Part Fifteen
April 1995 - July 1995

    Schuldich was bored. They'd had no work for almost a week now and he was sick of the break. All four of Schwarz were gathered in Crawford's apartment simply because Schuldich had wandered there in search of some form of entertainment and Farfarello had followed because that's what Farfarello did. He'd been disappointed by what he found there. Crawford was reading a newspaper and Nagi was working on his lessons, and neither were interested in dropping what they were doing to talk to the telempath. Nagi had promised conversation as soon as he finished the lesson he was on, which, while it was more than Crawford had offered, Schuldich was big on instant gratification and he wanted entertainment now, not later.

    The balcony door was pushed open, and Schuldich sat in the doorway with his arm propped across his knee, a cigarette dangling from his fingers. Farfarello was standing at the railing, staring out at the city- in particular, across the street at a building that no longer had ravens living there. Schuldich glanced up at his younger teammate, flicking ash to one side before lifting his cigarette for an inhale. There was always Farfarello to talk to, but after yesterday… Blue eyes flicked away. It was a wonder he'd been able to fall asleep last night. When he'd woken up Farfarello had been gone from his bed, pouring himself juice in the kitchen. He'd said nothing, Schuldich had said nothing, and it was as if the night before hadn't happened.

    Except that it had.

    After five hours of silence, Schuldich had had enough and had retreated here. And here wasn't much better, because Nagi and Crawford were ignoring them. There was only so long Farfarello could be entertained by staring at traffic and unmoving buildings. Eventually he was going to turn to the telempath and Schuldich couldn't squish the ridiculous feeling that conversation between them would just be another reminder that last night had happened.


    How was he supposed to react to that? He flicked his cigarette again, even though barely any ash had collected on the end. His mouth was pulled into a tight line, his blue eyes guarded. His free hand idly plucked at the short carpet as if he could yank the strands out. He was troubled and it showed, but he couldn't hide it. He couldn’t just look back on what had happened, nod, and continue with things. Farfarello had jacked him off in their fucking tub and he hadn't done a damn thing to stop the Irishman. The Nightmare. Another male, for that matter.

    Pluck, pluck, pluck. Flick of the cigarette.

    Farfarello turned around then, leaning backwards to prop his forearms on the railing. He tilted his head to one side, yellow eye studying Schuldich. The German could feel his heavy gaze easily but he pretended he couldn't, pretended to be too lost in thoughts to notice the Nightmare's attention. Considering his thoughts weren't anywhere except on the white-haired man, the farce took quite a bit of effort. He nibbled on the end of his cigarette, staring ahead of him. He wondered if Farfarello would speak and rather hoped he wouldn't, because he had nothing to say.

    Farfarello kept silent, but his stare grew heavier by the minute. Schuldich glanced into the room, searching for a distraction. At last he stubbed his cigarette out on the balcony, blowing a string of smoke out through his teeth, and pushed himself to his feet. Fingers trailed across his arm but he feigned not to notice, stepping up into the apartment and moving to stand beside Crawford's desk. He propped himself against it, orange hair trailing all over the place like a wildfire, in his face, over his shoulders, down his back. Way too long. He needed to cut it.

    Crawford knew exactly why Schuldich was upset. Last night he said he knew everything. Schuldich wondered if he'd managed to narrow it down to a day and a time. He considered kicking the man. Surely he could get enough force behind it to knock the chair out from underneath that arrogant American precognitive. His life was a roller coaster, jerking this way and that in spastic little bounds. Every time he thought things were leveling out again, he was lurched in a different direction. And Crawford knew; he always knew. He'd always known. He'd seen this shit coming for years but he didn't say a word, merely let them happen and offered smooth words and an impassive face to a frazzled Schuldich in the aftermath.

    "Hey know-it-all," Schuldich said. His voice was meant to come out as amused, but there was a bit too sharp of an edge to it. He heard Nagi's fingers still on his keyboard; no one had said anything since Schuldich had given up on their company an hour ago. He heard the soft scuff of Farfarello's shoes against the carpet as he abandoned the balcony for the bedroom but refused to look back, blue eyes locked on Crawford's head. Maybe he could tear the man's hair out, just grab a handful and yank, yank really really hard. Crawford tilted his head to one side, arching an eyebrow slightly in question. Schuldich's mouth pulled into a smirk, sheer will keeping it from sliding into a sneer. "How old am I going to be when I die?"

