frayed edges of his belief in Schuldich. All he knew was that Schuldich had said they could try again, and even if neither of them knew how successful such a thing would be, it was what he wanted.

    Dinner was a relatively passive affair. The waitress was too afraid to ask Schuldich and Farfarello twice to remove their shoes- on the first try, they’d both flicked her a careless look that had sent her retreating to the safety of the kitchen. Nagi ignored Farfarello completely, though he did have some things to say to Schuldich. Schuldich and Crawford talked the most, as Crawford informed him of what had been accomplished that week without the middle two of Schwarz and prepared him for what was coming up next. Schuldich accepted it all, looking forward to going back to work after the nerve wracking week alone with Farfarello. Farfarello, for his part, was silent. He was content to eat his food and listen. He was looking forward to work as much as Schuldich was; the German could pick up on the interest and eagerness. He wanted to kill something.

    When Crawford finally got to the list of people they would be taking out, Farfarello tilted his head towards the American and let a slow smile curve his lips. It was a hungry, violent expression that promised dark and painful things, and Schuldich couldn't keep the grin from his lips at the familiar sight of it. He hid the look in his cup, aware of and ignoring the disapproving look Nagi sent him for being so content to patch things up with Farfarello after the man’s behavior.

    “They’re ours,” Farfarello said at Crawford’s nod, turning a lit yellow eye on Schuldich. “Let’s play with them. Let’s make them scream.”

    Schuldich tilted his cup in a toast. “I’ll drink to that.”

    Maybe learning to make compromises was a good thing after all.


    “Looking quite pleased with yourself.”

    He glanced to the right to find her perched on the end of the bed. He wasn’t sure who she was, or what she was supposed to be, but that didn’t really matter. He didn’t get to meet a lot of people that had voices- much less ones that tried to talk to him in a language he could actually understand. Those that did talk mostly talked to each other, either oblivious to him or terrified by his presence. He studied her in silence and she offered him a thin smile, lifting a hand to brush her bangs out of her face. Messy blond hair fell around her face to her shoulders, and one wing arched out of her back. She was missing the skin on one shoulder, so that white bone showed through, and there were old blood stains on her thin white night gown. Her eyes were completely white, lacking both irises and pupils, and she turned them to one side to study the sleeping form on the other side of the room.

    “He isn’t pretty,” was her decision after a few moments of regard. A rat climbed up the side of the bed to settle on her thigh, and she pet it. It bit her leg and blood welled forth. He half expected her to swat it away but instead she picked at the flesh, lifting it up where the creature could get a better grip on it. “Not bad, but not pretty.”

    “He’s fine,” was his short response.

    She sent him a lazy smile, continuing to pet the rat that was eagerly gnawing at her leg. A second rat caught the scent of blood and came up the bed to check things out. A third streaked past him to join them. When another tried to get past him, he brought his hand down on it, closing his fingers around its throat. It thrashed around as he suffocated it, claws scrabbling desperately and furiously at his hand. He ignored it, studying his partner for a moment longer before returning his attention to the girl. Ten rats, now, chewing on various parts of her leg.

    “You’re bleeding on my bed.”

    “You can wash the sheets later.”

    That was true. The stains probably wouldn’t be there in the morning, anyway. The rat he was strangling finally went limp and she held her hands out for it. He obediently chucked it over, and she turned it over in her hands, considering it for a long moment. At length she took an experimental nibble at its thigh, only to make a face and set it down in the crowd on her legs. He couldn’t see her legs anymore, there were so many of the creatures covering her. “Oi oi,” she said, flicking one of them. “That’s bone. I need that.”

    Her fingertip came away with blood, where the rat bit her, and she shrugged, deciding to give up the matter as unimportant. Colorless eyes turned on him again and she tilted her head towards the second bed. “Can you protect him?” she wanted to know. “Can you protect him from us? Can you protect him from yourself?”

    “Go away,” was the flat response.

    “We know about him, you know. Everyone’s talking about him.” She gave him another lazy smile. “Won’t be long before the power finds him, either.”

    With a snarl, he was down the bed, hand going for her throat. She laughed, leaping backwards off the bed. Rats went everywhere in a small flood and she stood a few feet away from the bed. One or two rats were still on her, their little claws latched into her flesh. Her legs were missing all flesh and muscle from mid thigh to the top of her ratty boots. One rat fell free, sliding down bloody bone to hit her boot and bounce off. She flicked him a taunting gesture and leapt backwards again, going straight through the glass on the balcony door. He followed her, kicking rodents carelessly aside. She was waiting on the railing for him, and she held her hand out to him.

