March 1995 – April 1995
The sound of traffic almost drowned out the music that curled out of the speakers by Schuldich's bed. The balcony door was thrown wide open, the curtains hooked off to either side to let sunlight spill through. Farfarello was out there, half leaning over the railing to stare out at the city. Nagi was curled at the far end of Schuldich's bed, reading through the newest book in a series he had started on. Schuldich was propped against his headboard, distracted from his reading to check on Farfarello now and then. He was pretty sure the Irishman wasn't going to try and prove anything by bouncing off the balcony, but that didn't help him any. He couldn't concentrate with the other teenager resting so heavily against the railing. At last he gave up reading as a lost cause, giving an aggravated sigh as he put his book aside.
"Farf, you take the simplest pleasures out of life," he grumbled, though he knew the Irishman couldn't hear him.
Nagi heard him, and he flicked the German a look before glancing over his shoulder in search of the psychotic Talent. "Maybe he'll jump," he said, and he sounded hopeful. Farfarello's trick last time had startled him; now he no longer cared. He'd been around Farfarello enough that it wouldn't bother him in the least if he were to lean over a little too far.
Schuldich grinned at him, sliding off the bed and padding over to the balcony. He made himself comfortable, propping himself against the doorframe, and arched an eyebrow at the younger assassin's back. "What could possibly be so interesting?" he wanted to know. "The scenery hasn't changed since we moved here."
"Them," Farfarello said simply, lifting a hand to point at the building across the street. Schuldich lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, scanning the building's windows curiously before realizing Farfarello's finger was aimed at the roof. A pair of ravens were waddling back and forth, now and then ducking out of sight to drink out of puddles left from last night's rain. "They live there."
"Whoopty-fucking doo," Schuldich answered, rolling his eyes before stepping out alongside his teammate. He sent the Irishman a sidelong glance, but the Nightmare was too fixated on the ravens to return the look. His single eye watched their progress back and forth over the roof as if they were the most fascinating thing in the world to him, his gaze alight with some weaker form of glee. Schuldich eyed him before turning a critical eye back on the ravens. With a shake of his head at his companion's easy entertainment, he raked a hand through his hair and declared, "'Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, 'art sure no craven. Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore – Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!' Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'"
Farfarello tilted his head towards the German, arching an eyebrow in question. Schuldich gave him a bored look. "It's literature," he said. "If you ever read anything or tried to be educated, you'd recognize it. Everyone knows that one."
"I'm not impressed," was the answer, and Farfarello turned his attention back to the other building.
"You're such a critic," came the grumbled response.
Farfarello ignored him, straightening before leaning out, stretching out his arm as if trying to reach the crows. The smallest trickle of power rolled across Schuldich's mind and he frowned, studying Farfarello a moment longer before looking across the street. The ravens had taken to the air, cawing harshly, and they flew in circles around each other above the building. Their wings beat rapidly, their flight frantic, and their circles brought them closer to the building Schwarz lived in. One of them only made it halfway- suddenly it was wheeling towards the ground, still calling out in a harsh, defiant voice. It fell right into the street, right into the path of traffic.
The second crow landed right on Farfarello's hand.
Schuldich looked from the bird to Farfarello, blinking. "How the hell…?" he wanted to know, but Farfarello didn't answer. The Irishman straightened, pulling his hand in closer. The crow allowed the movement, shifting its little feet to keep its balance, curling its toes around Farfarello's finger. The Irishman's mouth was curved into the faintest of smiles and he lifted his other hand to run a finger over the wild bird's head. It gave a small jerk of its head, pushing into Farfarello's touch, and Schuldich turned a demanding look on his teammate. "How did you get it to come over here?" he wanted to know.
"He has come to feed," was Farfarello's response. His mouth curved into a lazier sort of smile and he lifted the hand to study the bird at eye level. "The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures," he quoted, quirking an eyebrow at Schuldich before carrying the bird indoors. "It's from the Proverbs."
"Are you trying to sound smart?" the German sent after him, following behind him.
Nagi looked up at their entrance, and completely forgot about his book when he saw the bird resting on Farfarello's hand. He forgot his loathing for the Irishman for a few minutes, setting his book aside and lifting himself to his knees to stare at the bird. Farfarello carried the creature to his bed, settling himself lazily on the edge of his mattress. "Where did he get that?" he wanted to know.
