Part Twenty
June 1996

    The oldest three of Schwarz were sent to speak to the Cabinet at 7:30 the next day. Schuldich had been wondering all night what he could say to them that wouldn't tell them what he had seen in Farfarello's mind. He wasn't sure how they would react, but he knew he wouldn't like it. Just when he was starting to think of a way to get out of it- though truthfully it only had some vague chance of success- they were at the Cabinet's door and Crawford was turning to face him. His expression was calm, his golden brown eyes unreadable, and he treated Schuldich to a long look before finally offering up a warning.

    "Don't lie to them," he said simply. "You won't like the consequences if you do."

    "There are consequences for the truth as well," Schuldich returned.

    "There are consequences for everything in life," Crawford said. "Some of them are more tolerable than others. They will know that you are hiding something and they will get the truth out of you eventually. You might as well keep your blood where it is and your shields how they are and just tell them."

    With that, he turned back to the door. After just a moment, it swung open for them and the precognitive stepped through. Schuldich hesitated for just the barest of moments before uttering a soft curse under his breath and following. ~Whose side are you on?~ he thought resentfully, keeping his eyes fixed on Crawford's back as he trailed behind the older man into the Chambers. But he'd always known the answer. Crawford was on his own side, and no one else's. The doors shut behind Farfarello and they formed a short line in front of the raised seats of the Cabinet. Farfarello wasn't interested in the three they'd come to see. His yellow gaze was on Schuldich as he wondered over that short conversation that had taken place outside. Schuldich didn't look at him, directing his eyes towards the seats in front of him.

    They hadn't changed. They never changed. It had been almost three years since he'd last seen them, but the three were lost in the illusion of never aging, frozen somewhere in their mid-thirties. They never looked any older when he visited them, just another permanent fixture to the equally frozen school.

    "Schuldich." The Second, Amalthia, leaned forward to peer at him. "My, how you've grown."

    He found it vaguely amusing that what Harriet had called falling was considered growing by the Cabinet. They were both talking about the same thing, the shattering of his shields and power. She did not want a response so he gave her none, standing still and silent as the Three studied him and his teammate. Their gazes lingered longest on Farfarello, as Schuldich was forever going to be secondary in their eyes beside this power they craved to own and control. Farfarello glanced their way at the shift of attention but he wasn't interested in them. He had no reason to fear them, no reason to feel impressed. For all that they wanted to own him, they had never laid down the beginning lines of control with him. Schuldich had a feeling it was because they knew they'd fail. But he kept this to himself, his expression smooth, as Farfarello turned towards him. The Nightmare didn't want to be here because Schuldich didn't want to be here, and pale fingers toyed with long orange hair.

    "We've been updated on your progress with this assignment," the First said, "but perhaps you'd like to summarize it in your own words."

    "Besides becoming familiar with many of the landscapes of his power and meeting several of their inhabitants, Sirs, I don't think I've made any progress." Which was the truth. What he didn't say was that he had a feeling he knew what they'd been missing all these years, the missing key that would push Farfarello over the ledge he was clinging to and into the depths of his power. Red eyes burned on the back of his eyelids, eyes that had danced across a mirror's surface, eyes that had decorated his lover's face when he was tucked in his power. Such a familiar cold smile, lost in black mists, but he'd never really been paying attention to realize it was the same.

    "Your mind is in pathetic shape," the Third commented.

    "Sir," Schuldich said, a simple word to agree with him. He felt no need to elaborate on it when they'd already been briefed by the medical ward and Zimmermann as to how his mind was doing. Just a blow away from insanity… The time he'd borrowed when Crawford had laid down the rules with Farfarello regarding Schuldich's shield had to be returned at some point. Time didn't last forever before it ran out, and Schuldich really didn't want to think about what would happen when that hit came.

    "Pray tell, what happened that almost killed you?"

    And there it was, the question he didn't want to answer. "I was in Farfarello's mind again," he said, "and I got hit by his power. I've only been inside his mind once before when that has happened, and it has always been a severe blast. The first time it removed my outer shields. Over time the shields have been weakening and I've lost a couple, so this latest hit cut through them easily."

