Part Sixteen
July 1995 - September 1995

   Crawford came in to check on Schuldich early that morning. The German was curled up on his side in the middle of his bed, hands closed over the sides of his head, his eyes closed against the world. The taste of stomach acid was thick on his tongue, and he worried that it was going to be a permanent flavor after throwing up so much. He heard Crawford show up; he felt those cool shields stop close beside him. He reached out with a bruised gift, and to his surprise he felt Crawford's first layer drop when Schuldich's telepathy brushed against them. He forced himself inside, concentrating on Crawford's shields, listening to the silence that rested there. He took a deep breath and let it out, pretending it wasn't so shaky.

    He didn't open his eyes. He didn't have the strength for it. He hadn't had it since Farfarello had fucked him into the wall five hours ago.

    It had broken his shields.

    It had broken his shields, and Farfarello had been right there. He hadn't been prepared for his core to shatter, but upon reflection he should have expected it when the Nightmare's mind was pressing so heavily up against him, when his gift was tangling itself deep in Farfarello's being and they were both lost in the Irishman's power. But he hadn't expected it, and Farfarello's mind had ripped something deep inside when the core shields gave way. As soon as Farfarello figured out what had happened he'd shut his mind down; the blast had only lasted for a handful of seconds but it had still done damage, and even with Farfarello's mind gone there was still the rest of Japan to take its place.

    Farfarello had not taken it well. Schuldich hadn't taken it any better. The Irishman had dragged Schuldich back here as fast as he could get him, running because the subways were closed. Schuldich had trusted him not to get them run over, giving up his sight to focus on his gift. He'd let Farfarello pull him blindly across the city, struggling to make something out of the wreckage of his shields. He didn't know how long it took them to get back here. It seemed like forever before he was being pushed down onto his mattress and Farfarello had shoved a cold glass of water into his hands.

    "Look at me," he'd said.

    Schuldich hadn't. He'd swallowed the water in three large gulps and shoved the cup and the Irishman away, shutting the man out as he worked on his shields. He'd managed to get his core shields back up, though they hurt to be there. Farfarello's mind had hit something deep and he could only hope the tear would heal even with his core up around it. He'd put together most of his outer layer shields, but one was broken beyond repair. He was exhausted and he hurt all over, but he'd been fighting for two hours to try and make a new shield. It was almost impossible; his mind hurt and his gift was out of whack, so he kept losing the ends of the guard he was weaving. He knew that he wasn't in the right state to piece it back together, but he still fought on.

    The bed shifted as Crawford sat on the edge. "Let me see your eyes," he said simply.

    Schuldich considered telling him to screw off, but swallowed those words and forced his eyes open. For a few moments, he saw nothing. When his gift was overloaded like that, the first thing he lost was his vision. He felt a moment of panic at the darkness that met his eyes, reaching up to make sure he really had opened them, but his hand was only halfway there when the room faded into view. The only light on in the apartment came from the hall, either the bulbs above the sink or one of the bathroom lights. Farfarello's bed was empty. Schuldich had no clue what he'd been doing or where he'd gone, not with his eyes shut and Farfarello's mind on dead mode. He lifted his eyes from Farfarello's bed to meet Crawford's gaze, watching as the man inspected them.

    Crawford looked wide awake, even though he was dressed in his sleeping pants. "If you sat up waiting for this…" he said, leaving the threat unfinished.

    "Farfarello woke me up," Crawford said simply. "He stormed into our apartment to figure out what went wrong and what to do. He is currently making a mess out of the place, wondering if you're going to be all right." The American had a cup of juice or something in one hand, but Schuldich wasn't overly interested in it until Crawford held out his other hand and the German saw the medicine resting there. He pushed himself up on unsteady hands, feeling his stomach lurch in protest of the movement and watching the world whiz around him. He held out his hand in demand and the pills dropped from one palm to the other. Schuldich swallowed them dry and took the juice to ease the bitter aftertaste.

    "And your shields?" Crawford wanted to know.

    "They're functional," was the telempath's answer. "Lost one of them and the rest are cracked, but they work." He got a nod in response for that and Schuldich looked around, squinting at the rest of the furniture. "What time is it?" he wanted to know.

    "Almost 6 in the morning," Crawford said. "We don't need you two until three, so when you can sleep, I suggest you do." With that, he rose from his bed and left the room. Schuldich listened to the soft scuff of the American stepping into his shoes and the quiet click of the door sliding back into place. He rubbed weary hands along his forehead, giving up on the final shield to work on later. Letting it slide away helped ease his headache as he let his concentration relax, and he gave a quiet sigh, lowering himself to the mattress.