"It flew right into his fucking hand," was Schuldich's response.
"What are you going to do with it?" Nagi wanted to know.
Farfarello tilted his head back, shifting his eye from the ebony bird to meet Nagi's gaze across the room. "I'm going to kill it, of course," he answered. Nagi sent a startled look Schuldich's direction, but Farfarello was still speaking. He ran his fingers down the raven's head again in a deceptively tender gesture. "I've only got one eye left to spare, and I've given up enough to Him already without giving Him the only one I have left."
Nagi didn't know what he was talking about, as he'd missed the little quote war on the balcony, and he turned a blank look back on the Irishman. Farfarello had the bird move into the palm of his other hand and he ran his fingers down its back. Schuldich folded his arms over his chest, watching. Farfarello's fingers strayed to the bird's wings and he fingered the feathers there with idle curiosity. In a sudden, sharp gesture, he grabbed the entire wing in one hand and wrenched. The sound of snapping bone mixed with a harsh caw in the air and the raven gave a lurch out of Farfarello's hand. It fell to the ground, blood running over black feathers, turning in circles uncertainly. Its little brain screamed pain and alarm. Farfarello ignored it for the moment, eyeing the wing that was still in his hand. He'd snapped it off right at the base. He lifted it to his face, running the feathers over his cheek, and a small, satisfied smile ghosted across his lips.
Nagi was horrified. "What did you do??" he demanded, voice sharp in surprise and dismay.
"All of God's little creatures are unique," Farfarello said, his voice barely louder than a murmur. "We all have things that make us different, that make us special. That divide us." He set the wing aside, lowering himself from his bed to his knees on the ground. The raven took off but didn't get far before he reached out, smashing it against the carpet with a hand. It struggled under his hold, trying to get free, trying to peck or claw him, but it couldn't twist enough to hurt the Irishman. "Everything that makes us who we are is what gives others a reason to hate us. Mankind's history is rife with wars where we destroy each other over our differences. Our looks, our beliefs, our lifestyles… What was supposed to make us beautiful has instead made us hated and envied. What should have been a gift is a curse. Why should we be hated for our differences?" He tilted his head towards Nagi. The boy's fingers were clenched in the sheets; his eyes were locked on the struggling bird. "The gifts that separate us from the world…"
At that, Nagi's eyes lifted to meet Farfarello's gaze. His dark blue eyes were bright with anger and pain; he'd been with Schwarz over a year but there was still innocence in his soul, much more than any of Schwarz had ever had. "Perhaps we should all be the same," Farfarello said, tilting his head to one side. His mouth was curved into a mocking smile, his eye cold. "Perhaps we should cut away the differences that make us hate each other. The gifts we wield. The color of our skin, of our hair. The food we eat, the way we live. The wings that help us to fly when others are forever locked to the ground…" He looked back at the bird, lifting his hand from it at last. It came at him in full fury, sharp toes flying over the carpet as it tried to peck his knees open. He gave it a careless swat aside that sent it tumbling head over heels. It tried to get back up but had a hard time of it. Farfarello started towards it on his hands and knees, moving slowly because there was no reason to hurry. Even on all fours he moved with the liquid grace of an experienced killer, and while Nagi's eyes were locked on the bird again, Schuldich's eyes were on his teammate.
"But to be identical…is boring." The bird had made it to its feet and now was off for the balcony, feeling the wind coming through the open doorway. Farfarello snatched it up by its good wing just before it could cross through the door and gave it a violent shake. Bones snapped again and the bird hung from his hand. Its wing was broken in a few places, so it couldn't pull itself up to attack his hand. It could just wriggle where it hung, cawing, heart beating rapidly in panic, toes clawing uselessly at the air. "Mankind hates itself for the differences, but none of us want to be alike. We want to be ourselves. We want to pretend that we are unique, to tell ourselves that we are special. So we thrive on our hatred and we punish others for wanting the same thing we do." He turned around on his rear, leaning backwards to prop himself up on an arm, and held the bird out to Nagi in offering. "And we kill each other, ripping away what makes us unique, ripping away everything we cling to so dearly, and congratulate ourselves for proving our superiority. Mankind is a sick race."