    “Show me a sunrise,” she said. “Show me a rainbow of crimson hues…” And she tilted backwards, wing tucked into her body and arms outspread. He leaned over the railing, watching as she fell. She literally exploded when she hit the ground, vanishing into a puddle of blood.

    He spit over the railing at the puddle and went back inside, locking the door behind him. There was just one rat left, gnawing on his pillow, and after a moment of consideration he chucked it out the window. It screamed as it fell, and he smiled as he pushed the glass back into place.



    The secretary glanced his way for the third time in five minutes, fingers still flying over the keyboard even as her eyes sought out the noise. Schuldich ignored the glance, sprawled out in the chair as if he'd been thrown there. One leg was over an arm, the other was straight out in front of him. His left arm was over the other arm of the chair, and his right was draped over the back. He was slouched as low as he could get and his head was lolled to one side to rest against his shoulder, blue eyes staring blankly at the far side of the room.

    He was bored.

    Thus, the lighter.


    Open, shut. Open, shut. He'd been at it for five minutes now, and was wondering how long he could keep it going before the secretary finally said something. He figured his fingers would fall off first. Stupid Japanese and their fear of confrontations. It made life incredibly boring. He had more fun when he finally found people he could rile up. In a high class place like this, however, no such people existed. No matter how irritated they got on the inside, their jobs and reputations were much too important to try and do anything about his unruly behavior. He could hear the secretary wishing someone else would come along and use the lounge so they could be irritated by his behavior. It would give her an excuse to ask him to stop.

    As it was, Schwarz didn't want anyone else coming to this lounge, so her heated hopes were worthless. Schuldich was keeping them all away, a little mental barrier starting at the elevator. Anyone who got off on this floor would automatically get back on. He'd sense it and give them a reason to be going elsewhere. So far this morning there had only been three visitors, and one of them Crawford had given him the okay to pass. He'd walked right past the lounge to the conference room at the end of the hall.

    Schuldich flicked his mind that direction, utterly bored with the day so far. Fourteen men were all discussing business in that room, with Crawford sitting in under the pretense of being someone's financial consultant. The Oracle could play the part well enough; Schwarz knew everything there was to know about this company. They knew more than the managerial staff did, courtesy of having a telepath and precognitive on the same team. There were a few business deals getting settled today, a few alliances renegotiated, and then there would be some deaths.

    At that thought, Schuldich's eyes slid towards his teammates. They were ignoring the noise he was making, Nagi because he couldn't hear from where he was sitting on the windowsill with the sound of traffic all around him, and Farfarello because he didn't care. The Irishman had taken the other chair and was seated sideways in it, shoulder blades propped against one arm and legs hanging off the other. One arm dangled down in front of the chair and he was spinning a knife lazily. The overhead light flashed off the surface every time it spun, casting a small flicker of white light onto the carpet.

    Farfarello looked his way as soon as he felt Schuldich's eyes on him. He tilted his head to one side, quirking an eyebrow in question of the stare. It wasn't like he had a problem with being stared at, especially not by his Dream, but he was idly curious as to what had caused the older assassin's attention to turn on him. His knife gave another flash as he lifted it, curling his arm across his chest. If Schuldich thought he was bored, Farfarello was more so. The Irishman knew they were going to be allowed to kill people today, so he was restless for the slaughter to begin. The meeting had been almost four hours long already; Schwarz had been here for six. Just five rooms away sat fourteen people, six of whom would breathe their last before they made it out of this building. Farfarello's eye slid from Schuldich's, seeking out the clock. He was dissatisfied with what he saw there; the position of the hands brought a frown to his lips.

    Leather creaked as he pushed himself to his feet. Nagi glanced back at the sound but lost interest when he saw which teammate had stood, turning his dark eyes back out the window. Farfarello's knife vanished into the sheath on his left bicep and he crossed the room to stand in front of Schuldich. After a moment of consideration he leaned over, taking the lighter from Schuldich's unresisting fingers. He clicked it open, using a thumb to throw the flame into existence. Schuldich scowled at him when it flared to life a little too close to his hair for comfort, lifting a hand to push Farfarello's away. The Irishman straightened, studying the flickering orange glow as he turned his back on the German. A moment later he let himself fall backwards, seating himself on top of the sprawled out telempath and ignoring the other man's grunt at his weight.