    He had just made it there when Farfarello appeared beside his bed, yellow eye bright in the dark room. He leaned forward, propping one hand on the mattress and reaching out with the other to feel Schuldich's forehead. Schuldich arched an eyebrow at him. "I'm not sick," he informed the Nightmare in a dry voice. Farfarello gave him a cool look, shifting his hand slightly. The thinnest threads of Farfarello's power brushed against Schuldich's newly repaired shields and the telempath instinctively jerked back from his teammate's hand at the touch.

    "Shh," Farfarello said, stopping the retreat with a hand to the back of Schuldich's head. He ignored the warning look Schuldich was giving him, his expression smooth. "I want to see."

    "Keep it away," was Schuldich's flat response.

    "It's important," Farfarello told him.

    "I don't care." He gave a sharp shake of his head that almost made him throw up, and the back of a hand to his mouth was all that kept him from losing it on his sheets. He closed his eyes against a world that had turned into a blur of colors, willing the medicine to kick in and save him from the knife whittling away at his brain. It was several minutes before he was sure he could speak again, and he took a deep breath. "I don't care if it's important. Keep your gift away. I won't be able to pull them up again if you knock them down right now. Whatever you want to see can wait until later." He opened his eyes, locking gazes with Farfarello to make sure the younger assassin understood. Farfarello's mouth thinned to a hard line at the German's words, a sign of his disapproval. Schuldich reached out, curling his fingers into a tight fist on Farfarello's shirt. "No," he said again, harsh.

    Another long minute passed between them and then Farfarello gave a nod, reaching down to unknot Schuldich's fingers from his shirt. His mind dropped back. He didn't like this; Schuldich could feel that with his empathy. But Schuldich didn't care. He didn't have the strength to fix himself again; he would be able to get his core back up but the rest would stay down. Satisfied that Farfarello would listen to him, Schuldich drew his hand back and closed his eyes, tugging at the pillow to make it more comfortable. He was so drained he thought he could sleep for a year.

    "That wasn't supposed to happen," Farfarello said at last.

    "Somehow, I didn't think so," Schuldich said. "You complicate everything, did you know that? Next time, lock the power away."

    "Next time?" Farfarello echoed. The bed shifted as the Irishman settled himself on the edge. Schuldich cracked open an eye to see him making himself comfortable, sitting cross legged as if preparing himself to stand guard. Schuldich squished the urge to roll his eyes at the other man, gazing up at Farfarello's face. His teammate was studying him, yellow eye searching Schuldich's expression. He seemed amused by Schuldich's words, amused and somewhat satisfied.

    "Shut up," Schuldich said, closing his eye again. "I'm trying to sleep."

    "Mm," came the light response.

    It was a long time before the German could slip away; it took another thirty-five minutes before his head calmed down enough that he could relax into sleep. Farfarello seemed to know he was still awake, because it wasn't until Schuldich could finally feel everything slip away that he felt fingertips ghosting over his cheek.


    It was another four weeks before they slept together again. Both were wary of what had happened to Schuldich's shields the last time and worried that it could happen again. Just the thought of getting hit with that power another time was enough to make Schuldich feel ill. Farfarello's gift had broken his shields in the past but the power had never struck so deep. Schuldich had been tangled up in Farfarello's mind with only his core in place, and his core had taken the brunt of the blast. Something felt off in the aftermath of that night. He couldn't place it but something felt different. So the two stayed away from the subject.

    That didn't stop Schuldich from thinking about it.

    Schuldich had lost his virginity at sixteen and had had sex eight times in the four years since then. While it had been fun it had been nothing worth dwelling on, and he could only recall what two of the girls looked like. Farfarello had been…something completely different. Part of it was because he was a Talent, and because of what that power was. Part of it was because of the complicated bond between them as Nightmare and Dream. And part of it was because Farfarello was another man. Staring through the papers Crawford had given them for next week's work, Schuldich remembered how it had hurt to walk that day. He'd had all of Schwarz as witnesses when he tried to get out of bed. Nagi's concerned queries as to what was wrong had been brushed aside with vague excuses. Crawford hadn't been overly interested. Farfarello, the sadistic fuck that he was, had laughed at him, completely unimpressed by Schuldich's muttered death threats.

    Long fingers plucked the file away and Schuldich looked up at the teammate who was currently- and almost always, these days- the subject of his thoughts. Farfarello towered over him, standing in front of him where he sat on his bed. Schuldich arched an eyebrow at him. "Do you mind? I was reading that."

    "No you weren't," Farfarello corrected him easily.

    "How do you know?" He reached for it, though he didn't really care about what was written on the papers. He didn't even remember what the last thing he'd read was. Farfarello chucked the packet over his shoulder in the general direction of his bed, reaching up to run a finger down the four hoops on his right ear.

    "Your eyes haven't moved for three minutes."