    "Either way, it is a sign that his power is growing. It didn't just break your core shields, it went straight through them to the center of your power and mind. If the first blast did not affect you anywhere close to as strongly as this one did, then we can say age has helped his power improve." The Third sounded satisfied.

    Schuldich said nothing, waiting. The First was studying him thoughtfully. Farfarello was tugging at his fingers idly, listening to what was being said but not overly interested in it. Schuldich had told him it was just going to be a simple briefing. But the German was getting distracted by the way Farfarello was playing with him, so he twisted his hand and closed his fingers around Farfarello's to still them. The Irishman retaliated by leaning forward and biting Schuldich's shoulder. Schuldich decided the Cabinet would forgive him for turning away and pulled his eyes away from them to focus on Farfarello. "Oi," he said, pushing Farfarello's head back. Farfarello offered him a lazy smile and Schuldich, despite himself, felt his lips twitch in return.

    "Crawford's reports say you have been lovers for almost a year now," the First said, and Schuldich glanced back up at them. Amalthia was looking amused and the Third looked just this side of disgusted, whereas the First's eyes were calculating.

    "Yes, Sir," Schuldich answered.

    The First considered this and nodded. Schuldich wasn't sure what relevance it had to the conversation at hand, but it wasn't his place to question the Cabinet. 'Ours is not to question why, ours is just to do and die,' or however the hell that saying went.

    "Zimmermann included something in his report that I find curious," the First said, shuffling the papers that were sitting in front of him. He pulled one piece free and eyed it for a few moments, dark eyes studying the words. Schuldich struggled to remember what he'd said; most of that hospital stay was a blur, even after he'd regained consciousness. Once he finally started making huge progress in repairing his mind, the uncertainties and dizziness of the hospital stay faded to the background. He had a sinking feeling, however, that whatever he'd let slip was what was going to damn the both of them. "Perhaps you'd like to explain them to the Cabinet."

    He could feel Farfarello's eye on him; his lover had picked up on the sudden tension in Schuldich's body. "Sir?" he asked.

    "He asked you what happened in the Nightmare's mind, and your response was quoted as being 'I met Farfarello'. He did not press you for an explanation at the time because you were unwell, but you are back on your two feet and your shields are back in place. So perhaps you would like to explain that curious phrase to us."

    Silence fell in the Chamber as Schuldich stared up at them and the Three stared back. His mind did a quick scramble to find something to say, but even as he dug for an excuse he knew he'd lost. Crawford's warning rang in his thoughts. At last he took a deep breath, lowering his eyes from the First's desk and pointing his gaze off to the side. There was nothing he could say except the truth, and while he could hope that he was wrong… Either way, that hesitation was going to cost him. He could feel it. Over that, he could feel Farfarello's gaze on him, and out of the corner of his eye he could see the small frown of incomprehension on the Nightmare's face.

    "There's a being that exists in Farfarello's power," Schuldich said at last. "It's been around since the beginning of his power, a creatures of shadows and blood red eyes." Farfarello's fingers tightened on Schuldich's hand, not in protest of him saying such a thing but in reaction to the mention of that monster he hated. "Farfarello has had experience with it before. Shortly after he was first assigned to me, he tangled with it in his gift and he had to call out to me to get free of it. There is no way for him to fight it within his mind, and he would not survive it catching him. After our gifts began bleeding together, I began to catch a few glimpses of it outside of his mind. Before our departure from Nagasaki, we ran across it in his mind. It caught me."

    They considered this in silence for a few minutes before the Third leaned forward to eye the two of them. "What is it?" he wanted to know.

    Schuldich was sorely tempted to say he didn't know, but the First was already speaking. "If that is what you referred to as Farfarello when Zimmermann questioned you, I would expect you have a reason behind it."

    Fuck him and his thoughtless slip of the tongue anyway. Crawford shifted closer to him, just minutely, a subtle reinforcement of his warning. Schuldich took a deep breath before answering, turning his head so he could catch Farfarello's eye. They kept their gazes locked as Schuldich answered, and the German was able to watch his lover react to the words. "When Farfarello was a child, his power existed within his mind only. It haunted him in his dreams. When he was a few years old, that creature came to him, and from that day forward what he saw in his sleep started to bleed into his waking hours. When it caught me… I saw it. I saw through it. It is Farfarello's power, the embodiment of the Nightmare gift. It is Farfarello himself, the center of his being."

