Part Seventeen
September 1995 – December 1995

    The nighttime never recovered. Schuldich started to see more starting from the night of the cat beast, a consequence of having his shields shattered one too many times. Farfarello's gift had bled into him and the things he had always been blind to before started to make their appearances. It wasn't a constant thing, like Farfarello. It wasn't even a nightly thing. It was random and he couldn't decide what opened him up to Farfarello's power, what made him see things some nights and not others. It made him uneasy to sleep at night, not knowing if he was going to get woken up by something. It was just a week after Farfarello's fight with Crawford- a rather quiet week around the Schwarz apartments- that he was next disturbed by something. He couldn't sleep, so he was sitting in the middle of his bed with Farfarello, attempting to teach the man how to play cards. Farfarello wasn't overly interested in the game. He would listen for a while and then let his attention drift elsewhere.

    Schuldich looked up from his hand to suggest that maybe they should find something else to do and frowned, staring past Farfarello at the far wall. Perhaps it was nothing, but for a moment he thought he'd seen the shadows moving strangely. He gave them a searching look and Farfarello glanced up at Schuldich's distraction, studying his face and then looking over his shoulder. When he turned back to Schuldich, his yellow eye was glowing faintly.

    "Do you see them?" he asked.

    Schuldich shook his head, folding his cards into a neat stack and tossing them down onto the blanket between them. After a moment he glanced up again, looking past his lover again. "Thought I did," he said at last. "Probably just tired."

    Farfarello hesitated, then set his own cards down and started raking all of the cards together. "Look again," he said simply. "Look harder." When Schuldich's blue eyes flicked to him, he found the Irishman's eye still focused on his face.

    Those words just made him more reluctant to look again, but he turned his face towards the far wall, blue eyes studying the shadows that covered the wall. Farfarello stopped moving and he heard the Irishman's breath stop. After a moment, he took a deep breath and held it. Silence fell in the room. Neither of them moved. Farfarello watched Schuldich and Schuldich watched the shadows. He was about to tell Farfarello it had been his imagination after all when he heard a muffled thump. Blue eyes slid down the wall toward the balcony door. Just as he looked that way something moved, ducking out of view out there. He told himself that perhaps it was a bird, perhaps just a shadow cast from something moving down below.

    To convince himself, however, he'd have to find a way to explain that the dark shape had been much bigger than he was.

    Another little thump, and then the sound of something sliding across the wall. It was starting at the corner down to his left and moving closer. Schuldich turned his head, studying the wall as he tried to figure out where the sound was coming from. Farfarello took hold of his elbow and he followed the tug, turning and shifting backwards so he was sitting beside Farfarello. Both stared at the wall as the noise stopped right in front of them. For a long moment, there was silence. Then Schuldich remembered he had to breathe.

    He had just barely exhaled the breath he was holding when Farfarello's hand clapped over his mouth. The Irishman leaned forward slightly, yellow eye locked on the wall. Nothing happened, and the seconds ticked by. Schuldich's lungs were demanding air and at last he reached up, pulling Farfarello's hand free. The younger assassin flicked him a warning look but it was already too late; Schuldich sucked in a deep breath of air.

    Two hands slid through the wall, clawed fingers curling on the surface, and a head followed.

    It was UGLY.

    Ugly and enormous, and its protruding eyes were locked on Schuldich. It didn't seem interested in Farfarello at all. It stared down at him and he stared back, trying to figure out what it was. There were some things that existed in Fararello's gift that Schuldich simply couldn't describe. They didn't look like anything he'd ever seen, so he had no real words to explain them. This thing was one of those.

    At last its bubbly lips parted, showing a row of pointy teeth. A thick trail of saliva slid across the bottom lip before dropping to Schuldich's sheets. It just barely missed the German's legs, and he figured it was very lucky for whatever the hell that monster was supposed to be that it didn't touch him. Farfarello's fingers tightened on Schuldich's shoulder, a tight enough grip to hurt, and he risked glancing that way. Farfarello's entire body was tense, ready to fight. His mouth was pressed into a thin line and Schuldich realized then that Farfarello still hadn't started breathing again.