"YOU'RE sick," came Nagi's vehement response. He lurched off of the bed, storming towards Farfarello. "It's just a bird! It didn't hurt anybody! You didn't have to do that!"
"So take it from me," the Nightmare said, expression calm. "Protect it from me."
"Nagi-" Schuldich started.
But Nagi had already moved, reaching out his hands to take the injured raven away from his sadistic teammate. As soon as his hands were close enough the raven gave a desperate lurch, reaching out to drive its beak into the boy's skin. Nagi leapt back with a small sound of surprise, staring down at the gash that oozed blood on his palm.
"How can you hope to protect it?" Farfarello wanted to know. "What good will it do either of you to save it now? It cannot fly. It cannot fetch its own food. It lives in the sky but it is now forbidden to stray there. If you save it, it will be dependent on you for its life. It cannot survive on its own. But it will never, never be grateful for you."
Nagi looked up from studying his hands, his mouth pulled into a hard line as he stared at Farfarello. Farfarello's expression was still calm, his eye serious. "It will never thank you for saving it. It will always hate you. It has been injured and its injuries have ruined it, and you could feed it and pet it every day but it will be wild and hate you until the day it dies. Do not waste your life on something that won't even bother to care."
With that, he rose to his feet and moved out onto the balcony. He stood at the railing, staring down at the traffic, considering the cars that moved far below. And then he gave a jerk of his hand, tossing the bird out into the air. "Fly," he said, even as it fell. It gave a final, desperate caw as it plummeted downwards. Nagi made a strangled sound, running out onto the balcony and staring over the side as it crashed into the asphalt far below. Farfarello considered its fallen form for a few moments before giving a careless shrug, turning to go back inside.
Nagi jerked his gaze away from the dead raven to glare daggers at Farfarello's back. He had the fingers of one hand curled around his wrist, the fingers of his injured hand curled inwards as blood pooled in his fist. Schuldich moved to get the first aid kit, leaning over to dig it out from under his bed. "It was just a bird!" Nagi snapped at the Nightmare. "You didn't have to kill it! It didn't do anything to you!"
"Schwarz's targets haven't done anything to me," Farfarello sent back easily. "I kill them anyway. So do you."
"That's different! They're people!"
"That depends on how you look at it," Farfarello answered.
"You're such a freak!"
Farfarello sent the boy a lazy, amused look over his shoulder. "I don't care."
Nagi's mouth thinned to a hard line, but Schuldich spoke up before the boy could say anything. "Nagi, come let me look at your hand."
The telekinetic hesitated before stepping inside again, sending Farfarello a final dark look before approaching Schuldich. He held his hand out for Schuldich's inspection, his blue eyes darker than normal with anger. Schuldich let the vibrant emotions roll across his empathy, running a mental finger over the tones of pain and anger. He turned Nagi's hand this way and that, using gauze to clear blood away so he could see the cut. Nagi gave a small hiss, trying to pull his hand back, and with another glance towards the boy's face, Schuldich let his empathy slide through Nagi's mind. When he swabbed at the wound again, the Japanese youth didn't feel the pain. They moved to the bed as one, sitting facing each other so the German could bandage his youngest teammate's hand.
~Why does he do things like that?~ Nagi demanded as he watched Schuldich twine a roll of bandage around his palm. He grieved for the bird, felt sorrow for a creature that had done nothing wrong except come within grabbing range of his teammate.
/It is all he knows,/ Schuldich answered, looking around for the scissors. /Death, hatred, treachery… He knows nothing except pain and how to hurt. He knew it bothered you, and he knew why. But things like that will never bother him, because he's never been able to look at the world or the things he does from your point of view. All he knows is what his gift has made him to be./
~I hate him,~ came the dark response.
Schuldich considered that, testing Nagi's aura with his empathy. /Maybe. Maybe not. You think you do because you can't understand him. It will be years before you can ever come close to understanding the things he does./
~You should hate him,~ Nagi said, dark blue eyes flicking up to Schuldich's face. ~He's done more to hurt you than he's done to anyone else. He doesn't kill you but he hurts you all the same.~
Schuldich glanced up from surveying the finished bandage to meet Nagi's gaze, his mouth curving into a dryly amused grin. /Maybe. But I'm the empath; I'm the telepath. I always know where he's coming from./
"Keh," was Nagi's response.