    ~And he is afraid of it,~ Schuldich added silently to himself, ~because at this time he loathes what he could become. His power has taken too much from him for him to want to take that next step.~

    Farfarello's expression had bled off of his face; his mouth was set in a thin line and his yellow eye was unreadable as he stared up at his lover. Schuldich wished that he'd had time to explain this to Farfarello before the man had to hear it here, within these Chambers with the Cabinet as an audience. And yet, he felt that perhaps Farfarello had always known, somewhere in the depths of his mind. Slowly Farfarello's fingers relaxed on his and he let his hands fall back to his side, and the new distance between their unconnected bodies felt much greater than it really was.

    The silence seemed endless as the Cabinet considered his words. He knew they were communicating mentally and there was nothing he could do but stand there and stare at Farfarello's closed off expression. Three years ago Farfarello had been assigned to him because Schuldich was Farfarello's Dream, the only good thing he would ever be able to call his own. His orders had been to find out what was keeping Farfarello's gift locked down and after three years he'd figured out what the younger man needed in order to become a full Nightmare. If he was right, then that thing, those shadows that had started everything, would be what brought it full circle. It had merely been waiting until Farfarello was strong enough for the final evolution. It had come to him two and a half years ago to try.

    And Schuldich had stood in the way. He hadn't known what he was saving Farfarello from but Farfarello had called him and he'd gotten in the way, freeing Farfarello from its grip. Ever since it had been circling, watching and waiting. Farfarello didn't want to be caught by it; he knew that its embrace would destroy him. So Schuldich did what he was supposed to do as Farfarello's Dream, and he stood in the way and saved him. He'd done it again just a few months ago, standing between the power and his lover and taking the touch that was meant for the Irishman. It had almost destroyed him, but the terror that had been in Farfarello's gaze when the thing had appeared was enough for him. It was what he had been born to do, the role he had been born to play… To stand here and be Farfarello's lifeline to sanity, in his life and in his gift.

    He understood it at last, he thought- what it meant to be a Dream.

    And he knew, just as clearly, that the Cabinet was about to break the rules of the Talents in their greed and their misunderstanding of how things were supposed to work. The other Dreams had died within a year, completely destroyed by a Nightmare that couldn't be restrained. He and Farfarello worked. Crawford had laid down the rules that had helped them get so far, and Schuldich's strong power and shields had ensured he would make it. He'd survived just long enough to figure out who he was and what he was, and know that he knew, his time was running out.

    And he realized that knowing didn't mean anything, because now that the Cabinet knew, he was going to fail Farfarello.

    ~Guess you shouldn't have trusted me,~ he thought, and his mental voice was bitter.

    The Cabinet didn't bother going over what they'd decided mentally. They knew the three standing in front of them already understood. The First didn't waste time with speeches; the gleam in his eyes told Schuldich that he was very pleased by this turn of events. Crawford had told them to wait. Schuldich sourly wondered if he'd told them to wait three years. "It did not get what it was coming for last time, then," the First said, pointing at Schuldich. "It touched you when it wanted him. Is there anyway that you can predict when it will next make an appearance?"

    "It has been coming around for months," was Schuldich's answer. "Waiting."

    "Good. Very good. We are very pleased." The First leaned back in his chair, his mouth pulling in a wide smile. "We can assume that it will keep coming, then. You will stay out of his mind from now on." He flicked his fingers in a careless gesture, giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed. "Your presence there was required by us three years ago but in retrospect you have been nothing but a hindrance. Stay out and let it approach him. We want to see what happens in the aftermath of a Nightmare's embrace."

    Farfarello's expression didn't change, but what ripped across Schuldich's gifts almost made him wince. "He doesn't want it," Schuldich said, turning away from his lover to face the Three. It wasn't his place to speak and he knew it, but he couldn't keep silent. "The Talent is hard enough for him to handle when it's within his own mind. There's no saying what kind of control he will have over it when it's pushed into reality, and what the Cabinet is so eager to have could not only destroy him but a great number of people. Sirs."