    Schuldich let himself fall backwards, propping himself up on his elbows, and tilted his head to one side. "You need a hobby. Don't you have anything better to do than watch me?"

    "Not really."

    "I suppose I should be flattered."

    Farfarello gave a careless shrug and made a gesture of his hand. "Move," he said.


    "I want to sit there."

    Schuldich arched an eyebrow at him, looking down at where he was sitting and then the expanse of empty bed to his left. "Uh-huh." He looked back at his teammate, reaching up to sift his fingers through his hair. "This spot in particular, hm?" When Farfarello nodded, he gave a small snort. "You have a bed of your own to sit on. Either sit down there," he gestured to the empty space to his left, "or sit on your own bed."

    Farfarello gave him a tolerant look, speaking as if he would to a slow child. "I won't sit to your left. Judas sat on the left side of the Lord at the last supper and he was the betrayer. I've told you that before."

    "Do I look like Jesus to you?"

    "Fu." Farfarello gave up on the argument, settling it by seating himself in Schuldich's lap instead. He put his knees to either side of the German's hips, propping his elbows on Schuldich's shoulders and resting his chin on the telempath's head. "You complicate everything."

    "You're not allowed to throw my own words back at me," Schuldich informed him.

    Farfarello just shrugged. Schuldich rolled his eyes, studying Farfarello's throat and chest because they were right in front of him. Faint scars trailed over his neck in three lines, and where the neck of his shirt hung loose he could see more. He reached up, forcing Farfarello to straighten when moving his arm dislodged Farfarello's, and tugged at the neck of the older man's shirt. He knew Farfarello was scarred, but he'd never seen these ones before because the Nightmare had never been so close to him when he was actually paying attention. There was only so far he could pull Farfarello's shirt, so in the end he gave up and ended up pulling it upwards, hooking it over the Irishman's shoulders. He frowned as he studied the pale skin in front of him. These scars… were new. There were the few that Schuldich recognized, but over top of them and behind them were more, some large, others faint and small.

    "Where did all of these come from?" he wanted to know, reaching out to trace one jagged cut across the bottom of Farfarello's ribcage. "This wasn't there before."

    "It's always been there," Farfarello corrected him.

    "No." Schuldich shook his head, frowning up at the Irishman. Farfarello tugged his shirt the rest of the way off, letting it drop carelessly off the side of the bed. He watched as Schuldich inspected his battle wounds. Schuldich's fingers slowly moved across Farfarello's chest, touching the scars he didn't recognize. He counted thirty in all. He knew they hadn't been there before. He'd seen Farfarello shirtless countless times in the past. Where the hell did they suddenly come from?

    "They've always been there," Farfarello said again. "You just couldn't see them."

    "These are scars, not invisible ink patterns," Schuldich informed him. It was his turn to give Farfarello the 'I'll be patient because you're retarded' voice. Farfarello gave a soft snort at it, turning a coolly amused look on his teammate. "They don't come and go as they please. They're always there. They're permanent. If they're there, they're visible all the time."

    "Mm," was all Farfarello would say, giving a small shrug. Schuldich scowled at him when he realized that was Farfarello's way of saying 'Whatever, we both know you're wrong.' He pushed at the other man, as if going to knock him off his lap onto the ground, but Farfarello tangled his fingers around Schuldich's hair and leaned forward against the push. He tilted his head forward, letting their foreheads bump and rest against each other, one yellow eye searching two blue. Silence fell between them for a few minutes and then a small, strange smile pulled at the corner of Farfarello's mouth. Schuldich studied it a moment, wondering about it.

    "Get off so I can move," Schuldich said.

    "I'm comfortable."

    "Make up your damn mind."

    "Make it up for me," was the easy response. Farfarello tilted his head to one side, keeping contact at their foreheads. One yellow eye was bronze where the red was starting to bleed through and pale hands reached up to cup Schuldich's face in his palms. His voice was soft, his words smooth, and Schuldich listened to the accented words roll off his tongue. "For I am the Devil, and I am bound in captivity and punished for my hellish dreams. I am forbidden free will."

    "If you are the Devil, then I will be God," Schuldich decided.

    Farfarello's smile twitched a tad bit wider, almost amused. "Shall I pray to you, then?"

    "I take virgin sacrifices, actually," was the breezy response.

    Farfarello gave a soft laugh. "That's only given once, so now I will pray." He let go of Schuldich's face, reaching past the German to take hold of the sheets behind him, and pressed forward to send Schuldich to his back on the sheets. Schuldich didn't bother resisting the push and gazed up at Farfarello in silence where the Nightmare held himself aloft over him on his hands and knees. They regarded each other in silence, each thinking their own thoughts. Schuldich was thinking about what it had been like with the Nightmare so far, turning the past two years over in his head. Strange how much had changed, when he'd been so sure they never would.