Schuldich laughed, leaning over the bed to push the first aid kit back where it belonged. Farfarello was sprawled out on his bed again, gazing up at the ceiling. Schuldich pushed himself off his bed, raking a hand through his hair, and looked from one teammate to the other. "Try not to kill each other while I'm out, yeah?"
"Where are you going?" Nagi wanted to know.
"Turned twenty today," Schuldich answered. "That's drinking age in Japan. I'm out to celebrate."
Farfarello tilted his head towards his older teammate, arching an eyebrow at the telempath. "Since when did age stop you from drinking?" he wanted to know.
"It's the principle of the thing," Schuldich answered, digging through his closet to find clothes to wear.
"Ch'…" Nagi pushed himself up off the mattress. "If you're leaving, I’m going back to my apartment. I'm not going to sit here with him." With that, he was gone, the front door clicking shut behind him. Schuldich grinned to himself at his youngest teammate's behavior, tugging an outfit free of its hangers and stepping back to survey them. He realized he was being watched and he turned his attention on Farfarello.
The Irishman said nothing, and his face was carefully blank, but Schuldich could still feel the edges of uneasiness lacing through the other's mind.
He turned away, changing from one set of clothes to the other. It wasn't until he was stepping out of the bedroom that he decided to acknowledge what was bothering the Nightmare. He hesitated in the doorway for just the barest of moments, blue eyes flicking over his shoulder to see Farfarello. "I'm coming back alone tonight," he said simply, and then he was down the hall.
Behind him, Farfarello's mind relaxed.
Schuldich had been drinking since he was sixteen. Alcohol wasn't allowed within Rosenkreuz's halls unless it was for the teachers or the field work teams. Students were forbidden to drink. Once they reached Inquisitions age, however, they were out into the world. They learned a lot of things in their year on their teams. They learned about the world, about foreign countries. They used their gifts in a practical manner, finally free to use them without a teacher watching. Ninety-four percent of the students lost their virginity that year. And all of them had their first drink.
Schuldich had started all of this years before his time because he jumped ranks, indulging himself in everything he could the moment he was off of Rosenkreuz grounds. Part of it had been curiosity, part of it had been defiance, and part of it had been to test the sheer freedom of no longer being a student. After he'd been taken into Nacht he'd continued his habits, with drinking the most common. He liked the taste of alcohol. He liked the way it slid across his tongue. But he'd never had more than a few drinks. He'd never gotten more than a buzz.
Tonight he chose to get smashed.
He told himself it was because he was twenty, that it was because in Japan it was the age one was allowed to drink and smoke and was considered an adult. He'd been an adult for years. He'd been doing things he wasn't supposed to for years. He wondered if such a trivial thing as the day he was born was any kind of excuse, wondered what it mattered. He decided not to go into the reasoning behind it, abandoning thinking for one night as he drank his way from one end of the bar to the other.
He chose to go to the bar he saw the most often, and he'd told the bartender of his intentions as soon as he sat down. He'd had his dinner first, ordering something off the small menu the place had to offer, and had sat around sipping at a soda for a while because the evening was still young. The bar had been mostly empty, so he'd ended up playing darts with the bartender and one of her coworkers for a while. At nine he'd decided it was time to start drinking. She was in charge of all of his drinks, and she watched him throughout the night to make sure she wasn't giving him too much. She knew what he liked and she kept the drinks coming, giving him flavors that would sit well on top of each other, giving him things he could finish easily. She chatted with him off and on, and he chatted with her about this and that. She'd wanted to talk the other customers into singing for him, but he'd managed to talk her out of such a ridiculous notion.
That didn't stop her from singing to him alone. He'd been there for eight hours, caught up in random conversations as the crowd changed through the night. People that wouldn't have spoken to him sober were bolder drunk, and he'd had plenty of people to talk to through the night. At midnight a group of professors came in, and they'd had a long debate about something he couldn't remember anymore, something that had had the rest of the bar listening in interest. Schuldich couldn’t even remember if he'd won the debate.
He realized she was singing right when he realized that the table top was cool. It disoriented him; it took him a moment to realize he had his face down on the table. She was across from him, arms folded on the table, her chin resting on her arms, as she sang softly. She had a nice voice. The song was stupid, but she had a nice voice. He tilted his head to one side to squint at her, and she finished up the song and smiled at him.