    He didn't feel the hit. He just found himself crumpled by the base of the doors, struggling for breath, his entire body a mass of pain. He felt a sharp ripple of Farfarello's power, but the Cabinet's shields were like Crawford's and his fury couldn't hurt them. Farfarello didn't waste time trying again but was at Schuldich's side just a breath later. The German tried to get up but couldn't, and Farfarello watched the aborted movement before moving his hands over his lover, searching for broken bones.

    "What he wants has never been our concern," the First reminded Schuldich, "and it will do you good to remember that. You have been away from here for two and a half years; you forget your place here. You will do as you are told. We expect progress. Schwarz will not leave Rosenkreuz until we have what we want. We have waited long enough."

    Schuldich finally managed to get air back in his lungs. Farfarello was satisfied that nothing was broken and helped him upright. He could hear Crawford's voice, calm as always, as he assured the Cabinet that their orders would be obeyed. The words were just a mumble to Schuldich over the ringing in his ears. He was only aware of Farfarello's face close to his, of the grim set to the Irishman's mouth. He let Farfarello pull him to his feet, stumbling once and reaching out to his lover for balance. After a few moments the world stopped spinning, and he noted that Crawford had moved over towards them. The doors opened for them and he straightened, taking hold of Farfarello's wrist and following Crawford out. He didn't look back.

    The doors closed loudly behind them, a slam that sounded very final.

    Classes had just gotten out. The halls were full of students, but they quickly cleared a path for the three. They were one of the field teams, and they had just returned from the Chambers. If that wasn't enough incentive, the murderous look on Schuldich's face told them to get the fuck out of the way.

    They had just turned the hall when he heard Nagi's mind, and he came to a stop. Crawford stopped as well, and Farfarello came to rest beside Schuldich. The students glanced at each other a bit warily as Schuldich's attention shifted to his right, his gaze sweeping over the crowd as he searched for his teammate. The boy was a decent distance back, not yet to where the traffic had congested. He didn't know that his team was there; he was too busy with three other students. The patches on their shoulder declared their grade. They were all older than Nagi. Classmates, maybe. He couldn't hear what was being said over the rest of the noise in the hall, but he could see the crackle of power between them.

    Seeing his youngest teammate be harassed by jealous classmates was the last thing it took.

    His power exploded out from him. The crowd to his right, between his team and Nagi, flinched back as one. Those whose shields were pathetic fell back; others went staggering back several steps. His gift slammed into the telekinetics full force and they collapsed, unconscious. The hall went dead silent. Nagi just stared at their fallen forms for a moment before turning surprised eyes back the way the power had come. Schuldich lifted his hand and jabbed his finger down in a silent order for Nagi to approach him, and the crowd made way for the telekinetic. It had been two months; everyone knew by now who Nagi was. Everyone knew he was a field assassin. Today the ignorant ones figured out which team he belonged to.

    Schuldich hadn't been a student in years, but everyone still knew who he was. His last stay in Rosenkreuz had helped keep his reputation alive, and even in his absence there were whispers in the hall of an orange haired telempath whom the telepath teachers loved, a youth who had gotten away with things no one else should have. There were embellishments on his stories. He'd heard most of them before, the stories that turned him into some walking nightmare with an almost demonic control of his power. The students loved a good rumor.

    Nagi finally reached them. "We're going," Schuldich said simply. It was a wonder he could sound so calm when he was so angry.

    "I have afternoon classes," Nagi answered, not that he cared about them.

    Schuldich gestured around. "Classmates?" Nagi glanced around until he spotted someone that was in his class, and Schuldich looked towards him when Nagi pointed him out. The boy took an unconscious step back as cold blue eyes settled on him. "He's not going to be there," he told the younger Talent, "and you're going to tell his instructor that I'm the one that pulled him. If the message doesn't get there, I'll find you again." He waited just long enough for the boy to nod and turned back the way they were heading. Crawford was already moving, knowing the conversation was done, and the younger three of Schwarz followed.