    ~"None of the others lasted this long."~

    Just one more kick in the ass for Schuldich. When Farfarello had been added to their team, he'd kissed his life and sanity good bye and had prepared himself to go insane. Crawford's interference in the beginning, his refusal to Farfarello to just let his gift at the German, was what had kept him alive until now. The shifting relationship between Nightmare and Dream was possible because there were rules, because they'd been enforced and because Farfarello had realized they really were for the best. Idly he wondered what would have happened if Crawford's rules had failed. The only reason they worked, perhaps, was because Crawford's shields were so thick. Too thick for Schuldich. Too thick for a Nightmare. What had the other Dreams had to save them?

    At the same time, even with those things in place, even with how everything had changed between them, a part of Schuldich accepted that this wasn't for forever. Farfarello's gift was a bitch to deal with and he wondered off and on when his luck was going to run out. He hadn't figured out anything about the Nightmare's power or how it worked, and he wondered if he would still be safe when it was finally unlocked and unleashed upon the world. What would save him then?

    ~"None of the others lasted this long."~

    It made him wonder if he was much closer to madness than he'd wanted to believe.

    Nagi had half-turned in his chair to look back at them, confused by such a morbid, apparently random question. Farfarello stopped halfway across the room, tilting his head to one side, a small frown on his face as he watched the two. Schuldich ignored them, keeping his blue eyes locked with Crawford's steady gaze.

    "That depends," Crawford said at last.

    "That depends?" Schuldich echoed. He couldn't keep the scorn from his voice. He straightened, flicking his hair over his shoulder in an irritated gesture. "What kind of crack ass answer is that supposed to be?"

    "You didn't word the question clearly enough."

    Pity he left his gun in the other apartment. Crawford had no right to be such an insufferable ass when he'd seen this coming all along. Schuldich wasn't in the mood to tolerate his bullshit today. His eyes slid half-closed and he let his smirk twist into a condescending sneer, reaching out with a hand to drum his fingers on the top of the precognitive's head. "It's all right for you to say 'I don't know,' you know."

    "I do know," came the response. Crawford's lips curved into the barest of smiles, almost a smirk, and Schuldich's sneer hardened at the sight of it. It was all he could do to keep from scowling at the older assassin. The American was completely unbothered by all this, didn't care at all about Schuldich's dark mood. Schuldich didn't have a say in anything. He couldn't control anything. It had all been decided years ago. Ten years ago, almost eleven now, when Crawford had first seen Farfarello. Crawford reached up, taking Schuldich's hand by the wrist, and turned it so that the German could see his palm. He rose from his chair, lifting his other hand to trace his finger down the middle of Schuldich's palm. The contact surprised Schuldich; his sneer vanished immediately. Crawford didn't touch him. Crawford didn't touch anybody. "But you and I have very different ideas of what constitutes as death."

    Farfarello had taken a step forward, but Schuldich was only distantly aware of it. His eyes were locked with Crawford's; he searched that unreadable gaze, tried desperately to see what was hidden far beneath the cool amusement he was so used to seeing. Crawford's finger moved over his hand once more. "Most people look at this, look at death here. So this is where you will die." He tapped Schuldich's palm before drawing both hands back. Schuldich's hand was left hovering in the air, forgotten. "But that's by that definition."

    Crawford didn't touch anybody.

    Farfarello came up beside him, taking Schuldich's wrist and twisting it to try and see what the precognitive had been looking at. He turned the German's hand this way and that, searching for something unique, for something that hadn't been there before. A frown graced the Irishman's lips; he didn't see what the American was talking about.

    "Life lines…" Nagi spoke up from the side.

    The last person Crawford had touched…

    "How long is it?" Farfarello wanted to know. He didn't know what he was looking for, so he tugged on Schuldich's hair, trying to get the German to switch his gaze to his hand. Schuldich numbly dropped his eyes that direction, but he was staring through his hand.

    …was Aeris.

    He let his hand fall to one side, ignoring Farfarello's attempts to stop it. He gazed at the floor for a few moments, considering this. At length he steeled himself, lifting his head with an arrogant flick of his hair. Defiant blue eyes met Crawford's gaze, saw those eyes and accepted that he would never see what was behind them. "Long enough," he told Farfarello. He pulled his stare away from his leader, tilting his head to one side to arch an eyebrow at Farfarello. "Let's go."

    Farfarello blinked, expression calm but a flicker of surprise dancing along Schuldich's empathy. "To where?" he wanted to know, realizing that Schuldich didn't mean back to their apartment.