    Nagi's mind brushed up against Schuldich's; the youth was coming to read in their room. He shifted, lacing his hands together behind his head, and arched an eyebrow up at Farfarello. "Nagi's on his way," he told the younger assassin. Farfarello gave a careless shrug; he didn't hold a high opinion of the youngest assassin of Schwarz. The door clicked as Nagi stepped into their apartment and they both turned their heads to watch as he stepped from the hallway to the bedroom. He paused just inside when he saw where Farfarello was, looking from Schuldich to the Irishman above him. A frown pulled at his lips and he turned dark eyes on Farfarello, a silent demand for the teenager to get the hell off his teammate and get back to his own bed.

    Farfarello's mouth curved into a small, wicked smile and he turned away from Nagi, slowly lowering himself so he was resting on top of Schuldich. Hands abandoned the sheets to tangle in orange hair and Schuldich realized what the psychotic assassin was doing just a breath before Farfarello's mouth found his. He heard Nagi's thoughts stutter to a stunned stop and almost laughed into the kiss, amused by the boy's complete shock. There was a familiar swirl in the Japanese child's mind that Schuldich knew meant he was just a second away from using his gift on the Irishman. He shifted beneath Farfarello, wriggling his hand free where it was resting at his side, and reached up to cup the back of his Irishman's hair. Nagi's power died immediately, for fear of hurting Schuldich when he threw Farfarello across the room.

    /Schuldich, what-/

    /Don't worry about it, Nagi. Maybe come back and read later, yeah?/

    /You shouldn't let him do such things!/

    Schuldich tried to keep the amusement out of his voice. /I'll talk to him./

    Nagi hesitated, threw Farfarello a dark look, and took a step back towards the doorway. Farfarello looked up at the creak of Nagi's foot hitting the hall's hardwood floor, turning a lazy, superior smile on the youth. Schuldich rolled his eyes at the obvious taunt. Nagi's expression darkened and then he turned sharply on his heel, storming down the hall out of the apartment. The door closed loudly behind him and Schuldich arched an eyebrow at the Irishman when he turned back, letting his hand fall to the mattress. "You're baiting him on purpose."

    "Of course." Farfarello's hand found Schuldich's where it lay off to one side, lacing their fingers together and shifting to pin Schuldich's hand above his head on the bed. His other hand found Schuldich's hip and he wormed his way under the German's shirt to rest warm fingers against his side.

    Schuldich tilted his head to one side, ignoring the bangs that half fell in his face, peering through them up at his younger companion. After a few moments of consideration he sighed and gave a small shrug. "I guess I'll have to talk to Nagi tonight," he said simply.

    "Not now?" Farfarello asked.

    "I'm busy now," Schuldich said.

    Farfarello considered that. "Mm," he said at last, and Schuldich heard his mind fade away as the Nightmare tucked it back under whatever it was that made it possible for him to hide it. "You are."

    When he leaned down to catch Schuldich's mouth again, however, the German found himself instinctively turning his face away. Farfarello tilted his head to one side in silent question and Schuldich studied the headboard of the bed for a moment before turning back. Blue eyes were serious and his expression was calm. "Promise me," he said simply. Farfarello blinked at the words, and Schuldich elaborated. "Promise me you can keep that locked down."

    Something changed in Farfarello's gaze, just a subtle little flicker, but Schuldich couldn't identify it and Farfarello's mind was now guarded against his gifts. He lifted his hand from Schuldich's side, thumb grazing Schuldich's lips before his fingers danced over the German's cheek. "I won't hurt you," he breathed. "I won't let that hurt you ever again."

    Schuldich wondered if he could trust him.

    Then, gazing up at Farfarello, he realized that was a stupid question.

    "Mm," he said, wriggling his second hand free and reaching up to tangle his fingers in Farfarello's hair. "I know."


    As it were, Schuldich was saved half of the explanation when Nagi returned to their apartment a while later and found them tangled together in bed. Schuldich was dozing rather nicely when there was a vicious thud, the sound of splintering wood, and then Nagi's strangled yell of pain. That was enough to wake him up and he pushed himself up from the sheets, blue eyes snapping around in sudden attention. Farfarello had been thrown against the baseboard of Schuldich's bed and was on the other side of it, arms draped over it as a cool yellow eye was turned on the boy curled up into the fetal position just inside the bedroom doorway.

    "Farfarello, cut it out!" Schuldich sent at him, reaching out to snag Nagi by the sleeve as soon as he felt the Nightmare's power drop away from the child's mind. He sent the white haired man a warning look, giving a heave to yank Nagi's shaking body up onto the bed. Nagi struggled against him as soon as he had his bearings back, snarling ragged Japanese threats towards the unimpressed teenager at the opposite end of the bed. Schuldich was privately amused by the creativity of the insults and decided most of them were picked up from his years on the streets. Nagi wasn't stupid enough to try to use his gift again, but he was mad enough that he was ready to pick a fist fight with the Irish Nightmare who had his lip curled into a taunting smirk.