    Silence reigned behind them.

    Nagi didn't speak until they were back at the west wing. "Schuldich, what's wrong?" he asked.

    Schuldich just shook his head, a tight gesture. Crawford elaborated. "We are back from the Chambers," he said simply. Nagi looked at him and then back towards Schuldich, dark eyes concerned. Nagi had been introduced to the Cabinet sometime when Schuldich was unconscious, a formal meeting upon his first arrival to Rosenkreuz. Apparently they'd made quite the impression, but he was struggling to figure out how the three had put Schuldich in such a black mood.

    Farfarello was watching him closely, not pleased at all with what the men had to say but a little leery of his lover's silent fury. Schuldich turned on him at the base of the stairs to the west wing, blue eyes locking with yellow. "Take him on a walk," Schuldich said, tilting his head towards the telekinetic. "Take him outside and walk around the grounds. I need to get out of this fucking place. I'll meet you there."

    There was no hesitation, just a slight nod. For once, Nagi didn't complain about being left alone with the Nightmare. He just followed the older man away.

    Schuldich managed to make it into the wing itself before he punched Crawford.

    The man had to have seen it coming years ago, but knowing it was coming didn't help him when faced with Schuldich's speed. He could beat Farfarello in a fight. Farfarello was fast, but so was Crawford, and the precognitive had his vision to help him. But Schuldich was a few steps shy of teleportation and it was that gift that guided his fist, and the feeling of his hand slamming into Crawford's face was deeply, deeply satisfying.

    He didn't stop to think that they had an audience, that there were two people in the halls. His empathy shuddered under their complete shock, both that Schuldich had taken a swing at Crawford and that it had landed, and he heard the excited mental yell as one of the two- a telepath- broadcasted a shout for a fight throughout the entire wing. On all of the floors, those Talents that were here would drop what they were doing and fly down the stairs to watch. Schuldich didn't care. He knew this in the back of his mind but he acknowledged it with an absent thought.

    He was yelling, but only dimly aware of the words, as he launched himself at Crawford. The fact that he was furious was the only reason Crawford could keep up after that first blow. He was too busy being angry, too locked in his emotions, to really focus on his often neglected gift. He'd never gone into a fight without control of himself. He'd been angry before, but he had a good control of his temper and he'd never lost it like this. Through the fury, through the deep resentment and a bitterness that cut him straight to the core, his empathy lashed about with the fascination and excitement of the growing crowd. Crawford's fist found his face but he barely felt it.

    Crawford had known all along that this was what the Cabinet was going to want. He'd known all along exactly what it would take to give them what they wanted. And he'd let Schuldich figure out for himself, let him wait and search for it on his own. Three years ago, Schuldich wouldn't have cared. For over a year he'd ached with the need to get the damn Nightmare off his hands. He'd had a chance; all he'd had to do was ignore Farfarello's first cry for help. If Crawford had told him about it, Schuldich would have known what was going on and he would have sat back and let it happen because he hated the younger man.

    But the hate had died long ago. He'd had three years to grow used to the man, three years of being embedded in that man's power, of his telempathy working to show him exactly who the man was. Years of giving up his hatred for understanding. Years with Nagi, that boy with his damnable innocence and his compassion, to make him forget what Rosenkreuz had taught him.

    Trust no one. Care for no one. Don't put another before yourself. The Cabinet comes first; your wants are second.

    Don't give a shit about anyone else, because the moment you put trust in their hands they'll use it as a knife to your back.

    Zimmermann's words, from his first year in Rosenkreuz, haunted his thoughts.

    He was Schuldich. He was the telepathic branch's finest student, their prized pupil. They hadn't seen another like him in years. He'd taken what they wanted him to learn and absorbed it, advancing three times through the ranks. He was everything they wanted in a student, save for his attitude problem. He didn't give a shit about anyone. He didn't care for anyone. He looked out for no one but himself. He'd terrorized the other students and had turned his gift on the world with a cold malice when he'd been released into the world, amusing himself at the expense of others' lives and sanities.

    He was Farfarello's Dream.

    And the two roles he had to play were very different.