    The same moment he thought he realized why Farfarello hadn't wanted him to take another breath, the thing pulled itself the rest of the way through the wall. Farfarello pulled him backwards and they climbed off the bed, moving back across the room. The thing still didn't see Farfarello and Schuldich made a mental note to figure out how the hell the Irishman could hold his breath for so long. The thing was completely inside their room now and stood on Schuldich's bed. The mattress was almost touching the floor under its massive weight and it took a slow step forward, muscles rippling under hairless skin.

    It slowly rolled its head and Schuldich heard a wet popping sound from its neck. It flexed its fingers and maybe it was his imagination but its claws seemed to grow. It stepped down off the German's bed and Farfarello pulled him backwards from it again. Schuldich needed no encouragement and followed the Nightmare's retreat without resistance.

    He could see the muscles tensing up and wondered how in the hell they were supposed to get away from it. It was so big; even if they were to dodge and run, its size made it almost impossible for them to get away. He knew this, but he prepared himself to bolt anyways.

    Then Farfarello took a deep, deliberate breath.

    The monster suddenly realized Schuldich wasn't alone; its eyes popped towards Farfarello and Farfarello in return bared his teeth at the thing in a silent snarl of hatred. The room was twisting around them; Schuldich could see the walls pulling and he knew Farfarello was yanking at them with his power. The far side of the room stayed the same, but rocks started replacing the smooth walls around them. The beast didn't seem to notice the shift, instead deciding that two things to eat were better than one, and it bunched itself up again.

    Just as it leapt, Farfarello pulled Schuldich backwards. The German had been ready to leap off to one side when Farfarello gave him a sharp tug, and he realized that the floor was no longer underneath his feet. He gave a startled yell as they both went tumbling down the side of a small cliff that hadn't been there before. Farfarello twisted them mid-flight and they landed just twelve feet down in a light crouch. Staring up, Schuldich could see the ceiling of their bedroom far above them. He also saw the monster as it leapt over the ledge.

    Farfarello was already moving, shoving at Schuldich, and the German looked where he was being pushed to see a crack in the rocks. It was taller than he was but it was small- too small, he thought. But what choice did he have? He heard claws scratching against stone as the beast turned to face them again and he moved quickly forwards, sliding sideways through the stone.

    Much too narrow; he thought he might get stuck. The walls were all around him and he had to exhale completely. He felt Farfarello's shoulder brush his and he forced himself to keep going, because Farfarello was on the outside and still too close to the entrance. The thing was too big to follow but it could still get a hand in here, and his mind could easily conjure up what such claws could do to a human's flesh. So he struggled on. It was slow progress, too slow. Fingers grabbed at the stone and he had to literally pull himself along. The crevice got tighter. He wasn't a claustrophobic person by nature but he could feel the threads of panic eating at him as he was crushed between the two walls. It was almost impossible to breathe; he could manage faint, quick breaths that did nothing for him, and he was starting to feel dizzy.

    There was a snarl and the sound of something meaty hitting the rocks. He heard Farfarello snarl in return, a hateful sound. He could smell blood; they hadn't moved far enough yet. That thing had gotten a hit in on his teammate. He forced away the panic, forced away the black sparkles that danced in front of his vision, and suddenly the walls started widening. He stumbled through them, reaching back to grab Farfarello's arm and drag him as well. The Irishman stumbled into him and Schuldich looked back the way they'd come, shuddering at the thought of what that had been like and hoping there was another way out. Then he looked his teammate over to see where the thing had caught him.

    His leg- there was a chunk of flesh torn free. It had managed to get him all the way to the bone on one shin, and the flesh hung off his leg. Schuldich's stomach lurched at the sight. Farfarello reached down, fingering the mess absently before planting his hand against it and shoving it back into place. He sent one last venomous look towards the entrance and then turned to Schuldich.

    "It can hear you breathing," he informed the German, completely unconcerned that his leg was in shreds.

    "So I noticed," Schuldich answered, "but some of us need to breathe to survive." He pointed at Farfarello's leg. "That needs to get fixed."