    "My hair's too long," Schuldich said, beckoning for the man to follow. He didn't look back until he'd reached the door, until he was stepping down from the apartment. Farfarello was close behind him, fingers tangled in his hair, but past him Schuldich could see the bedroom. Crawford had turned back to his newspaper. Nagi had turned back to his studies. The only one still watching Schuldich was Farfarello, and something violent and unnamable, something almost irrational, twisted in the German's stomach. He reached back, hooking his fingers in the collar of Farfarello's shirt, and gave him a jerk. He moved without thinking, half-twisting even as he pulled the Irishman forward.

    A yellow eye was wide as Schuldich crushed their mouths together. It was rough and short and when it was over Schuldich pushed the Irishman back a step. Past him, Crawford was looking their way again.

    "Long enough," he said again, and turned out of the apartment.

    Farfarello hesitated for a moment, thrown, and then moved to catch up with him.


    Farfarello watched him carefully that day as they wandered down the sidewalk. He wasn't sure what had happened back in that apartment but he did know something had happened. He wasn't stupid; he knew something Crawford had said had bothered his German Dream. The yellow gaze that followed Schuldich as he moved this way and that was assessing, and full lips that so often quirked into a cold smile or a ghosting smirk were pulled into the faintest of frowns. There was something off in Schuldich's behavior that he didn't understand, but for the first time since they had been thrown into each other's company the Irishman was keeping his mouth shut on the matter. He said nothing about it, merely watched. Schuldich forced him into random conversation and Farfarello answered where it was required, but even as dry humor alternated with disinterest in his words, the weight of his gaze never wavered.

    Schuldich pretended not to notice. He dragged them all over the city because he could, because it was better than being back there. He was in a dangerous mood, thrown by his conversation with Crawford. He was feeling restless and hungry, wanting to murder something and not caring whose blood it was. He needed something, some sort of release. So he went everywhere, walking some places, taking the train to others, struggling to distract himself with what was around them. He bought things because he had the money, not because he needed them, and stole others because he could, not because he wanted them. He left the bags at random places, throwing some away and setting others down on the sidewalks before walking away. And Farfarello followed, a shadow in his footsteps.

    After four hours of aimless traveling, Schuldich finally ushered them both into a shop that advertised haircuts. It was clean, but not in the anal way most of Japan's shops were. It was clean in that it was tidy, not polished within an inch of its life. It was on the first floor of a two story salon type thing. The first floor was for hair, the second for piercing and tattoos. The workers on the first floor had obviously been to the second; the edges of designs snaked out under their shirt sleeves and they had several earrings. One man had a small spike coming out from under his lower lip. Schuldich arched an eyebrow at the workers before turning the look on Farfarello. The Irishman was eyeing the spike curiously, and his inspection was making the worker a little nervous.

    "You want one?" Schuldich sent at Farfarello, a taunt. He let himself fall backwards into the nearest chair, beckoning one of the college age kids over with a lazy gesture of his hand. The man obediently moved over to him and Schuldich pointed out where he wanted his hair hacked to before turning hooded blue eyes back on his teammate.

    Farfarello was fingering his lip thoughtfully, giving the question some serious thought. "No," he said. "It would get in the way."

    "Of what?" Schuldich wanted to know.

    "Of you," was the easy response.

    Schuldich chose not to answer that one, flicking blue eyes away to study the rest of the shop. Farfarello moved towards him, reaching over him to catch the barber by his ear. The German looked up, amused by the way the man had gone completely still. Wide dark eyes were fixed on Farfarello's face. Farfarello ignored the stare, studying the shiny silver earrings that lined the man's earlobe. He gave a tug, forcing the man to twist where Schuldich could see. "These," he said.

    "Those what?" Schuldich asked.

    "I want these," Farfarello said simply.

    Schuldich blinked at him. He'd been joking. He looked from one man to the other, raising an eyebrow at his teammate again. "Are you serious?" he wanted to know.

    Farfarello's lips curved into a faint, amused smile. He didn't answer, but that was all right. It was the first time Farfarello had smiled since sometime yesterday, and after the new complication with Crawford it was a welcome enough sight. Schuldich felt his lips curve into the beginnings of a smirk and he reached up, easily removing his teammate's hand from the barber. "Shit, whatever," he said, suddenly amused by the idea. He beckoned for the man to get back to work and in just a few minutes he lost a foot of hair. He pushed himself up to his feet, twisting to send his reflection a critical eye. Still long, dangling to the base of his shoulder blades, but much better than what it had become. He forked some money over and took hold of Farfarello's elbow, steering him towards the stairs that led to the second floor shop. No one was sad to see them go.