    Schuldich shifted underneath his weight, wriggling to try and get comfortable again. It was hard but he finally managed to find a position where Farfarello's hips didn't dig into him, where the younger teenager's weight didn't rest on his lungs. He leaned forward slightly, looking over the Irishman's shoulder to try and figure out what was so fascinating about the dinky little lighter. Farfarello continued to study it in silence, then lifted his other hand up to it. He relaxed further back against Schuldich, sliding down slightly on the couch until the base of his neck was to Schuldich's right shoulder, their heads on the same level. He let his head fall to one side to rest against Schuldich's, idly running the flame down his arm. Skin swelled and changed colors as he lazily dragged the flame down his flesh in a line.

    "Oi," Schuldich said. "Cut it out."

    Farfarello obediently flicked the lighter shut and turned his arm to survey the mess. He drew his arm closer, offering it to Schuldich for his approval. Schuldich could smell burned flesh, and he turned his head aside in disgust. "Don't do that kind of shit," he said.

    "It doesn't hurt," Farfarello said, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. The Nightmare's sense of pain was a bit complicated; he was always on overload from his gift so physical pain generally got lost somewhere along the way. He moved his arm to his mouth, running his tongue down the burn. He considered the taste for a moment before growing bored of the whole thing, letting his arm drop back into his lap. "It doesn't taste good."

    "No shit, Farf."

    Farfarello reached down, taking hold of the end of Schuldich's sleeve and using it to pick up the German's hand. He took the one in both of his, turning it this way and that as he examined it. Schuldich allowed him the examination because he saw no reason to pull his hand away. The relief at falling back to a more familiar Farfarello, at losing the angry violence that had lit the man's stare this past week, was too strong. At last Farfarello grew bored of the contemplation and set Schuldich's hand back down neatly on the chair cushion. "You taste better," he decided at last.

    Nagi pretended not to hear that. Schuldich opted to follow his example. He wasn't sure how to feel about the new insight into the way Farfarello's mind ticked. He was stuck somewhere between bewildered and heavily uneasy, because even if he could logistically figure out where such a tangled emotional mess came from, no one had taught him how to react to such a thing. The things he'd heard in Farfarello that night, the things his empathy had curled so tightly around… Such a desperate, despairing need…

    If it had been a woman, Schuldich might have been amused. Scratch the might. He would have been plenty amused and he'd have fucked her and left her in pieces, taking what she wanted to give to him, demanding what she wasn't sure she could, and then leaving her behind as he moved on to bigger and better things.

    Farfarello was not a woman.

    And even more importantly than that, Farfarello was Farfarello. He was a bloody Nightmare whose gift was eating away at the telempath's mind, whose Talent had been able to shatter Schuldich's shields on a couple occasions in the past. He was a psychopath, brutally realistic, mercilessly cruel when it came to killing. And when it came to Schuldich he was wound up in so many knots that even he himself wasn't sure where to start. His entire existence had revolved around Schuldich for these eighteen years of his life, and the older he grew, the more dependent he became on Schuldich for his sanity, the more twisted and complex the ways he needed the man became.

    Farfarello, apparently, had accepted it.

    Schuldich, on the other hand, had some serious issues with it.

    It might have been tolerable if it had been someone else. Schuldich could have done what everyone loves to do when they're uneasy with something and lived in denial, ignoring that they existed and refusing to acknowledge what his empathy touched upon. The fact that it was Farfarello made it impossible to ignore. He was in the other man's head for several hours a day. The man's mind was louder than any one else's unless Farfarello chose to forcefully shut it off, so he was always grating up against Schuldich's senses. Schuldich could cling gamely to his smirk and cool words and denials, but behind his breezy words he was a little too aware of how dangerous things were becoming.

    He didn't think he liked it, not one bit.

    It wasn't like he was going to take a step against it though- not yet, at least. He was still trying to enjoy the odd peace that had been returned to them. He wasn't stupid or suicidal enough to tell Farfarello to castrate such unwelcome emotional ties, fearing that it would end up with them at each other's throats again. Hazy memories of throwing up into porcelain, of feeling trapped in harsh visions even after being returned to reality, of the weight and warmth of blood lingering on his tongue, was enough to keep him quiet for the time being. He would wait until things had been smooth for a while and then figure out some way to breach the subject.

    Dryly he thought maybe he should run whatever approach he decided on by Crawford with the demand to know if it was going to gain another violent reaction.

    Farfarello twisted, turning to put Schuldich under serious scrutiny. Schuldich kept his troubled thoughts regarding the newest complication to his partner back, arching an eyebrow at the teenager and giving him a cool look in return. "Can I help you?" he asked.