    "It'll be healed by morning," was the Nightmare's careless response. He looked around the little chamber they were in and finally seated himself with his back against the wall. After a moment Schuldich joined him, sliding down the cool stone to sit beside him.

    "Now what?" the German wanted to know.

    "Now we wait," was the easy answer.

    And so they waited. For an hour the monster kept up its struggle to get in, claws scrabbling uselessly at stone. Schuldich was sure that Farfarello would bleed to death in the wait but as he watched Farfarello's leg pulled itself back together and healed. After thirty minutes, the blood had even faded from his clothes. All that was left was a light scar. Finally, after an hour of sitting there side by side, they heard it lumbering away. Farfarello tilted his head to one side, listening with his gift as well as his ears. When he was satisfied that it had moved on to easier hunting grounds, the scenery shifted around them. Schuldich looked around; they were sitting in the bathroom.

    He pushed himself to his feet and Farfarello followed. As he turned to face Farfarello he saw a flicker of black and red across the mirror, and whatever he'd been about to say to the Irishman died on his tongue. Farfarello caught the change in his expression and looked towards the mirror, but it was already gone by them. He considered it for a few moments and then looked back at Schuldich. The German just shook his head and beckoned for him to follow. He flicked the bedroom light on as he entered the room and made himself comfortable on the edge of Farfarello's bed. His lover settled down to his side, and they sat in silence together.

    Neither of them went to sleep that night.



    The German cracked open his eyes at the sound of his youngest teammate's voice, sliding his gaze that direction. Nagi was sitting just a foot away from them, a book in his lap. His dark blue eyes were on Schuldich, and there was concern in his eyes. Schuldich realized then that he'd fallen asleep while the other assassin was talking to him, using the Talent's voice to slip away. He rubbed at his eyes and pushed himself up, propping himself against the headboard of his bed. Farfarello came by at that moment and offered him a glass of juice. After a moment- and at Schuldich's pointed look- the Irishman offered the second glass to Nagi. The telekinetic, of course, didn't want anything that Farfarello had had a hand in. He looked a little surprised at the gesture but shook his head just the same, and Farfarello was content to retreat to his own bed with his drink.

    "Are you getting sick?" Nagi wanted to know. "You look tired."

    Schuldich waved that off with his hand. "No, just didn't sleep last night."

    Nagi looked distinctively uncomfortable; dark eyes flicked towards Farfarello. "Oh," he said.

    If the youngest Schwarz didn't look so uneasy about it, Schuldich would have been amused to let him keep assuming what he was. Instead he grinned, reaching out to steal Nagi's book from him. "Just a bad dream, that's all," he informed the Japanese youth. His eyes skimmed the page, checking to see where they were. Nagi hadn't been anywhere near this when he'd fallen asleep; the boy must have been too focused on what he was reading to realize that his teammate had passed out beside him. He flipped back a couple pages and found his spot not too far behind.

    "Oh," Nagi said again, but there was less of an edge to it. The boy peered up at Schuldich's face, curious. "Do you have bad dreams a lot?" he wanted to know.

    "I'm starting to think they come with the job," was the German's dry response, and Farfarello sent him a bland look.

    Schuldich skimmed through the pages he'd missed and handed Nagi the book back. His youngest teammate, now just a few months shy of being twelve years old, accepted it and found his spot again. Schuldich sipped at his drink as Nagi started reading once more. Schuldich randomly made the youth read out loud, as it was a different sort of exercise than reading silently to oneself. The first time he'd made Nagi do it, the boy's voice had faltered often. He was better now, and only slowed when he got to words he didn't understand. Schuldich had been slowly giving him more difficult texts to work through, and he listened now as the other read to judge his progress.

    It was almost the end of September now. In just seven months they would be back at Rosenkreuz, and Nagi would be inducted as a student for a short while then. Schuldich was determined to have Nagi ready. He couldn't teach the boy the particulars of his gift, but he could at least advance the Japanese youth enough that he wouldn't have to be stuck in any of the normal education classes. A small frown pulled at his lips. He didn't like the idea of turning Nagi over to Rosenkreuz's teachers. When they'd first taken the telekinetic in he'd suggested shipping the quiet boy back to Austria. Crawford's response was that Rosenkreuz would be more distracted by him being both a Japanese and a Talent to train him properly. Schuldich doubted that two years would make a difference, and he didn't like what he could see coming for his teammate. The only good thing that could come out of it was that it would finally get Nagi and Farfarello away from each other- not that they were handing the boy off to something better.