    No one on the second floor was happy to see them show up, but none of them were brave enough to send them away. Schuldich and Farfarello took their time browsing through the selection, amused by the fear their presence provoked. They ran their fingers over the glass of the display case, happily leaving smears that would have to be wiped up later. Eventually Farfarello decided on eight.

    "Eight?" Schuldich asked, turning to his teammate in surprise. "Bit excessive, isn't it?"

    A fingernail trailed down the glass; a yellow eye watched its progress rather than lift to meet Schuldich's gaze. "One for every year I slept away for you," he said simply.

    Schuldich decided not to argue with that, choosing instead to beckon over the appropriate man for the job. And then it was done and it was dark out, and he figured it was time to head back. He stopped outside of the subway exit, turning to study his teammate. The street lamp glittered off of the Irishman's new piercings and he reached up to poke at the little loops that adorned the sadistic assassin's ears. Farfarello reached up to run a fingertip over the other ear, tilting his head at Schuldich in question.

    "Guess it's incentive to keep your hair short," Schuldich said at last. "It'd hurt like hell to get your hair snagged on these."

    Farfarello snorted at that, and Schuldich let his hand fall back to his side. He turned away, gazing out into the darkness, searching out the dim outline of their apartment with his eyes. He considered his conversation with Crawford that afternoon, turning the words over in his mind, and lifted his hand up for inspection. He tilted it towards the street lamp, studying the line that curved through the middle of his palm. Farfarello leaned against his back, up on the balls of his feet so he could see over the German's shoulder. His chin rested on a shoulder and he snaked his arm around Schuldich's side, trailing a fingernail aimlessly over the telempath's palm.

    "Where is it?" he wanted to know.

    Schuldich twisted his hand so that the Irishman could see, careful to keep light on it, and lifted his other hand to run his finger over the line. "Here," he said.

    "What is it?" was the next question as Farfarello traced the line for himself.

    Schuldich gave a light shrug with his free shoulder. "Some say that you can tell how long your life is going to last by how long this line is. If it's short, you'll die young. If it's long, you'll live to be an old fart. So on and so forth. That's about all I know; I don't believe in that hocus pocus bullshit."

    "Then what does it matter how long it is?" Farfarello asked sensibly, pushing Schuldich's hand down. "If you don't judge it by this, and he doesn't judge it by this, then you're still both looking at it from the same angle." Schuldich considered that, turning his head towards his teammate. He couldn't tilt it far enough to see the younger man. His cheek brushed against Farfarello's forehead and spiky white hair and blue eyes gazed off into the darkness, thinking. Farfarello let him have a few minutes to chew on that before speaking again. "So how do you know?"

    "I choose," Schuldich said, a small frown curving his lips. "I won't die until I'm ready to. It doesn't matter what Crawford sees… I'll die when I want and not before."

    "Mm," Farfarello said, straightening.

    Schuldich's shoulder was cold with the Irishman's absence and he tilted his head back, squinting up at the street lamp. A horde of insects swarmed around the light, spinning in dizzying circles around it before throwing themselves forward mindlessly to be burned against the bulb. He watched their inane struggle for a while, considering what Farfarello said. A frown curved his mouth as he weighed this new thought.

    So many questions.

    So few answers.

    But at least it would be his choice.

    "Let's go," Farfarello said, lifting a hand to bury his fingers in the hair at the nape of Schuldich's neck. "I'm cold."

    "Yeah," Schuldich said, closing his eyes against the street lamp. "Me too."

    Farfarello sat in his bed again that night, gazing off into the darkness at things only he could see. Schuldich lay awake with his thoughts, stretched out on his back, blue eyes watching the faint light from outside glitter off Farfarello's earrings as the Irishman slowly tilted his head this way and that. The hours stretched on but they did little to erase the unease that gnawed at Schuldich's stomach. Sleep would make it better. In the morning he wouldn't care anymore what Crawford had said, he wouldn't care because he'd known it was coming all along. He didn't want to die anytime soon so he had a while left to go. He just had to find his reasons to stay alive.

    Farfarello looked back at him then, his yellow eye glowing in the darkness. "Go to sleep," he said.