"Bar's closing soon," she told him. "Can you walk?"
He considered that. "Yeah."
A smile curved her lips and she reached out, raking her fingers through his bangs in an affectionate gesture. He was her favorite customer. She'd been fascinated by him since the first time he'd walked through her doors looking for a drink. He was a random drinker, sometimes coming multiple times a week, other times going for a week or two before wandering back her way. Sometimes he said nothing, other times he was caught up in conversations with those around him. He could pick out the intelligent minds in the crowd and he always made them talk to him, looking for something to keep him entertained while he was away from Schwarz. He'd been coming here for over a year now and she had grown fond of him, this bizarre foreigner with a mocking laugh who could and had outsmarted other customers many times before.
"Go home and sleep it off," she encouraged him.
"Right…" He pushed himself up from the table, not bothering to cover a yawn. He wondered why he was yawning; he didn’t feel all that tired. What time was it, anyway? The bar was almost closing. What time did it close? Five? No; today she closed at three. She always closed early on Wednesdays. Huh. Who'd have thought he'd been here so long… It felt like he'd gotten here just a short while ago. He pushed himself off his stool, turning an I-told-you-so look on the bartender when he had no problems with his balance. She walked with him to the door, holding it open for him as he stepped out into the night.
A soft farewell followed him as he wandered down the sidewalk towards his apartment. His path wasn't the straightest it could have been and he was amused at the way he kept weaving from one side of the sidewalk to the other. The night was chilly and the breeze bit into him as he walked. It was just a short trip to his apartment and he was tugging his keycard for the first floor door out of his pocket when it opened for him. He glanced up from where he was fumbling with his wallet to see Farfarello waiting for him.
"Didn't trust me to come home alone?" Schuldich asked.
"I trusted you," was the simple response, and the Irishman took a step back so Schuldich could step in. The elevator was waiting on them and Schuldich stepped onto it first. They rode in silence up to the seventh floor and it was when Schuldich took a step out of it that his balance did a funny swirl thing, thrown out of kink from the elevator ride. Farfarello's hand on his elbow helped him get his balance back. He ignored the other man, singing whatever came to mind first as they headed down the hall. Farfarello pushed the door open for their room and Schuldich went in first.
It was fine until Schuldich misjudged where the step up into the room was, and he ended up sprawled out on the ground. He swore viciously, rubbing at his elbow where he'd cracked it against the ground. Farfarello closed the door behind him and crouched just inside, tilting his head to one side to study his German teammate. Schuldich pushed himself up into a sitting position, sending a black look Farfarello's way.
"It isn't funny," Schuldich sulked.
"I wasn't laughing," Farfarello pointed out easily.
"Ch'!" He tried getting back to his feet but it was near impossible; Farfarello had to catch him before he could collapse again. He heard Farfarello's soft, amused snort at his ear and he scowled over the man's shoulder before letting Farfarello shift his grip to help him down the hall. He muttered the entire way to the bedroom about his treacherous body. He'd been fine just a minute ago; how retarded was it that his sense of balance waited until now to take a smoke break.
"You chose this, Niklas," Farfarello reminded him.
Schuldich sent him a sharp look that made the world spin around him. He had to close his eyes against it. Farfarello hadn't called him that since they'd corrected him upon his induction into Schwarz. "That's not my name," he said, a flat edge riding on the words.
"It is, but you don't want to be called by it," was the simple correction. Farfarello sat Schuldich down on his bed and knelt in front of him, tugging at the laces on his shoes. "You've chosen not to go by it, but it is your name."
"But that's not my name," the Irishman said, tugging the first shoe off. He eyed it for a moment before setting it aside, giving the other a tug free.
"What would you have me call you?" Schuldich mocked him, arching an eyebrow at his teammate. Farfarello rose from his spot, leaning forward to tug at Schuldich's jacket. The German let him work at the buttons, studying his teammate's face, his expression amused and his words a taunt. "Did you like Whitey better? How about Farf? Farfie?"
"Jei," Farfarello said.
Schuldich opened his mouth, then shut it again soundlessly. Farfarello stopped in his work to return Schuldich's stare, his face calm even as the mockery faded from Schuldich's expression. Schuldich's eyes narrowed in thought, and his mouth pulled into a wary frown. He leaned backwards away from the Irishman as far as he could go with his teammate's hands still tangled around his jacket, suddenly uneasy. "Let go," he said.