    Farfarello's lip quirked into the beginnings of a smirk, but he was interrupted by the clock before he could come up with an answer. He was immediately distracted by the chiming, head swiveling around to make sure he wasn't hearing things, that it really was one. He was on his feet in an instant and Schuldich's lips curved into something between a smirk and a grin at the other assassin's eagerness. Once upon a time he had been horrified by Farfarello's gruesome murders. Rosenkreuz hadn't prepared him for what the thirteen year old had done the day they met; they had taught Schuldich how to be an efficient killer and he was one. He took joy in fucking people over and watching them crumble to pieces on the ground.

    Farfarello thrived on killing. It was a way to vent, a way to share the nightmares his gift forced upon him. Murder was a drug to him, an ecstasy that beat loudly in his veins. Killing wasn't worth it if it was over with a single bullet. They had to suffer. They had to suffer so that they would see that death really was a gift, so that when it came they'd been begging for it for some time. It was his gift to them, to see how precious life was, how cruel the world could be, and how liberating death could be. It gave the teenager a rush like nothing else to completely take others apart.

    Crawford had watched the first show without blinking, as he'd seen Farfarello in his visions for years and knew exactly what was coming. He wasn't overly interested in what the Irishman chose to do with his targets. Farfarello could kill and he could do it well, and if shredding someone to little kibbles and bits kept him happy then it didn't matter how many outfits he tore apart and stained beyond repair. Nagi wasn't so fast in adapting. He had seen Farfarello kill once and refused to be in the same room with him when it happened ever again. He'd fled right after the first death and Schuldich had found him throwing up violently a half block away. The kid had had nightmares for a week, and rather than Crawford pushing him to get used to it, he said nothing if Nagi vanished when Farfarello drew his knives with the intent to kill.

    It had taken Schuldich a while to get used to Farfarello's methods of murder.

    Just a while, and then he'd gotten lost.

    He blamed it on his gifts. He blamed it on his telepathy, that let him hear the reasoning behind Farfarello's thoughts, that let him hear everything Farfarello was thinking, the Irishman's smooth tones overriding the incoherent babble of his victims. As much as it hurt Farfarello's victims, Farfarello always rang louder and more strident in Schuldich's empathy. Above the pain, above the terror, above the sheer sense of dying and losing every dream one had ever had came Farfarello. Farfarello's sweet pain and greater thrill, the way that he loved his victims for a few moments as he tore them completely apart and gave him what he viewed to be the greatest gift of all. It took Schuldich a while to accept it- and then his gift had set hooks in Farfarello and everything that had been nauseating and horrifying about it took an abrupt turn.

    Schuldich always watched.

    He was always in the same room, lowering half of his shields to take in everything he could from the bloody grim reaper and the dying. It was a dangerous thing to do but it was a drug he couldn't get enough of, his gifts greedily sucking in an insanity and rush he could never get on his own. Sometimes it left him reeling; sometimes he had to be helped down the hall by Farfarello as he struggled to pull his mind back together.

    It was addicting; Schuldich had always loved making other people miserable. What Farfarello accomplished was something he himself would never be able to do, and horror had given way for respect and a greedy hunger, a rough envy and a wary admiration.

    Farfarello turned around to face him, holding out his hand in a demand. Schuldich reached out, curling his fingers around the Irishman's wrist, and let Farfarello pull him to his feet. He swayed a little from the sudden lurch upright after hours of sitting, and Farfarello took a half step forward to let his body act as a prop of sorts. They heard footsteps in the hall, voices mingling and laced with satisfaction over how the meeting had gone. The two went still, Farfarello's stirring blood lust lacing through the two of them until their hearts had sped up just slightly to beat in time. Schuldich didn't straighten from where he was leaning against the younger assassin, his orange hair half falling in his face as they stared towards the doorway. A line of businessmen headed past; the secretary was on her feet, bowing to them as they passed.

    Crawford and their client stopped in the doorway. Both looked into the lounge, pausing in their farewells to turn significant looks on Schuldich and Farfarello. The six to be killed were still down the hall, asked to wait a few moments to cover extra points. Nagi had been preparing evidence so that in the aftermath of the slaughter to come, it would look like two of the remaining six had teamed up to take out the others. Schwarz's client would allow himself a bullet wound from Crawford to look like he'd been caught in the fire. He was relatively new to Rosenkreuz but he trusted the school to take care of him. It wasn't a misplaced trust; Crawford had said that the man would be faithful and useful to Rosenkreuz's goals for a long time to come.

    "Nagi, will you please show these men to the lounge downstairs? You remember where it is…?" the client asked.