    Schuldich knew the results of such a battle- his mind could easily produce the image of a little Nagi puddle that would come from letting the two at each other.

    "Nagi, chill out," he said, giving the boy a shake and refusing to let go of his arm. "Shut up and sit down."

    "What did he DO?" Nagi wanted to know, whirling on Schuldich. Dark blue eyes were bright with tears of pure fury. "What did he do to you? Why are you protecting him?" He reached out, fingers brushing over the various marks visible on Schuldich's skin, fingertips touching bite marks and skin that was already bruising from a too-tight grip.

    "Well, to put it simply," Schuldich started.

    "I fucked him," Farfarello finished, ever helpful.

    Nagi grabbed the nearest pillow and hurled it at him. Farfarello let it bounce harmlessly off his head, flicking his fingers in a rude gesture at the youth. Nagi lurched against Schuldich's grip and the German looked from one to the other. Everything about Nagi was screaming for a fight and everything about Farfarello was daring him to try something. Schuldich gave a weary sigh, lifting up with his free hand to rub his temple. "On second thought, fuck it. Go ask Crawford."

    "Schuldich, he-"

    "You're the only one upset here," Farfarello said, interrupting the youth to jab a lazy finger at Schuldich. "I don't see him complaining." With that, he pushed himself up from the floor, climbing back over the baseboard and sprawling out on his stomach on the mattress. He propped his head up on a hand, his elbow resting on the tangled sheets, and gave Nagi a disinterested look. "Now go away."

    Nagi opened his mouth to answer and Schuldich quickly turned the boy back to face him. "Go talk to Crawford," he said again. The Oracle would have a much better way to smooth this out than he did, that was guaranteed. He'd probably seen this coming a long, long time ago, back before Schuldich had even met the damn Irishman. He would know exactly what to say. "Just trust me. It's all right."


    "It's all right," Schuldich insisted.

    Nagi's mouth thinned to a hard line but he slid slowly backwards off the bed. Blue eyes slid towards Farfarello and he sent one last murderous look that direction before turning and stiffly heading towards the door. The Irish Nightmare bared his teeth at the telekinetic's back, waiting until the door shut behind their youngest teammate to push himself up and close the distance between himself and Schuldich. He flopped down again closer, folding his arms together and resting them on one of Schuldich's leg. Schuldich raked a hand through his hair, offering a small sigh over the way Nagi happened to find out, and arched an eyebrow down at his lover.

    "Do you sit down every morning and plan out exactly how you're going to piss him off, or does it really happen this often just by chance?"

    "It comes naturally," was Farfarello's response, muffled because of his position.

    Schuldich grinned, studying the back of the Irishman's head before sliding his eyes down the teenager's back. He gave into the temptation to reach out, fingers running over Farfarello's shoulder blades before trailing down the bumps of his spine. He frowned when he reached a row of scars that went from one side of the man's back to the other in a jagged line, and ran his index finger down the middle scratch. "Where did this come from?" he wanted to know.

    Farfarello was quiet, thinking about it. "The magma dwellers," he said at last. Schuldich frowned, and Farfarello seemed to know that the German didn't understand. He shifted slightly, turning his head so he could gaze towards the left side of the room. Schuldich couldn't see his eye, as the Irishman's eye patch was towards him. "They're dragons of a sort. Live in the lava grounds. Have clawed feet."

    "You can't get scars from those things," Schuldich told him. "You haven't fixed your gift enough that they're real. They're still stuck in your power, so they shouldn't be able to leave marks like these."

    Farfarello pushed himself up, a frown on his face. "Fixed it," he repeated.

    "That's what I'm here for," Schuldich reminded him. He wondered at the way Farfarello's frown slowly faded as he listened, wondered at the carefully blank look on the Irishman's face. "It's my job to figure out some way to get your gift to lock in place the rest of the way so what you see can be shown to everyone. Rosenkreuz wants to be able to use that power for their own gains. Stuck in you alone, it's useless to them."

    "Showing it to people is how it got me here in the first place," Farfarello said, leaning backwards away from Schuldich. "I couldn't keep it from them. It killed them."

    "Once upon a time it worked how it was supposed to, then," Schuldich said. "Now it's locked back and no one else has a clue it's there unless you force them to see it. We're going to get it loose again, and then you can use it on people. You don't have any qualms about killing people now. Just imagine how much fun it would be to turn what you show me on the rest of society."

    Farfarello reached forward, taking hold of Schuldich's hair and giving it a sharp tug. The blank look was replaced by a disapproving frown. "I can't control it," he told Schuldich, voice low. "I can't tell it what to do."