    Nagi finally finished the chapter and closed the book, setting it aside to turn to Schuldich. The German gave a nod of approval and dug his CD player out from under his pillow. Nagi floated the small speaker set to him and he plugged them in, popping open the lid to see what CD was still inside.

    "'I am the eagle, I live in high country, in rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky'…" he murmured, pushing the lid back closed.

    Nagi arched an eyebrow at him. "What?" he asked.

    "Some piece of shit song I heard when Nacht was in America," Schuldich responded, flipping through the songs to find one he wanted. "Just got randomly stuck in my head…'And I am the hawk, and there's blood on my feathers; the time is still turning- they soon will be dry'."

    Nagi's interest was piqued- not by the lyrics Schuldich had randomly quoted but by the German's reference to his former unit. Schuldich didn't talk about Nacht often, not because he didn't want to but because there wasn't much of a point. Nacht was the past and Schwarz was the present, and with these recent events he wasn't entirely sure what his future was going to be. He finally let the music play, letting guitars wail a tune out into the room. Nagi considered Schuldich for a long moment.

    "Did you like Nacht better?" he wanted to know.

    "Ch'," Schuldich answered. "Life was definitely simpler back then." He sighed, lacing his fingers behind his head, and considered Nagi's question for a few moments. Did he like Nacht better? Before Farfarello, before Nagi, before everything he knew and believed in started to fly down the drain? A wry smile pulled at his lips and he turned his blue eyes on Nagi. The boy's expression was patient and he was trying to keep his thoughts quiet, but his emotions were still there for Schuldich to read. The boy was afraid Schuldich liked his past unit better, that he wished he'd never run across such a ragged little child on a street. "Nacht was doomed to end," he said at last. "And Schwarz…" He gave a small shrug. "Schwarz is going to last. It's made up of people that can work together for years, because the ties are a bit more complicated than what Nacht had."

    "That doesn't really answer the question," Farfarello pointed out.

    "What's it matter?" Schuldich wanted to know. "In a couple of years I'll forget there ever was a Rosenkreuz, and Nacht will be soon to follow. I won't have anything to base a comparison off of."

    "Will you forget about me one day?" Nagi inquired.

    "One can only hope," was the German's breezy answer, and he lifted a foot to push the child over. Nagi looked like he was going to get back up from where Schuldich had knocked him over on the mattress, but then Schuldich turned and flopped onto his back. He let his shoes rest on the headboard and set his laced fingers on his stomach, stretched out enough on the bed that his head was by Nagi's stomach. "Now shut up- I want to hear my music."

    Nagi fell silent obediently, but before the song had ended he'd shifted, turning so his head could rest on Schuldich's shoulder and his legs dangled off the side of the bed. Schuldich hesitated as the child made himself comfortable, wondering if he should tell Nagi to get off. Rosenkreuz was going to eat this child alive unless he could get the boy's empathic shields stronger. He wondered if they'd be able to change him in the time they had him, wondered how long 'a short time' was going to be. He could feel Farfarello's eye on them, studying the way they were laying with a confused sort of curiosity. He didn't understand their relationship; he never would.

    "I'm not going to like Rosenkreuz, am I?" Nagi asked several minutes later, his thoughts running parallel lines to Schuldich's own.

    "No," Schuldich answered, because it made more sense to be truthful to him than to lie. "Not at all. But while we're there, I'll take you on a field trip. You can come see…" Fuck, what had her name been? "Evelyn," he remembered suddenly. And that ugly little thing that was supposed to pass for a human child; he couldn't remember what the hell the woman had called it but he knew it was a retarded name. "Hell, I'll take both of you. It'll be grand fun."

    "Who's Evelyn?" Nagi wanted to know, and Farfarello tilted his head to one side in question as they both waited for the answer.