    Once upon a time, he could have walked away.

    But that was once upon a time, and this was now.

    Because in the back of his thoughts he could see Farfarello turning to him, shaken from their close encounter with the shadows. That fear, that he trusted with Schuldich and no other. He could feel the Talent's shaking form, buried against him years ago. He could hear Farfarello's voice. "I trust you. I believe in you." Farfarello had to believe in Schuldich because Schuldich was all he had, and he had waited too long, stayed with the Nightmare too long, to be able to turn away from that. The Cabinet wanted him to break that trust, and Crawford expected him to do it. Crawford had been waiting for it for years.

    And he hadn't said anything years ago, when it would have been much easier to just walk away.

    Cold metal pressed against his throat, startling him from his thoughts. He was standing just a few feet away from Crawford, the barrel of the American's gun digging into his neck. He could taste blood, and he realized he was breathing with exertion. Crawford's breathing was a bit labored but he could control it better. His hair was ruffled from the fight and it was with a bit of hungry satisfaction that he took in the sight of Crawford's face. It was going to bruise.

    He was so furious he was nauseous, but he wasn't sure which one of them he was angrier at. Him, for getting too close, or Crawford, for letting him do it. In that moment he hated Crawford with every fiber of his being, and he stared into two calm honey brown eyes. Crawford's expression was as serene as it had always been. Untouchable. Fucking untouchable.

    "Tell me, Oracle," Schuldich said, voice twisted with hate. "How long has it been since you actually gave a shit about what your gift told you was going to happen?"

    The faintest edge of a smirk curved Crawford's lips. "Six years," came the answer. "Long enough."

    Schuldich spat blood off to the side and whirled around. "Fuck you," he snarled over his shoulder, and stormed towards the door. He pushed it open with both hands, let it slam into the railing of the stairs. He flew down the steps and outside, into the harsh sun and the air that always tasted dead on his tongue. He shot his power out, looking for his teammates, and they met up with him as he took quick strides towards the black cars Rosenkreuz had for their teams' usage. His teammates took in his appearance, took in the obvious signs of a fight, but said nothing until they were in the car. Farfarello took the passenger seat; Nagi took the back. Schuldich twisted the key almost violently in the ignition and his lover reached over to him, a thumb running over his split lip. It stung, but simple pain like that meant nothing now.

    "Who won?" he asked.

    "He won a long time ago," came Schuldich's answer. He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice. "What I want to know is what he gets for what's going to happen. It had better be one fucking huge chunk of the pie if he can sleep so easy at night."


    It was Nagi that knocked on the door, because Schuldich stopped to lean against the car and smoke. Evelyn answered after just a few moments and blinked, confused, when she saw who was standing on her doorstep. She didn't recognize him. The only boys his age that lived around here were the Talentless ones, but she'd had years to get to know all of the families. Schuldich ignored both of them for the moment, nursing his cigarette and ignoring the nasty taste mixed nicotine and blood left on his tongue. Farfarello was standing off to his side, watching the smoke drifting up from his cigarette. Schuldich could hear Nagi's voice but not what was being said.

    A few moments later, Evelyn stepped into his line of view. It had been years since they'd last seen each other but she didn't look older. He couldn't remember her age, anyway. Green eyes studied him, taking in his appearance, before sliding towards the man at his side. Farfarello's looks unsettled her. He, in turn, ignored her, too focused on Schuldich to care about the scrutiny. Nagi came up beside her and she looked around at the three, not really sure what was expected of her when so many people had showed up at her doorstep. She wasn't pleased at all to see her German husband again, but it wasn't like she could send him away.

    At last she said, "You have to put that out before you come inside."

    She spoke in Irish because she didn't really care if the strange people her husband had brought with her understood, so it was a small surprise for her when Farfarello reached out and took the cigarette from Schuldich's lips. The German telempath sent a scowl at his lover, but Farfarello was already grinding out the butt beneath his shoe, and his yellow eye turned on the woman. "You're Eveylen," he decided, speaking in Irish as well. Nagi was the only one who couldn't follow the language, but he didn't seem overly concerned that he couldn't understand.