    "Of course," came the youngest assassin's easy answer, and he slid from the windowsill. Shoes thudded softly against the floor as he slipped past his teammates, and he vanished into the elevator with the other men. Schuldich and Farfarello stepped out into the hall, standing beside the other two men, and watched the numbers above the elevator tick down. As soon as it had reached the first floor, Crawford turned to the secretary's desk. He set his briefcase down on top of it, flipping the latches to throw it open. Among the neat folders of paper were two guns. The top half of the briefcase shielded the secretary from seeing him as he calmly pulled on a glove. Schuldich flashed the secretary a lazy smile before starting off down the hall.

    He heard her strangled half-scream as they reached the office door. It was cut off by a gunshot.

    Farfarello's breath was ragged by Schuldich's ear; he had followed close on Schuldich's heels down the hall and now his fingers clenched on the German's arm as he leaned over Schuldich's shoulder. He murmured something in ragged Irish, some heated whisper, and then he slid past the telempath to open the door. The businessmen were on their feet, alarmed by the sound of the gunfire. Farfarello and Schuldich stepped inside, and they seemed to relax marginally. They knew Schwarz was their partner's bodyguard. They were sure they were safe now.

    Farfarello took a few steps into the room and Schuldich shut the door behind him, sprawling against it lazily. Farfarello drew his knife and lifted it to his lips, running the edge against his lips almost reverently, and started forward once more.

    The screaming started, and it was a long time before it stopped. Farfarello only got to kill the two men decided to take the blame for the six murders. He was just doing his job as the bodyguard, killing the two men when the sounds of gunfire had driven him here. The other four men retreated to the other side of the room, huddling like little children as Farfarello tore the two apart.

    Crawford showed up right after the screaming ended. Schuldich and Farfarello had the fun job of shooing the men out of the corner, forcing them to flee towards the other side of the room. Crawford shot them before they got far, until they fell about the room as if they'd been gunned down shortly after leaving their seats. The client got a bullet to his front, beneath his collarbone on the left side of his chest. He sank to the floor, gasping for breath at the white pain, as Crawford calmly pulled out his phone and called the emergency services. Nagi returned a few minutes later and used his gift and a wad of napkins to help stem the blood flow trailing down his arm.

    Farfarello turned to Schuldich, reaching out to rub blood-streaked fingers along the German's cheek. A lazy, satisfied smile curved his lips. Schuldich offered him a cold smirk in return, inhaling deeply the smell of death and fear, letting his gift ring with the aftermath of such a mess, with the drugged euphoria in Farfarello's veins.

    The paramedics and police showed up quickly, and Crawford, Nagi, and their client were whisked away to the hospital. Some police went with them; others stayed to question Schuldich and Farfarello. Even though the story had been decided beforehand, telepathy helped keep track of any small tweaks, and it was a flawless account. Eventually they were released to go to the hospital to join Crawford, taken there in a second ambulance. Farfarello scared everyone he passed, and finally a doctor approached with the small plea that he clean himself up. He brought a bucket and rag with him. Farfarello turned a beady look on him that almost had him shitting his pants.

    "Of course," Crawford reassured the doctor.

    Farfarello wasn’t going to move, so Schuldich took the things instead and brought Farfarello to one of the empty rooms to wipe him down. He joked about Farfarello being a child; he certainly felt like he was scrubbing down a toddler. Farfarello offered him a thin smile, dry amusement in his yellow eye. Schuldich dipped the rag into quickly reddening water and squeezed it out before leaning in, one hand moving Farfarello's spiky bangs out of the way so he could get at the blood on the Irishman's forehead. It didn't seem strange to him to be doing things like this. Farfarello had his quirks and in their time together Schuldich had found himself in the sharply varying perceived role of caretaker and prisoner, the jumps connected by the times he could lie to himself and say they were equals.

    "What a slob," Schuldich chided him, though he didn't care. He ran the rag halfheartedly through white hair that was strewn with blood and gore. "You're going to have to take a shower when we get back to get all of this out." He gave up and planted his hands on his hips, ignoring the red water that leaked from the wash rag to his clothes. "You're such a mess."

    Farfarello reached up, easily tangling his fingers through the collar of Schuldich's shirt, and he tugged the older assassin's face closer. Lips brushed, but just barely, and a single gold and two slightly widened blue eyes stared each other down with just two inches of space between them.

    "So fix me," Farfarello murmured against his mouth.

    Schuldich struggled to find his footing, forced himself not to react. He straightened, pulling Farfarello's hand free easily and arching a condescending eyebrow at the Nightmare as if he hadn't been startled by what just happened. "I am," he said loftily, giving the rag a shake. "See this?"

    "No," Farfarello answered easily enough. He tilted his head to one side, his lips pulled into a dry smirk that was only half amused. "You just make it worse."

Part 14
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