"I won't," Farfarello answered.
Schuldich reached up to push him away. Farfarello let go of the jacket to bat Schuldich's hand away. The German retreated back onto his bed, pulling his legs up as he scooted back on the mattress. Farfarello let himself fall slowly forward onto his knees on the edge, and he leaned forward to prop himself up on one arm, the other hand reaching out to snag Schuldich by the sleeve of his jacket. He pulled the German back and Schuldich only succeeded in dragging sheets with him when he tried to latch onto his mattress.
He was being kissed again.
He wondered why Farfarello didn't taste like blood. He wondered why Farfarello didn't taste like the death that haunted him. He wondered why the man didn't taste like the pain and agony and terror his gift was curled so tightly around. He wondered why Farfarello's skin wasn't cold anymore, why it had been icy when they had first met and had been warming over the years, so that he seemed less like walking death and more like a human.
He wondered why he wasn't pulling away.
Breath mingled; a hand ran over Schuldich's face before burying itself in orange locks. His head was being tilted back and he didn't fight back, letting the other man kiss him, letting his gift swirl around what he could feel from Farfarello's mind. Need, desire, hunger… Fingers tangled together and the mattress was soft on his back. He was letting Farfarello kiss him and he didn't know why. Farfarello was a Nightmare. Farfarello was a broken soul. Farfarello was a man. But in these moments none of those things registered. None of them mattered. A hand slid between them, through the opening in his jacket, under his shirt. Fingernails traced idly over the skin of his abdomen before sliding down over his jeans, a hot palm running against the tight denim pulled over his thighs.
The hand settled between his legs, a hot and heavy weight pressing there, and something in Schuldich curled in protest. He lifted his free hand from where it had been sprawled lazily across the mattress, wrapping his fingers around Farfarello's wrist in a silent order to let go. The Irishman didn't shake him off, obediently moving his hand up to rest on Schuldich's side. A final kiss and then the Irishman pushed himself upwards from the bed, pulling both hands free from Schuldich's, and he was gone.
Schuldich stared up at the ceiling as his teammate vanished from the room, wondering at the way his breathing was ragged. The fingers that had been laced through Farfarello's were resting on the pillow above his head, and he lifted his hand from it to let it hang above his face before lowering his fingers to his lips. He could feel his heavy breathing against his fingertips, could feel lips swollen from kissing.
Farfarello returned; the mattress shifted as the Irishman sat himself down beside his teammate. Two hands took hold of Schuldich's shoulders, pulling him upright. The world spun around him and he let himself sag to one side to rest against Farfarello's shoulder. The Nightmare had a pitcher full of water and a cup resting between his crossed legs, and he lifted the cup in offering to Schuldich.
"Drink," he said.
"I've been drinking all night," Schuldich answered.
"Drink," Farfarello said again, "or it'll hurt in the morning."
"So?" Schuldich asked, but Farfarello pressed the cup insistently into his unwilling fingers. Sighing at his teammate's pushiness, he finally took the cup and started sipping at the water. After the second cup he gave up arguing with his teammate, and he drank the rest of the pitcher in silence, still leaning against the younger man's side for balance. When he was done Farfarello helped him to the bathroom, and then he was helped back to bed. He was asleep before long, falling asleep to the sound of the balcony door sliding open.
April brought with it a lull in the work. Schwarz was finishing things up with their client, so there was less for them to do. Unless they could find more work, it would be back to Rosenkreuz for the unit. Crawford hadn't said which was going to happen, and as the end of April drew near, Schuldich found himself restless for something to come their way. He had no desire to see Rosenkreuz again, for many reasons. Crawford had told him long ago that Rosenkreuz would have nothing good in store for Nagi, and even though the American had reassured him that the Cabinet would wait, he still was positive they wouldn't be pleased by his lack of progress with Farfarello. Things had changed drastically between the two Talents but the power the Cabinet craved to control was still locked back and Schuldich wasn't any closer to knowing how to fix that than he had been a year and a half ago.