    Schuldich grinned. "My wife."

    Nagi sprang up so fast he fell off the bed. The looks on his teammates' faces were priceless, and Schuldich laughed himself sick at the sight. They were both staring at him, Farfarello from where he'd pushed himself upright and Nagi, staring over the mattress from his spot on the floor. It was a long time before Schuldich could stop laughing and catch his breath back to explain.


    The months passed swiftly between September and December, a sudden flurry of work. Schuldich's sleep schedule had permanently changed sometime towards the end of October. He tried going to bed at a usual time each night, but once or twice a week he was woken up by either something bothering him or the sound of Farfarello messing around with something. As November wore on he started staying up later, reading during the night instead of during the afternoon. If Crawford needed them the next day, he'd go to sleep some time between three and four and wake up early, and take a nap in the afternoon before working on Nagi's mental shields. When Schwarz wasn't required, he'd sleep himself out in preparation for another long night. He tried to get Farfarello to read with him and Nagi but the Irishman wasn't overly interested in doing so. It took until December for Schuldich to realize why exactly he always shoved away Schuldich's books with impatience- almost two and a half years after Farfarello had become an official member of Schwarz.

    Schuldich was getting to an interesting part in his book, but it was half past three and he was tired. Schwarz had been busy today and he'd missed his nap. He lifted a hand from the cover of the book to scrub at his eyes, yawning loudly. He didn't want to put it down now, but it was getting hard to focus on the words. Looking up, he studied his lover where he was stretched out on the bed. The Irishman was sprawled out on his stomach, watching Schuldich as the German read silently. Idly he wondered how long he'd been under such scrutiny.

    "Read for me," he said, holding the book out in offering. Farfarello arched an eyebrow at him and Schuldich explained. "My eyes are tired but I don't want to stop right now. You're not doing anything important. Read it for me."

    "I can't," Farfarello answered, shaking his head.

    Schuldich pushed himself away from the headboard, settling his book on the blankets in front of his lover. He crawled down the bed and turned, lowering himself to the sheets so that he was stretched out beside the Irishman. He bent one arm in front of him, resting his temple on it, and studied Farfarello's face. He'd made sure to lay on the teenager's good side, and returned Farfarello's look easily. "You mean you won't."

    "I mean I can't," Farfarello corrected him.

    "It's in English," Schuldich pointed out, reaching up with his free hand to poke at the page. Languages were a complicated mess around the Schwarz household, as no conversation including all four members was spoken in just one language. Farfarello switched between English and Irish, the first when he didn't care who understood him and the second when what he had to say was for Schuldich's ears alone. He had picked up a decent bit of other languages, including German and Japanese, both from listening to his other teammates and from his mental brushes with Schuldich. When Nacht had existed, Schuldich and Crawford had conversed in German only. After Farfarello had been added, it was necessary to use English, though they randomly switched back and forth. Nagi had been taught both languages- rather, Schuldich had implanted them in his mind- but he also spoke Japanese because it was his native language and the oldest two of Schwarz would understand him when he did. When Farfarello was in the room the boy was forced to switch to English, unless he honestly didn't care if the other could understand him.

    "That doesn't matter," Farfarello returned calmly. "I can't read."

    That woke Schuldich up, and he lifted his head from where it rested on his arm. "You can't?" he asked.

    Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug, not bothered at all by his illiteracy. "They," and Schuldich absently wondered why Farfarello always referred to his family as 'they', "died when I was six. I bounced between other houses after that, and ended up at the ward. I didn't have time for an education."

    "But you've read before," Schuldich protested. "You memorized the Bible…"

    Farfarello shook his head. "She read it to me," he told Schuldich, idly flipping through the pages of the novel his lover had set before him. His voice was quiet as he remembered. "She read it to me, over and over, until I learned it. She was so proud. She was so sure it would save me, but in the end I'd memorized a book of lies, and nothing that she so fiercely believed in was enough to save any of us. I kept them from killing her. Of all of them, I saved her." A humorless smile pulled at his lips. "But I saved her life only, and she lost her mind to madness."