    "I am," she answered, steeling her courage under that stare. Schuldich let his empathy touch her, felt what she'd matured into since the last time he'd seen her. Living here, in his absence and with so many other people in the same position she was in, had helped her. The hysterics and denial that had been here last time were gone. She didn't like this but she'd accepted it, and she'd even made friends. There were women here who'd been here longer than she had, and they'd helped her get settled in.

    Schuldich absently wondered if she knew which wife was Crawford's, thinking that he would love to get his hands on that woman's throat and then around the throats of the precognitive's several children.

    Not like Crawford would care if they died, and that would take all of the fun out of it.

    After a few moments, the four started towards the door. Evelyn let them pass her and waited until they were all inside before shutting the door and locking it once more. Schuldich headed to the kitchen and seated himself at the table there. Nagi murmured a thanks to Evelyn for letting them inside. He held little respect for the outside world, but this woman was Schuldich's wife and he wasn't quite sure how to react to that. Evelyn studied him for a few moments, and Schuldich could feel the pity in her mind that he was so young and already twisted into the life her German was. There was a little surprise, too, at the politeness. She seemed a little uncertain as to how to react to it, so in the end offered up drinks.

    "I have lemonade," she said, switching to English after a glance at the Japanese youth, and looked into her fridge. Schuldich made no move to answer, so Nagi just nodded, and she carried the pitcher to the table before bringing over four cups. There were four chairs at their table and after just a moment's hesitation, she sat herself down in the last one. Schuldich studied her across the table, green and blue judging each other. "Do I even have to ask why you're here?" she wanted to know.

    "Didn't come for you," Schuldich told her with a careless shrug. "This is the only place we're allowed to go off school grounds unless we're being sent on a job."

    She accepted this, looking around at the others. "Your companions?" she asked, waiting to be introduced.

    Schuldich flicked his fingers at them. "Nagi and Farfarello, telekinetic and Nightmare."

    Before she could ask anything else, there was a squeal and the quick pattering of footsteps. Just moments later two girls burst in the room. One couldn't be older than four, and the other was just a toddler. The younger was having serious trouble keeping up, chubby arms bobbing as it fought for balance with its awkward steps. The older girl came to a dead halt when she saw her mother had company, gaping at the three strangers sitting around the table. She hadn't seen an adult man in years, and she probably didn't remember the last time her father had shown up. The three Talents were strange to her, something foreign.

    She approached them carefully, forgetting all about her sister. Her sister gave up on balancing and plopped down to her rear on the ground. The older girl- whatever her name had been- came to a stop between her mother and Schuldich, staring up at the German with wide eyes. One hand made its way to her mouth, and she gnawed idly on a tiny index finger.

    "She's pretty," Nagi commented, leaning over to get a better look. He was fascinated by the idea of his older teammate having a family, and didn't share Schuldich's loathing for children. Curiosity was plain in his dark eyes and against Schuldich's empathy as he peered under the table to see her. Evelyn recognized that the compliment was genuine and smiled, pleased.

    "Her name is Fiona." Ah, so that's what it was. Now he remembered. It was a stupid name; he was glad he had forgotten. "The younger one is Keela."

    All eyes were on the little girl and her father. Schuldich knew Evelyn was waiting for him to react. She remembered well Schuldich's last meeting with the girl and his obvious disgust at having been saddled with a daughter. She wanted to go pick Keela up but she wasn't interested in putting that much distance between Fiona and Schuldich, so she waited warily.

    Finally Fiona drew her finger from her mouth and stabbed it at Schuldich, sounding almost triumphant. "Daddy," she declared.

    Schuldich just stared down at her through hooded eyelids for a long time. So the brat did remember him. Curious. Evelyn looked surprised as well, and then Schuldich was pushing his chair back from the table and rising to his feet. "Not for long," he informed the girl, beckoning to Farfarello. "We're going to talk," he said simply, and vanished out of the room. Farfarello followed close behind him, leaving the three girls and Nagi behind. Schuldich took him upstairs and pushed open the nearest door. It didn't matter that it was the bathroom. He just needed to not think for a while. He just wanted to not know what was going on, what the Cabinet demanded of him. In the background of his thoughts he could still hear Evelyn, could hear her wondering over what had happened. Her memory of him was sharp, was full of a condescending grace and scorn. He knew she'd asked Nagi when he heard the whispering answer slide across the boy's thoughts, a wistful, forlorn admission.