    "Whatever," Schuldich muttered, rolling onto his side to present his back to the Irishman. He jerked at the covers, rearranging them around himself. Minutes ticked by and he forced his thoughts away, forced himself to stop thinking. As he was starting to fade away he felt fingers gently tugging at his hair, playing with the shortened locks. And he slept, Farfarello a silent guardian beside him as the shadows came to life and the walls began to bleed.


    "I hate this fucking heat."

    Nagi looked over at him where he was resting in a chair. Schuldich was sprawled on the floor in front of the air conditioning, completely uncaring that it was a rather undignified position for such a high class Talent to be in. His jacket was off to one side, crumpled up in a ball, and his shirt was half undone. One arm was stretched off to one side and the other bent above his head, and his shoes were half off. His hair fanned out beneath his head, tacky against a crimson carpet. He didn't care how he looked. It was hotter than hell out and despite the fact that this hotel looked so glitzy, the air conditioning in this lounge only cooled off the room in a three foot bubble around it. Schuldich had discovered this not long after Schwarz was redirected to the room to wait and he had made a beeline for that spot, collapsing where the cool air could hit him.

    "It's not that hot…" Nagi started, knowing even as he spoke that it was an argument he'd lose. It was near the end of July now and Schuldich had been grumpy about the weather for two months straight. A hot Schuldich was an irritable Schuldich, and an irritable Schuldich was only tolerable when he got to grumble about whatever had put him in such a foul mood. It was better to listen to him complain than to make him bottle it up to explode later.

    "Shut up," Schuldich sent back. "You don't have the right to say when it is and isn't. You were raised here; you were brainwashed into thinking this is tolerable. It's insane, that's what it is. Everyone has better weather than this."

    The eleven and a half year old rolled his eyes, unimpressed. "You can put up with this," he said. "You just choose not to."

    Schuldich scowled at him before turning the look on his leader. Crawford looked completely undisturbed by the muggy air in the room. He hadn't so much as loosened his tie, and sat straight in a chair as he flipped idly through a report. There wasn't even a single drop of sweat on his brow. "Crawford, for God's sake, get us reassigned. This is the last year I'm going to put up with this."

    "Of course," Crawford answered. Schuldich blinked at that, lifting his head off the floor to turn an expectant look on the man. Crawford didn't bother returning the look, golden brown eyes running over the file still. He lifted his pencil from the coffee table beside his chair and scratched a small note onto the page before continuing. "We will finish up work with these clients by next April, and will be returning to Rosenkreuz afterwards."

    Back to Rosenkreuz… The thought was sobering, and for a moment Schuldich reflected that the heat wasn't that bad. He couldn't come up with an appropriate response so he let his head fall back to the carpet, rolling it to one side to study the air conditioner. Nagi looked from one man to the other, shifting slightly in his chair. His older teammates had told him the basics of Rosenkreuz but he didn't know much about the school. Their attitude when he had asked them about it told him that it wasn't a subject either one was interested in talking about. Schuldich reached out, running his fingers lightly over the vents beside him.

    "And Nagi?" he asked at last.

    "He will be inducted as a student for a brief time," came the answer.

    "How long is one usually a student?" Nagi wanted to know.

    "Five years," Schuldich answered.

    "Seven," Crawford corrected him easily. Schuldich frowned, tilting his head towards the precognitive again. There was no way Crawford would make such a basic mathematical mistake, especially not when he had gone through Rosenkreuz himself. Where the hell had he gotten such a number from? Schwarz's leader looked up from his file, his honey colored eyes meeting Schuldich's across the room. His expression was smooth, and Schuldich's frown deepened. Nagi looked from one to the other, wondering at the different answers. "Seven years," Crawford said again, closing his file and setting it aside. He laced his fingers together in his lap, leaning back slightly to relax against the back of his chair. "Schuldich skipped levels three times, so he was there a shorter span than most students."

    A curl of unease rolled through Schuldich, tasting like bile on the back of his tongue. What Crawford said sounded familiar, but his mind didn't recognize it immediately the way he instinctively knew he should. His frown twitched deeper before he managed to school the expression and he turned his eyes on the ceiling, sending a hesitant query back through his thoughts. Skipped levels three times?

    It hit him in a rush, a blur of memories and voices, and he sucked in a quiet breath of air through clenched teeth. Blue eyes bounced back to Crawford's face again before darting away, but he knew he gave himself away with that look. Shit, how the hell could he have forgotten such a thing?