    "It's your Talent. You can, you just don't know how."

    "It killed them," Farfarello said again, insistent. "I couldn't stop it. And if it turns on you?"

    "We've all got to die someday," Schuldich answered breezily with a shrug. Farfarello gave his shoulder a rough push. Schuldich pushed him back and slid off the bed, stretching his arms above his head. "I'm going to go take a shower," he said, and wandered off towards the bathroom. Farfarello didn't answer but he didn't really expect a response. He closed the door most of the way behind himself and leaned over, twisting the knobs on the sink that controlled the shower faucet. As he checked it to see if the warm water was coming yet, he glanced up absently at his reflection-

    - and froze.

    The rest of the mirror was black. His form was there, clear as day. But nothing else was reflecting. He considered it for a moment, startled, and then reached forward to see if there was something on the glass surface. His hand was just a few inches away when he could feel the heat rolling off the glass, and he drew his hand back, thinking better of touching it.

    Something swirled across the surface and he held his breath, watching as the glass itself moved, rolling in on itself. It was twisting and turning, uncurling from whatever it had been folded into. And as it finally shifted free, two red eyes slid free to stare back at him, resting over his reflection. They weren't little balls of red light; they were red irises, with nothing else of the eye around them. Just two o shaped brilliant red eyes that glowed and burned. They were the same eyes that had woken him from sleep for over a year, leaving him grasping blindly for whatever had scared him awake so.

    He thought he could make out the shape of a head as it continued to move, just the barest outline. Almost he could see the small shift in light that would indicate a nose and lips, and as he stared those lips parted and pulled into a wide smirk that chilled him to the bone.

    Glass clinked behind him, and Schuldich focused on it to tear his gaze away. He moved backwards, yanking the door open, and stepped backwards into the hall. He bumped into his younger teammate and Farfarello turned to regard him curiously as Schuldich forced himself to look away from the bathroom towards the Nightmare. "Why are you doing that?" Schuldich demanded. Farfarello gave him a blank look and Schuldich looked back towards the bathroom. The mirror was clear; there was nothing there to indicate that something had been wrong. Farfarello looked that direction also, and Schuldich eyed him for a long moment.

    "What?" Farfarello asked at last.

    Schuldich considered his options. At last he shook his head. "Nothing," he said, and he went to take his shower. He never took his eyes off the mirror.


    Knowing the truth about Schuldich and Farfarello's new relationship didn't make Nagi any happier about it. He'd tried valiantly to talk Schuldich out of it, listing every possible reason why doing such a thing with such a "psychotic, heartless madman" was wrong, choosing to ignore the fact that Farfarello was in the room when he started the rant. Nagi couldn't understand why Schuldich would willingly agree to such a thing, as the times he'd been propositioned on the streets had scared and infuriated him, and this was Farfarello they were talking about. So he gave it his best, and Schuldich listened to his genuine concern with a great deal of amusement hidden behind a straight face. In the end Nagi had been extremely disappointed to hear that Schuldich wouldn't call the whole thing off. Farfarello had been very satisfied by the outcome of the debate, however, and had turned a bland smile on Nagi when the boy looked his way. Nagi had launched into a speech about every horrible thing he would do to the Irishman if the man even thought about hurting his Schuldich, and Schuldich had to give him credit that the Irishman just listened with a tolerant look on his face instead of offering up some fluid retort that would just incense the child more.

    And so it was decided, and the balance between Schwarz shifted once more, however slight.

    Two weeks later, it would change again when Crawford and Farfarello went one on one again, a fight that proved the precognitive's shields were still superior to the Nightmare's gift and scared the hell out of Nagi.

    Farfarello was freshly eighteen when it happened, and later Schuldich wondered if it had occurred on the younger assassin's birthday. He couldn't be sure, as Farfarello had forgotten the day a long time ago and there was no way his gift would ever be able to dig it out of him. It was just an idle curiosity, anyway, so he considered it off and on and then set his thoughts aside.

    He was mostly asleep when it happened. Farfarello had been sitting on the edge of the German's bed, gazing off into space. Schuldich himself was having trouble nodding off, and when he finally felt himself fading away, Farfarello rose from his spot and headed towards the balcony. He heard the click of the lock coming undone; it was loud enough that it briefly jolted him awake. After a few moments he felt himself sliding away again. His eyes slid closed once more and he took a deep breath before letting it out, letting his head slowly tilt to one side to a slightly more comfortable position. He was just about asleep when Farfarello resettled himself on the bed, half on and half off his legs. The way he sat hurt, and Schuldich slid his eyes back open in irritation that he was being woken back up.

    "Get off, Farf-" he started, but he could see the Irishman from where he was laying- and the man was out on the balcony still, his back to the room.