He sighed at his reflection, pushing his thoughts away as he stepped into the shower. A tug brought the curtain into place and he stood under the hot spray, letting it beat at his skin. Just another month and a half and it would be rainy season again. Just a few weeks and the weather would be unbearable. Schuldich couldn't stand Japan's weather. Out of everything he'd prepared himself to dislike about the country, he hadn't expected this one to be the worst. He could put up with the constant press of Japan's population against his shields. He could put up with the food and the fucked up fashions. He hated the weather. He spent more and more time outside these days, because soon he would hate leaving his apartment.
He ran his hands through his locks, pulling some strands over his shoulder and eyeing them. His hair was getting too long. It was starting to fray at the ends; he'd have to go get it cut soon. Maybe tomorrow. It wasn't like they had anything better to do.
He almost jumped out of his skin when two hands settled on his sides, and he twisted around to see Farfarello standing in the shower behind him. The man's mind had dropped out; Farfarello had shut it down so the telempath wouldn't hear him coming. He lifted a hand, moving his bangs out of his face, and leveled a glare at his teammate. "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.
"Nothing," came the response. The Irishman seemed oblivious to the fact that the water was soaking through his clothes. He'd stepped into the shower fully dressed.
"Get out," Schuldich said, turning his back on the other man.
Farfarello's hands lifted from the German's sides to play with his hair, long fingers moving through the wet locks. "I don't want to," he said simply.
"I'm trying to take a shower," Schuldich said.
"I know." Farfarello reached past him, picking up the German's bottle of shampoo, and vanished behind him once more. Schuldich twisted around to fix a flat look on his teammate again, but Farfarello wasn't impressed. He didn't even look up to acknowledge the glare, too busy pouring shampoo into his hand. He leaned down, setting the bottle by his feet, and straightened to face Schuldich again. His expression was patient, completely uncaring that he'd frazzled his older teammate. "Turn around," he said simply.
Farfarello reached out, tangling his hands in Schuldich's hair once more, and used his grip to turn the telempath's face forward again. Schuldich folded his arms over his chest, glaring at the shower head instead. Farfarello ignored him, giving his hair a tug to pull him out from under the spray. Schuldich obeyed only because he didn't want his hair yanked out by the roots at a second tug, and Farfarello set about working the shampoo into his teammate's hair.
Fingers worked the suds thoroughly through the long orange mane, massaging Schuldich's scalp to work the soap deep. Farfarello took a long time at it, playing with the hair as much as he was cleaning it, working in silence. Schuldich relaxed despite himself, unable to stay tense as his teammate washed his hair. He'd never had anyone else do it before, and it felt good. God, it felt so good. Blue eyes were half-lidded and he was drowsy by the time Farfarello finished. The Irishman gave him a gentle push forward back into the spray, and Schuldich stood silent under it as Farfarello worked the soap out. Hands that had killed countless people were gentle as they wove through long orange hair. Fingers that had torn skin open and could wield a knife with an easy, lethal intent rubbed at Schuldich's scalp and worked their way through his hair. The German was half asleep when his hair was finished and didn't protest as Farfarello's hands made their way over his neck and shoulders.
The Irishman stepped forward, leaning against Schuldich's back. Schuldich leaned back, relaxed enough to be tired. Farfarello's hands made their way down his arms, gently working away any remaining tension of the day, and Schuldich let his held fall backwards to rest on one of Farfarello's shoulders, blue eyes falling shut.
"Sit with me," Farfarello murmured in his ear.
Schuldich mumbled something back, but he wasn't sure what he said and it wasn’t intelligible anyway. Farfarello's hands on his hips guided him downwards to sit in the oversized tub, but he was so close to Farfarello that he ended up in the Irishman's lap. He reached out for the side of the tub, needing something to hold onto so he could shift himself forward more and off of his teammate. He had just found the side when Farfarello's hands slid from his lips to his front, one hand splaying across Schuldich's abdomen and the other curling around the German's cock.
That woke Schuldich up. Blue eyes snapped wide open and his fingers tightened on the side of the tub as he tried to pull himself out of Farfarello's hold. His wet hand slid across porcelain and Farfarello refused to let him budge. Teeth placed a light bite to the side of Schuldich's throat as fingers started moving. Schuldich felt something twist in his stomach and his hands flew to his lap, grabbing at Farfarello's hand.
"Farfarello, don't," he said, voice tight.