    His answer walked through the door a moment later, twirling a knife expertly between long fingers. The Irishman made his way straight to Schuldich, crouching by his head, and reached down to press the flat of his blade against Schuldich's forehead. It was so cold it was almost painful, and Schuldich's initial reaction was to push it away. "I found an ice box," Farfarello said simply, batting Schuldich's hand away and moving the blade to the German's cheek. Schuldich didn't fight him a second time, instead staring up at the man who was the source of everything gone wrong in his life.

    A while ago he'd realized he couldn't remember what came before Rosenkreuz. He couldn't remember what his house had looked like, what his mother looked like, or his father- rather, the back of his father's head. He couldn't remember anything he'd done before the Talents showed up to drive him to the school. Since that discovery, he hadn't looked back over his shoulder towards his time at Rosenkreuz. He'd realized then that it was a consequence of Farfarello's mind washing through his so often, a result of shields that broke away and let his mind be overwritten and overlaid in places. But this… Staring up at Farfarello, he struggled to think of the Austrian school. Random memories were easy and plentiful. Specific things were sometimes sharp, sometimes blurred. Thinking on it now, he could remember jumping ranks to Inquisitions and to Crawford's team. The first one was a mystery. For a few moments he had forgotten all three.

    He didn't mind forgetting Rosenkreuz, except Rosenkreuz was practically all he had. Rosenkreuz had made him into who he was today, and it didn't matter how much he despised the school. Rosenkreuz was his past, and being with Farfarello was erasing it bit by bit. He had a lot left… It would be many years before it was all gone, but one day someone would turn to him and say 'Rosenkreuz' and he would say 'What?'… It was a chilling thought.

    "Does it help?" Farfarello wanted to know.

    "Mm," Schuldich answered, a noncommittal murmur. After another moment he sat up, pushing himself up without warning. Farfarello couldn't move the blade in time and he felt a sharp sting as the knife cut a thin line across his cheek. He grabbed his jacket, getting to his feet, and slowly pieced his outfit back together. A scuff of each foot against the ground put his shoes back into place and he shrugged on his jacket. Farfarello gazed up at him, still crouched where the telempath had been lying. Schuldich tugged his hair free of the jacket, sliding the buttons into place, and stuffed his hands into his pockets. Hooded blue eyes turned on Crawford.

    "I'm bored," he said.

    Translation: I want to kill something.

    Crawford turned a considering look on him. Schuldich hated that look. He remembered the first time Crawford had used it, back when Aeris was still alive. He clung to the memory because he didn't know how long he would still have it. He waited for the man to speak, waited for the precognitive to give him the permission to leave he desperately needed. Honey eyes slid past the German to the Nightmare still crouching on the ground. Schuldich glanced over his shoulder at the teenager, curious at the shift of Crawford's attention. Farfarello met Crawford's gaze with a bored look that was borderline insolent. Almost two years of working together, and nothing had changed in the relationship between the Oracle and the Nightmare. Schuldich figured they never would.

    "We'll need you two tomorrow at three," Crawford said at last.

    "Us two?" Schuldich echoed. He'd intended on going by himself, to get away from Schwarz, to get away from his thoughts. He wanted to get away from all of them, to just sit somewhere and think this through and perhaps drink himself shitfaced when he was sick of thinking. Farfarello rose from his crouch behind him, moving up to the German's elbow. "I do know how to entertain myself," he said simply, refusing to acknowledge his teammate.

    "I know," was the simple answer.

    Schuldich flicked him a cold look before turning on Farfarello. "You can stay here," he said.

    "I don't want to," Farfarello said, refusing to take the hint.

    And that was that. Schuldich turned away from him, heading towards the door. Their teammates watched them leave, but Schuldich pretended he couldn’t feel the weight of their stares boring into his back. Farfarello followed close behind him, his footsteps almost silent on the carpet. Schuldich took the stairs down to the first floor and let himself out into the street, never looking back to make sure the man was still there. His stride was quick, his path aimless. They were in Osaka for a week for business meetings, but the unfamiliar city was no problem for him. A telepath couldn't get lost.

    Neither of them spoke. Schuldich walked for an hour and a half and not a word passed between them. Farfarello even shut his mind down, though Schuldich wouldn't go so far to say that it was to keep from disturbing the telempath's thinking. Either way, it was easy to forget that he was being followed, and after an hour and a half, he honestly did forget he had company. He never looked back, and the sounds of the city drowned out the light thuds of his teammate's shoes.