    He considered this for a moment and then pushed himself up into a sitting position, gazing down the length of the bed. Something black was curled up on his legs, and looked up at him when straightening shifted his legs. Two bright blue eyes stared back at him in the darkness, and he thought what he was staring at might be a cat, except it was much too gangly and much too big. Whatever it was, he could see the claws on one paw and they were not something he wanted to mess with. But what was it, and where the hell had it come from? His first thought was that he was dreaming, and he tilted his head to one side to study it.

    It pushed itself up then, and the way its body was twisted, so long and so thin, made his stomach curl. It had a very unnatural look to it, and once up he could see how gaunt it was. Its ribcage seemed overly large because it had no stomach to speak of- its skin clung to its spine. A long tail trailed out of its rear, and the last three inches were just bone. It shifted to face him head on, staring back, and then lifted one paw to its face. When it moved, he realized that it wasn't really a paw at all. It had five toes, and one was opposable. It gave them a considering look and curled them one by one before turning back to study him.

    He decided he didn't like the way it was looking at him at all.

    When it leapt, he was already moving. He jerked to one side, grabbing the gun that was stuck between his mattress and the headboard, and fired.

    It would have worked, considering the thing was about a hand span from the gun when it went off, if the bullet hadn't gone straight through it like smoke.

    The teeth, on the other hand, did not conveniently go straight through Schuldich. They sunk into his shoulder and he swore loudly at the pain, hands flying up to catch its paws before those wickedly curved claws could catch onto his skin. He considered himself lucky that he had a thick blanket on him- it kept those hind legs from getting to him immediately. Even so, its jaws were locked on his skin, and he could feel hot blood running down his arm, chest, and back. He swore again, fighting with it, taking a breath to call out to Farfarello.

    He had just barely taken the breath when Farfarello was there, a pale ghost against the darkness of the room, murder in his red eye. His hands grabbed the cat-thing around its throat and it immediately released Schuldich, executing a strange little flip that by all rights should have snapped its spine, and launched itself at the Nightmare. Its leap never landed; Farfarello shifted his grip to either side of the monster's skull and kicked it. There was the clear sound of bones shattering, but the beast wriggled as if the assassin hadn't done serious damage to its spinal cord.

    Schuldich just watched, one hand planted against the injury on his shoulder. His eyes weren't on the fight, but on Farfarello's face.

    He'd never seen Farfarello look so furious. "Furious" itself was a serious understatement.

    In one powerful squeeze, Farfarello shattered the thing's skull. It finally stopped moving, and he let it fall bonelessly to the ground. He was reaching down to pick it up again when Schuldich spoke, and Schuldich's words stopped the Nightmare in his tracks.

    "What the fuck was that?" he demanded.

    Farfarello hesitated for a long moment before lifting his head to look towards Schuldich. "You saw it," he said, a soft question.

    "Yes I fucking saw it- look what it did to my shoulder!" Schuldich moved his hand to show off the blood soaked cloth. Farfarello just stared at him, and Schuldich crawled out of bed to dig around for his first aid kit. His teammate completely ignored the body now, focused solely on Schuldich. As the German found his kit, he snatched it away and shoved Schuldich back onto the bed. "Watch it," Schuldich snapped, and then he saw Farfarello's face. The Irishman's eye was still red, which was never a good sign.

    "You SAW it," Farfarello said again. "That's not supposed to happen."

    "Ch'. Forget your ideas of what's supposed to happen and what really will. Crawford probably saw it coming eleven years ago."

    That was, apparently, the wrong thing to say, because before Schuldich could blink the Nightmare was out of the apartment and he heard the distinct sound of another door slamming open. Absently he thought that Crawford had conveniently left the door unlocked, and then he grabbed the kit and hurried after his younger teammate.

    He'd already missed the fight, but Nagi was sitting up straight in bed, staring at the two figures frozen across the room. Farfarello's hand was locked on Crawford's shirt, and there was a gun pressed into the Irishman's throat. Buttons were torn on the American's shirt, showing a short if violent struggle, and now the two were in stalemate. No one looked towards Schuldich when he stepped in.

    "Tell me," Farfarello insisted, voice low and impossibly cold. "Tell me that you saw it, and I'll kill you."

    Finally Nagi looked Schuldich's way. "Schuldich…" he started.

    "I'm not getting in the middle of that mess," the German retorted, reaching up absently to touch his shoulder. His fingers touched dry cloth and he sent a startled look down. The material was fixed, and there was no blood. It was as if he hadn't been bitten, as if that thing hadn't attacked him. Confused, he yanked at the collar of his shirt, tugging it to one side to stare at his flesh. A light scar stared up at him that had never been there before. Schuldich felt a little dizzy and a lot lost.