    Schuldich considered him in silence for several moments, wondering what to say to that. Farfarello looked towards him, one hand lifting from the mattress to cup the German's cheek in its palm. "'I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.'" Farfarello fell silent again, thinking. "They should be your words, not His. You've done more than He ever did. What a liar our God is," he murmured.

    "Perhaps you should have been a Pagan, then," Schuldich suggested lightly.

    "And have more than one God to betray me?" was the sour inquiry.

    Schuldich studied his lover a moment longer and pulled his book over, settling it in front of him and flipping back to the beginning. "Fine then," he said, his weariness forgotten. "I'll read."

    And he did, and Farfarello listened, and they fell asleep some time around seven with Schuldich's head on his book and Farfarello's head beside his hand.


    New Year's Eve, and Schwarz had a job. Schuldich sprawled across the couch in their client's den, eyes on the television set across the room. It was set to a station broadcasting the nation's festivities, and he watched in idle interest. Crawford and Farfarello ignored the television, whereas Nagi watched it because he had nothing better to do. He didn't really care for the celebrations, finding them to be a bit pointless. Schuldich only watched because he had nothing better to do. Their client was presiding over the celebration that was going to take place over the river behind this building, and Schwarz had been asked to be in attendance. Schuldich didn't really see the point but he didn't really care, so he'd kept his comments to himself when Crawford told them of the job.

    The employees for this company had been arriving for an hour, bringing blankets to sit on for the grassy slope behind the building. In just an hour their client would head out to give his speech and well wishes, and Schwarz would be summoned at that time to accompany him. Like some of their other clients, this man wasn't a bloody handed businessman. He wasn't an angel but he wasn't the usual scum, somewhere in the middle as a normal person. He had fallen under Rosenkreuz's discreet eye simply because of his position and his money. It made working for him extremely boring, because there was no one to kill and he didn't have an interesting mind to play with.

    He did, he was reminded rather painfully a moment later, have kids, and they were a handful in themselves. Schwarz wasn't allowed to hurt them, otherwise Schuldich would have chucked one of them off the balcony the first time they yanked on his hair.

    He was dragged from his idle attention on the television when he felt their minds touch his, and he swore, pushing himself up from the couch. There was the hope that he could get out on the balcony before they got to this room, but he somehow doubted it. For Talentless little suckers, they moved fast. Nagi glanced his way, curious, and then turned his head towards the door when it was pushed open. Schuldich thought he saw a small, helpless smile curve the boy's lips and made a note to hurt him later for his amusement. He'd only gotten a few steps away from the couch when one of the monsters threw themselves at him, latching onto his leg with her arms and legs. The weight of her made him stumble, and he did a little stagger-hop thing as he tried not to fall over.

    The other two weren't far behind, and one of the others took hold of his other leg. He had no clue why the brats were so fascinated by him but these three weeks of working for their client had been a serious test of his self control. Their current boss was amused by his children's love for the orange-haired foreigner, and even though he told them that they should play nicely and respect their father's employees, he wasn't around at all times. These ugly little runts, on the other hand, were almost always underfoot.

    "Get off, you little cretins," he sent down at the twins, trying to shake his leg to dislodge them. The third child, the youngest, was standing in front of him, staring up at him with wide eyes. The twins just giggled and latched on tighter. Schuldich thought of his gun and entertained himself with the mental image of blowing a couple fingers off. That would teach them to leave him alone. Yes, it would, it would…

    For the record, Schuldich despised children.

    Finally the third held up her arms, face an anxious plea to be picked up. Schuldich sent her a scathing look. "Go the fuck away," he told her, but she didn't seem bothered at all by the hatred. Little fingers made grabbing motions and she made a whimpering sound in the back of her throat. Schuldich knew he was the center of attention of everyone in the room; his current situation was much more entertaining than fireworks. But not a single one of his teammates moved to help him, and he thought that after he blew the kids to pieces he could probably shoot one of them as well. He could feel Nagi's amusement, could feel the dry echoes of it from Farfarello as well.