    So when Farfarello took hold of his elbow as Schuldich waited as a crosswalk, it startled the telempath into sending a quick glance over his shoulder. Farfarello cocked an eyebrow at him, finally stepping up alongside him. His fingers were still curled over Schuldich's arm, and he tilted his head to one side to indicate a small convenience store. "I'm thirsty," he said simply.

    Mention of a drink made Schuldich realize he was hungry. They'd had lunch at one and none of them had had dinner yet. He craned his neck, searching for a shop, and finally pointed one out to his teammate. "There," he said simply. Farfarello followed him to a different crosswalk and they made their way across as the green light blinked in warning. They ate in silence, sitting across from each other at a small table, ignoring each other and everyone around them. When their bowls sat empty between them, Farfarello reached out to run a fingernail across Schuldich's cheek.

    Schuldich had forgotten about the cut; he studied the dried blood on Farfarello's fingernail before reaching up to test the scratch himself. He shrugged; it wasn't anything bad.

    "Let's kill something," Farfarello said.

    It sounded like a good idea, so they paid the bill and vanished once more into the crowd.


    Blood was beautiful. Schuldich leaned against the side of the building, taking deep breaths of icy night air and the smell of death and fear. His shields still lay around his feet where he'd pulled them down for the massacre because he didn't feel like pulling them back up yet. Farfarello stood a few feet in front of him, surveying the bloody bodies with a critical eye- a painter of death checking on his newest masterpiece. Their clothes were ruined, spattered with blood in huge blotches. Farfarello reached out with a shoe, giving the shoulder of the nearest body a small push as if the way the man had fallen displeased him, and turned to check on his teammate. Schuldich let his head fall backwards to rest against cold brick, lifting one hand to study it. Farfarello had given him a knife. It had been years since Schuldich had used a knife; he'd been trained how to use one but had abandoned blades for his gift and guns. With powers like his, weapons were secondary and only for when he felt like them. He'd forgotten a lot. Farfarello had refreshed his memory.

    His hand was covered in blood, and the knife dripped all over the place. His sleeve looked like he'd dipped it into a bucket of red paint. It had been hot enough to burn earlier; now the night wind was cooling it off fast. He glanced past his hand to the man he'd chosen as his target for the night. He'd been much sloppier than Farfarello, but neatness didn't matter. Dead was dead and a slow, painful death was more gratifying than most other things. He lifted his gaze to Farfarello's face, holding out the soaked blade in offering.

    The Irishman gave a careless shrug. "I have enough of them," he said, and Schuldich let his hand fall back to his side. Silence fell between them for a few minutes; the only sound was the wind rustling the banners lining the store windows of the building Schuldich was resting against. "So?" he wanted to know at length. "Was it fun?"

    "Do you want me to show you?" Schuldich asked, a lazy smirk curving his lips as he arched an eyebrow at his teammate. Farfarello frowned, a small gesture of incomprehension. Schuldich beckoned for him to come closer and the Irishman obeyed. When he was within reach, the German reached out, lacing his fingers through short white hair before tightening his fingers into a fist. It was a tight hold but Farfarello didn't care, and Schuldich let his eyes slide half closed before he reached out, pressing his gift straight through the Irishman's mind.

    He felt a pulse against his power as Farfarello's mind instinctively tried to rise to meet his, and felt the pulse die as his teammate forcefully pushed that urge aside. He could still feel the burn of a much stronger mind surrounding his, but he ignored it as he did a little mental rewind and lashed out, letting everything his gifts had picked up during the slaughter whip from one mind to the other. It was a hurricane of thoughts and tangled emotions, everything that Schuldich had felt from their victims and Farfarello, everything such a death and such a rush caused in himself. It was a hot stab of violent emotions from one to the other and it wrung a startled gasp from the Nightmare's lips. He'd never been the brunt of Schuldich's power before; the German had never touched his mind without Farfarello's gift cutting it off before it landed.

    The Irishman stumbled forward and Schuldich caught him, letting the knife fall unnoticed to the ground as his hands caught his teammate by his arms. Farfarello tried to pull away; it was a small, instinctive tug backwards. He didn't really notice that he was doing it. He was off balance from having Schuldich's gift touch him. He didn't like how it felt to have another power rippling through him. Schuldich refused to let him go, pulling him closer instead. And then it was over, and Farfarello stood in front of him, trying to get his mental footing back. Schuldich had never seen the younger assassin off balance like this, and it amused him.