    "Tell me," Farfarello growled again.

    "Whether I saw it coming or not doesn't change anything," Crawford informed him. "It has happened."

    "It wasn't SUPPOSED to!" was the snarled answer, and Schuldich looked up from his brand new scar to see the Irishman was shaking with the need to kill the American standing in front of him.

    "He was assigned to you to help you with your power," Crawford said. "He has been successful so far-" Schuldich absently wondered how exactly he'd been successful, "-because he is a telepath and empath. I explained to you years ago that there were going to be consequences because of the nature of his gift. I warned you not to break his shields. You did it again anyway. Did you think he would come away healed from that? You tore his mind."

    ~How does he sound so calm about it?~ Schuldich wanted to know, listening to the smooth words with something torn between wonder and sheer dislike. Nothing bothered Crawford. Nothing could ruffle him. Schuldich had once tried to push his buttons, positive that there was a way to break that calm veneer. He'd once entertained what it would be like to push far enough to see Crawford explode. Standing there, he realized it would never happen. Crawford simply didn't feel, not the way normal people did. His thing with Aeris had been emotionless. Crawford had known almost ten years before he'd even met her that he was going to trade her life for a Nightmare. He'd had no attachments to her at all. He'd simply been sitting back and using her as he waited for her to die.

    In the end, he was using all of them. He knew exactly what they were going to do and what the consequences of such actions were going to be. And he'd had years to get used to the idea. Nothing that happened could ever effect him properly, not when he'd seen it first so long ago. Crawford didn't care. Not about what happened. In the end, not about any of them.

    "Farfarello," he said, his quiet call seeming loud in the suddenly silent room. The Irishman didn't move, didn't take his eyes off of Crawford to look back at him. "Farfarello, I want to go to bed now. Come on."

    No one moved for almost a minute after he spoke. Then, finally, Farfarello uncurled his fingers from Crawford's shirt and took a step back. With one last look that promised a slow and painful death, the Irishman turned and started back towards Schuldich. Nagi followed him with his eyes, clueless on what had started the argument and uneasy with the results. He glanced Crawford's way, but the American didn't look at him. No, Crawford was looking at Schuldich. Schuldich didn't bother to return the stare, keeping his eyes on his lover as the younger man approached. Farfarello reached up, lightly touching Schuldich's shoulder, and his lips thinned to a hard line.

    Schuldich took him by the wrist, keeping him from turning back on Crawford, and led him out of the room. He shut the doors quietly behind them and just stood in the middle of their bedroom for a long moment before heading to the balcony. Farfarello followed, and it took Schuldich a moment to realize that it was because his fingers were still curled around the man's wrist. He stood against the railing, staring out at the city as he chewed on strange, uneasy thoughts. Farfarello stood to his side, watching his face. After a moment the Irishman reached out and touched his shoulder in a silent query.

    Schuldich turned to face him, tugging the man closer, claiming the man's mouth for his own. His gift pushed at Farfarello's mind, and he felt the Irishman start to pull away. He didn't want their gifts to touch, not after he'd just realized that they'd been pushed together a little too far, but Schuldich shoved his younger teammate up against the bricks of their balcony. He crushed his power harder against the Nightmare. Farfarello, in response, yanked his mind further out of reach, until it was the barest of whispers, almost gone completely.

    "Don't," Schuldich growled against his lips. "Don't." Farfarello pushed at him, but Schuldich refused to move. He tightened his fingers in Farfarello's hair, knuckles white from the tight grip, and he trailed his mouth down the Talent's throat. "Don't," he said again, sensing the other's flat disapproval. "I need that. I need to feel it."

    It was such a stupid thing, for him to feel cut by Crawford's complete lack of concern. He supposed it was because of Nagi. He hadn't really given a damn until that boy had been dropped in his lap and had somehow managed to burn away the "I don't give a shit about anyone" mentality Rosenkreuz had beat into their students. He supposed it was because of Farfarello, since the Nightmare's thoughts were almost always focused on him. He supposed somewhere along the way, he'd gotten used to meaning something. Stupid of him. Extremely stupid, and childish.

    But he wanted to feel it right now, needed to feel it from Farfarello. Needed to think that he wasn't just one more person to use for a couple years and then shove aside for something better. Needed to think that the first person he'd ever trusted with his life was in any way concerned about how that life was going to play out. And tonight he realized he'd never get it from Crawford.

    A part of him hoped that the next thing his memory ate away from him was the precognitive.

    So he fucked Farfarello into the bricks, forced the other to keep his mind open where he could still feel it. It broke his shields but it was what he needed; it was what he wanted and he didn't regret it. When Crawford came in later to sit with him as he fought to get his mind back under working order, he pretended the man didn't exist, stretched out on his bed between the American and his lover.

Part 17
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