    One of the kids bit him. It didn't hurt, not when they were so young and when they were biting through his pants legs, but just the thought that the kid was trying to gnaw his kneecap off had him shaking his leg again. "Bloody little monsters, if we weren't working for your father I'd have Farfarello tear you limb from limb. Get the hell off!" But they wouldn't be shaken free, so he leaned down, grabbing at one of the twins' arms to pry her free. That put him within grabbing range of the third, however, and she let out a gleeful little squeal and attached herself to his neck.

    "Mwah!" she cried, planting an overly wet kiss to one cheek. Nagi coughed behind him. Or rather, Schuldich chose to mentally label it as a cough, because if it was a laugh he was going to kill the boy.

    "Farfarello…" His tone was dangerous, all of his barely restrained violence leaking into the one word.

    The Irishman finally unfolded himself from his chair, moving towards them. He knelt in front of the four, reaching out to take the front girl's arms. "Let go," he told her, the words lilting out in Irish. The girl immediately loosened her arms around Schuldich's neck, turning to stare up at the Irishman instead. She didn't know what he had said to her but the way it had sounded fascinated her. Adults cringed away in fear from the white-haired assassin, but most children were too stupid to feel such an emotion. She considered Farfarello with the same wide-eyed curiosity she'd turned on him for the rest of their stay when she wasn't attempting to latch herself to Schuldich.

    His teammate picked her up, sliding his hands under her arms to easily lift her off the floor. Schuldich straightened, watching, wondering if perhaps asking for the Irishman to act instead of one of his other- saner- teammates was a bad call. But the girl giggled, thoroughly pleased by the lift, and latched herself onto Farfarello instead. Small legs went to either side of him and she laced her arms around his neck tight enough that Schuldich was sure it was cutting off some of the younger man's ability to breathe. The two that were still holding onto Schuldich forgot about the German, looking up at their younger sister.

    Farfarello, for his part, said nothing about the girl that had just attached herself to him like a leech. One arm went around her back so she didn't fall back to the ground. He made no move to pry her off, no move to strangle her or inflict any sort of harm on her. With his free hand he beckoned to the other two, and after a moment, they let go of Schuldich and got to their feet. Schuldich just watched, and he knew Nagi was gaping as well, at how easily the children responded. The Irishman ignored his lover's stare, moving over towards where Nagi was sitting, and leaned down to move the girl from his front to Nagi's lap. She was asleep, and didn't stir at the shift. The other two girls sat themselves down on either side of Nagi's chair, and within moments they were out as well. Farfarello turned away, his work done.

    "You used your gift on them?" Schuldich asked. "Farfarello, they're our clients…"

    Farfarello snagged Schuldich by his shirt on his way back to his chair, tugging the German with him until Schuldich settled himself on the arm of the recliner. "They're not screaming," he pointed out, flicking his fingers in their direction. "They're not holding onto you, either."

    Schuldich looked at the girls, at their peaceful faces, and back at Farfarello. "I don't seem to recall ever resting that well when your gift knocked me out," he said, arching an eyebrow at the younger assassin. "Pray tell why the brats get better treatment than I do."

    Farfarello just shook his head to show he didn't fully understand it, and Crawford spoke up from his chair. He didn't bother looking up from the newspaper he was holding, and his eyes kept moving along the rows of kanji without slowing. "It is almost impossible for your gifts to react in a positive way," he said, "due to the nature of your powers."

    "That doesn't explain how a Nightmare can put three children to such a peaceful sleep," Schuldich said, leaning against the back of the chair. He folded his arms loosely over his chest and frowned over at the American, wanting a better explanation. Farfarello was toying with Schuldich's shirt, expression smooth and almost indifferent, but the German knew he was listening as well. Nagi wasn't quite sure what to make of being saddled with a sleeping child but he abandoned the problem long enough to pay attention.