    ~He's going mad,~ Nagi's thoughts murmured, broken hearted at being forced to recognize and accept it.

    He didn't want to hear them. He didn't want to hear anyone. He just wanted to feel and forget. He turned to his lover and the younger man studied him for just a moment, taking in the expression on his face before shutting the door behind him and moving to meet him.

    Farfarello helped him forget.


    He was in a somewhat calmer mood when they returned to Rosenkreuz several hours later. He and Farfarello had stayed upstairs the entire visit. Nagi and Evelyn had been downstairs, chumming it up. When Schuldich finally led his lover back down the stairs, the two were in the den, a child in each lap as they nursed mugs of hot tea. Schuldich's entrance signaled that they were leaving, and Nagi carefully maneuvered the older child out of his lap. Evelyn rose from her cushion, cradling her youngest against her, and followed the three to the door. Schuldich didn't look back at her. She wasn't his concern anymore. They would never see each other again.

    The halls of the west wing were empty when they got back; the Talents were either in their rooms or in the dining hall upstairs. Crawford was cleaned up from the fight, though his cheek was already coloring from Schuldich's first blow. Schuldich stood in the doorway to the American's bedroom and waited, Farfarello and Nagi behind him. After a few moments the Oracle finished what he was working on and rose from his desk, moving towards the door. Schuldich didn't step back for him but merely turned so he could pass, and cool brown and icy blue met as the American stepped out. The trip to the dining hall was quiet, and no one said a word through dinner. The other teams gathered studied them with open curiosity and fascination, but none were stupid enough to provoke the team into a conversation.

    Dinner finished, they returned to their quarters.

    Nagi slept in Schuldich and Farfarello's room that night. Schuldich looked up from where he was changing to see the boy in the doorway, clutching his pillow against his chest tightly. The boy said nothing, merely stood there in a silent plea. Schuldich flicked his fingers towards the bed, where Farfarello already lay, and the boy moved towards it. Nagi stood beside the bed as he and the Nightmare regarded each other, reaffirming where they stood in relation to each other and to Schuldich. And then Farfarello scooted back, closer to the far edge of the bed, and Nagi climbed on.

    Schuldich closed the bedroom door and flicked off the light before joining them, settling down in the middle where they had left room for him. Farfarello slept against his back and Nagi curled up against his chest. It was a long time before Nagi fell asleep, and Schuldich and Farfarello lay awake as they watched the shadows move around them. He watched the shapes melt into view in the darkness, watched as a variety of creatures gathered around the bed to study him and his lover. They were content to stare, not bothering to step closer than two feet around the bed. One of the shadows wavered and a girl came into view in front of the rest, bolder than the others. Messy blond hair fell around her face to her shoulders, and one wing arched out of her back. It was bent awkwardly- broken. She was missing the skin on one shoulder and had no flesh on her legs, letting white bone glisten through. Her eyes had no color to them at all, just balls of white, and she was dressed in a thin white night gown. Blood covered her skin, trickling all over the place like spider webs.

    "I told you," she said, and Schuldich had the feeling she was talking to Farfarello. "I told you it would find him. You might as well give him to us now." She reached out, trailing her fingers over Schuldich's cheek. He was distantly surprised to note that her skin was warm. Blood ran down her palm and fingers, dripping onto his face. "You shouldn't fight so hard against the inevitable…"

    And then she twisted, morphing into black shadows, and they fell like a dark sheet across the bed.

    Schuldich started awake, gasping for breath. Nagi shifted slightly against his chest but didn't wake, and past him the clock on the nightstand read that it was three in the morning. He lifted one hand to his face, running it over his eyes. He took a deep breath and let it out. Just another damn nightmare…

    Except that when he brushed his hair out of his face, fingertips skimming across his cheek to tuck the locks behind his ears, his fingers came away with blood.

Part 21
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