    The look Farfarello turned on him at his smirk was half-wary and half-indignant, the look of a man who had never been knocked off balance, the look of a man who had never been mocked. "You're laughing at me."

    "Yeah," Schuldich answered, smirk sliding into more of a grin. "Yeah, I am." Farfarello muttered something and Schuldich laughed, lifting his bloody hand from Farfarello's arm to study the smear it had left behind. "Keep in mind that I can speak Irish," he reminded the younger Talent, poking Farfarello in the forehead.

    Farfarello reached up, catching the finger. He tilted his head to one side, yellow eye studying Schuldich's face. The German sensed the shift in his younger teammate; he brushed his amusement aside for later, taking in a careful breath as he returned Farfarello's searching gaze. At last Farfarello spoke, taking a half step forward, one hand snaking up to run fingers along the telempath's cheekbone. "That's what it feels like," he said simply. "That's what you feel like."

    "I know," Schuldich said. It came out quieter than he intended it to. "I can feel it. I've always been able to."

    Farfarello considered this, unsurprised by the words, wondering where things went from here. His fingers slid to one side, curling in Schuldich's hair, and with just the faintest of hesitations, he pulled Schuldich off the wall to kiss him. His grip relaxed when Schuldich didn't fight him, gazes locked as lips moved against each other. They stood there kissing over cooling corpses, the scent of death thick on the air, their clothes sticking to them where blood had stained the material. Schuldich considered his final reservations on the matter, turning them over in his head as yellow and blue judged each other. And in the end, he decided that none of them were important right now.

    A hand moved up between them, fingertips brushing over Farfarello's jaw before sliding along to the back of his neck. Fingers curled around the back of the Irishman's neck and he could feel the other assassin's faint surprise as he tilted the younger man's head back. Anything Farfarello knew about this came from his gift, from things he'd watched in the landscape of nightmares and broken dreams. But Schuldich had lived them and he knew what he was doing, and a bloody hand closed on one hip to tug the Irishman closer as he deepened the kiss between them.

    Funny how someone who had been destroyed so far and who had danced in the shadows all his life didn't taste like ash leftover from broken dreams. Fingers caught on the hem of his pants, tightening on them, as they stood chest to chest. Ragged breath mixed in the air, little clouds in the chilly night. Schuldich's shields were still down from the murders, and he felt Farfarello's mind pressing up against him. It was his turn to gasp as the heat rolled over his skin. It started weak and grew and his fingernails dug into the Irishman's skin as the powerful warmth soaked through him, a tangle of hungry emotions and a flurry of mangled thoughts. His vision swam for a moment and he closed his eyes against the night, grabbing at and yanking up one set of shields to stop an overload on his talents.

    Teeth sank into his throat and Farfarello gave a small growl, using a hand to pull Schuldich's head further back. He took advantage of the German's distraction to force his hand down the front of Schuldich's pants, almost popping the button as he did so. Schuldich gave a small jolt, freeing a hand to give Farfarello's shoulder a small push. Farfarello barely budged under the shove.

    "Not here," he said.

    "Why not?" Farfarello asked, but the landscape had already given a lurch around them. Schuldich recognized the familiar yank on his mind and then they were in Farfarello's mind, with Schuldich pressed up against one of the stone pillars of the wasteland. The men that had once sat upon the pillars were long gone, rotted away to nothing. Nothing had come yet to replace them, so the two men were alone in this barren land. Farfarello took hold of Schuldich's wrists, pulling him away from the rocks, pushing him towards the stone platform he so often stretched out on.

    Schuldich decided it wasn't worth arguing about. He chose to forget that they were really in a back street of the city, pressed up against the side of a store with dead men at their feet. He let himself get lost in Farfarello's gift, fingers tangling in white hair and raking down pale skin. There was no blood here, none but the coppery taste as teeth split lips in kisses that grew more ragged and rough. Fingernails left red lines down arms and backs. Harsh breaths and half-swallowed groans danced between them as skin slid across skin. The rock was cold against Schuldich's back but Farfarello was hot, and he was hot, so it didn't matter.

    He let Farfarello fuck him because he wanted it. He let Farfarello fuck him because he needed it, because when all was said and done, he wouldn't be able to remember a time when the Irish Nightmare hadn't been at his side. He let it happen because if Farfarello was going to be the only thing he remembered one day, he wanted the memory to be something worth reflecting on.

    He let it happen because he knew he wouldn't regret it.

    And that was all that mattered.

Part 16
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