    "Just because Farfarello cannot dream for himself doesn't mean he can't dream for others," was Crawford's easy response. A confused quiet followed those words; Schuldich was frowning and he could make out a similar expression on Nagi's face. Crawford didn't have to look up to know they didn't understand, and he explained. "Farfarello is a Nightmare in that his soul is lost to darkness. Things that were, that are, that will be, that could be… The nightmares of a race, of a world and a culture. He sees all of them; they are an intricate part of who he is. The price for such a vision is the inability to dream for himself, which is why Nightmares are born with someone else to act as their Dream. It is their only lifeline to sanity." He turned the page of his newspaper. "That does not mean that he is oblivious to the better things that go on around him, though sometimes they are hard to see. He does not understand them the way others do, because of what he is. To use his gift on another like that, to force them into sleep, requires a forceful shove into a dreamscape. The reactions to it vary by person, though history says it is rare for a child to react to such a press by having nightmares. Most people who are touched in such a way don't dream at all, as they are too unbalanced by the feel of power and are pushed too deeply to have dreams. But you are a telepath. When he touches your mind to force you under, you read what is in his, and therefore you will never have a peaceful rest."

    Schuldich considered this for a long moment and then sent Farfarello a look. "You're one complicated mess, did you know that?"

    "I think I've been told before," came the answer. After a moment, his lover slanted a yellow gaze up at him. "Hypocrite."

    Schuldich affected not to hear him, turning his attention back on the television screen. Farfarello shifted slightly, pulling one leg back up onto the chair to slide a knife free from his boot. He idly picked at his nails with the small blade, watching the overhead light flash against the metal. Schuldich divided his attention between the screen and the monsters, making sure they weren't waking up anytime soon. Nagi had gotten over his initial uneasiness of having a five year old deposited in his lap and was playing idly with the girl's dark hair. If his fingers woke her up, Nagi would be the first to die.

    At length their client appeared in the doorway. His wife and his closest aids followed close on his heels. "I'm sorry about the wait," he offered, spotting his children quickly. A fond smile curved his lips and he moved towards them. He didn't seem to think it strange that all three were passed out so deeply, leaning over to gently pick up the youngest from Nagi's chair. The youngest didn't stir as he straightened and his wife crouched beside one of the twins, gently shaking her shoulder to rouse her. Schuldich glanced towards Farfarello, who was watching the girls with a hooded eye.

    "Keiko," the mother tried. "Keiko, wake up."

    There was just the smallest pulse of power and the three were instantly awake again, three pairs of eyes snapping open at the same time. The littlest almost fell out of her father's arms but he managed to steady her, laughing at her sudden rock to awareness. The twins picked themselves to their feet, looking around owlishly before they latched on to their mother's outstretched hands. Crawford stood and his team followed him to their feet, and the group left the lounge. There was idle chatter as they moved down the hall, talk about the weather and the fireworks and hopes for the new year. Schuldich found it unfortunate that he was stuck next to the client in the elevator, because the man turned his smile on the German.

    "Do you have a family, sir?"

    "Yes," Schuldich answered, turning a bland look on the other man. He was suddenly the center of attention in the elevator as the client and his companions turned interested looks on him. He saw Crawford glance his way, saw the man arch his brow slightly. He knew what Schuldich was about to say, and Schuldich swallowed a grin. "Rosenkreuz married me off to someone," he informed the man. "Met her on a circuit, slept with her because I was bored, and she got pregnant from it. So she was forced to drop her life in Ireland and come to Austria, where they handed her a certificate announcing her wed to me. She has two kids now, whose names I don't know and one of which I've never seen. I can remember her name on a good day, but I don't usually try. I'm not required to interact with her except to make sure that she is pregnant every time I'm back in Austria." He was well aware of the wide-eyed stares and the quick looks exchanged between the aides but he continued speaking, ignoring the way his client's smile had frozen on his face. "She will spend the holiday with the other ladies of her neighborhood, who are all in basically the same situation as she is. None of them will spend it with their husbands because Rosenkreuz has better things for them to be doing than doting on unwanted wives and children. That's why we're here instead, following your orders and guarding your families instead."

    There was a long silence.

    "Any other questions?" Schuldich asked.

    "Uh, no, actually."

    And they couldn't get off the elevator fast enough when it reached the first floor. Schwarz was the last to leave and Schuldich laced his fingers behind his head, looking over at his amused team. "Yes?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.

    "You're hopeless," Nagi said at last.

    Schuldich just grinned. "What a pity."

Part 18
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