And then Farfarello's mind woke up again. It hit his empathy first and Schuldich arched under the sudden blast after these minutes of silence, fingers clawing at the side of the tub in momentary disorientation. His breath came as a ragged gasp; his visions swam before him under the onslaught of his teammate's aura. Need, need, need… Lust, hunger, desire. Fuck, they were so strong… He fought to cut a line between Farfarello's mind and his own, fought to bring up guards that had lowered in his relaxed state. This isn't me, he told himself sharply, and his mind answered, Are you sure?
"I want you to see," Farfarello murmured in his ear. "I want you to see me seeing you."
"A-ahh-" was all Schuldich managed to get out.
Farfarello lowered them both backwards, uncaring that the shower was still on, ignoring the water that rained down on them. He twisted them until Schuldich's back was on the bottom of the tub, tangling one hand with Schuldich's, refusing to move his other hand. The tub wasn't big enough for two people; he was half on top of Schuldich, leaning down to catch the German's mouth. Schuldich fought to not react but it was a battle lost before it started; his empathy was too tangled up in Farfarello's mind to give a shit about where the line lay between them.
After a few moments he wondered why the line was so important.
Farfarello's mind brushed against his and he could see himself, could see the way Farfarello looked at him. The one speck of something good among a wasteland of horror. Schuldich wasn't good but he was perfect the way he was, the perfect person for someone like Farfarello. A bright fire against a wasteland of ashes, the only warmth in a world that grew colder by the day. Perfect, fucking perfect, and something the Nightmare couldn't resist. He'd tried; it wasn't watching his view of the German shift that bothered him but worry over the consequences. But Farfarello couldn't stop himself from wanting, couldn't stop himself from reaching out. He had to have this, had to have that fire for himself.
The lust and hunger bounced between them, curling like its own flame. Schuldich's fingernails dug into Farfarello's shoulder as the kisses grew harder, as the strokes grew faster, as he stopped caring and stopped fighting. He'd worry about this later but right now it felt good. Farfarello's teeth latched onto his throat again and Schuldich's breath was ragged as he tilted his head, trying to give the Irishman more skin. Farfarello let go of his hand, fingertips and fingernails running over his flesh. The Irishman shifted to be more above him, lips finding Schuldich's once more as long fingers tangled in short white hair.
A few more moments and it was over, and Schuldich fought to get his breath back as Farfarello pressed a small kiss to the side of his mouth. The German pushed himself up into a sitting position and his teammate moved to get out of his way, and they sat facing each other in the tub silently. They said nothing, because there was nothing to say. Farfarello left first, rising to his feet and vanishing out of the bathroom on silent footsteps. Schuldich remained where he was for a while longer, staring ahead of him without seeing as he turned this over in his mind.
He took a long walk that night. Two A.M. found him stepping into Crawford's apartment. Nagi was asleep but the American was up, working on something or other on his computer. Schuldich stood in the doorway to the bedroom, arms folded tightly over his chest as he stared across the room at the other man.
"Did you see this coming?" he wanted to know, voice almost too quiet.
"See what?" was the response.
"Don't be an ass, Crawford." There was no humor in the words; this wasn't something to joke about. This was something serious and he still wasn't completely sure how to react to it.
Crawford turned in his chair, looking across the room at his younger teammate. Golden brown eyes took in the German's tight expression and guarded eyes in silence. A few minutes passed between them before the precognitive spoke. "I've known everything there is to know about you and Farfarello for years," he said simply.
Schuldich wasn't sure that was the answer he had wanted to hear. He didn't know whether to be relieved by it or hate the man for it. He settled for looking away, blue eyes finding and resting on Nagi's sleeping form. "Does that happen to all of the Dreams?" he wanted to know, question halting, words low. It wasn't something he wanted to talk about. It wasn't something he wanted to talk to the American about in particular. But it was something he had to know.
"None of the others lasted this long," Crawford said. "They all died within a year of being with their Nightmare."
Schuldich wasn't sure what to say to that, so he said nothing. A few more minutes of silence passed between them and then he turned and left, tugging the door to Crawford's apartment closed behind him before stepping up into his own. Farfarello was seated in the middle of his bed. Schuldich didn't look at him but stretched out in his own. Before long his younger teammate had migrated over to his bed, sitting beside his sprawled out form. Schuldich considered telling him to get lost.
In the end, he said nothing, and fell asleep with his troubled thoughts close by.
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