Little Crawford-centric piece, really, trying to explain (in vague terms, all will one day be revealed, blah blah) his motivations, because he's the only character I haven't explored as much as I would have liked to, so far. Crawford/Schuldig stuff. R&R!

Alabaster Chambers

Grand go the years in the crescent above them
Worlds swoop their arcs and firmaments row
Diadems drop and Doges surrender
Soundless as dots on a disc of snow.

Crawford has always liked to read. The reason for this is twofold. One, he simply, truly enjoys the activity, the way it broadens his mind and feeds his knowledge: as if knowledge is a breathing creature, to be fed. Two, it is the only activity in which he can be surprised. The ending of a book, of any book, is sacred to him, and has been since he was very young. The most favorite times of his life are spent in quiet, a book in hand, his glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. Sometimes, Schuldig watches Crawford while Crawford reads, and Crawford lets him, though he isn't sure why. Enjoyment is, in essence, vulnerability.

It is a dark, cold night. Crawford killed a man earlier that day and he had rather sub-par Chinese food for dinner and he worked hard to finish early. Now, he has a book in his lap, is sitting in the living room, is reading. The book is a collection of short stories by Borges. He likes it very much. He is halfway through, and it is a very heavy book, a comfortable weight on his thighs.

Crawford turns the page, and becomes aware through the river of words that Nagi is in the room with him. Nagi had not been in the room with him before. Crawford separates the two parts of his mind - the one for reading and the one for dealing with the outside world - and says, "Do you want anything?" He does not look up from Borges because he does not want to disturb the flow. The flow is everything with Borges. The flow makes you remember the music because the words themselves, separately, are so distant and so distilled.

"I have a question," Nagi says, "actually. A couple of questions." Crawford wonders over the words if this means he's going to have to stop reading. When Nagi doesn't continue to speak Crawford realizes it does, and so he closes the book. He takes his glasses off, pinches the bridge of his nose right beneath the brow, between the eyes, and sets his glasses back. He cracks his thumb knuckles.

"All right," Crawford says, knowing he won't get to finish the story he is on that night, either. "Go ahead." Nagi sits on the arm of the armchair, toys with his sleeve. Crawford knows from the way he is sitting that it's going to be about Schuldig. It is always, always about Schuldig. Which, in a way, makes wry but perfect sense. Knowing it's going to be about Schuldig isn't any special gift, it's just guesswork, and understanding. "Well?"

"Well," Nagi says, "it's about Schuldig." Of course it's about Schuldig. "I was thinking a lot, today. After." After Nagi went on up to the apartment and Schuldig stayed in the car with Crawford and put his hand down Crawford's pants. Right. Crawford doesn't need to be a mind-reader like Schuldig to know that's what Nagi's thinking. And Nagi doesn't need to be a mind-reader like Schuldig to know that Crawford knows what he's thinking. So Nagi just doesn't say it, and he goes on. "And I don't know, why you do what you do to him." Crawford lifts a slim brow. There is no greater weapon than cool, amused indifference.

"Oh?" Crawford asks. He looks very intimidating. "And what, exactly, am I doing to him, then?" Nagi has fallen very still, which means he is no longer nervous, just serious and determined. Nagi has character. It's a fine bone-structure of character, beneath all the silence. And Nagi has strength. Schuldig, of all people, has taught Nagi strength, in stubbornness, in sheer determination. Crawford was right, in many ways, to let Nagi be Schuldig's in training. Not that it hasn't caused its problems. Because it's quite clear it's caused its problems.

"Well," Nagi says again, "he isn't happy." Crawford pieces together his response as he pieces together the meanings behind this. Schuldig isn't happy. Well, no, Schuldig is not happy. Schuldig can be happy, at times, but happiness is such a vague concept that being happy sometimes and simply being happy are two different things. Happiness, as most people define happiness, is such a pure concept, as well. Schuldig is not happy by standard definitions of happiness because he is not pure. Schuldig is not happy because Schuldig does not understand everything Crawford is trying to do, though he understands enough to understand he does not understand everything. Schuldig is not happy because Crawford has seen to it that happiness will not come to him until the time when it will last. Also, Nagi feels that Schuldig will be happy if Crawford will allow Nagi to help Schuldig to be happy. Also, Nagi is becoming hypersensitive.

"No," Crawford says. But Nagi knows he understands everything. Maybe more than Nagi himself does.

"I don't think it's right, what you do to him."

"What I do to him?"

"Yes. I mean, the way you treat him."

"The way I treat him?" Nagi thinks, and this is quite clear, that Schuldig is not happy because of Crawford. Perhaps, in his own and very uninformed way, Nagi is right. But Nagi knows half the story, and unfortunately, that half of the story is Schuldig's. "I would have thought you were smarter than this, Naoe," Crawford says. Crawford rarely says Nagi's name. When he does, he only says Naoe, and that somehow makes the situation very grave and very stern. Nagi frowns a little, at the corners of his mouth.

"The way you treat him," Nagi says again, firmer. "What's that supposed to mean?" Crawford thinks maybe Schuldig would find this very touching. He is sure Nagi would never want Schuldig to know. The import of the situation that has developed is now becoming very clear to Crawford, very clear. Crawford rubs the bridge of his nose with his forefinger, and wonders which angle to approach all of this with. There are two very tangible options. One is the truth. The other is an offensive defense, which will keep Nagi successfully at bay, but will perhaps solve nothing. Crawford sighs.

"You have, apparently, been listening to Schuldig far too much for your own good," Crawford says.

"Well?" Nagi demands.

"You know nothing about it," Crawford says, easy as steel. "Don't pretend to know anything about it."

"I know what I see," Nagi says. It's the first time Nagi has ever confronted Crawford before. It's disconcerting, but amusing, nonetheless. Crawford is slightly proud of the boy.

"What you see is hardly evidence," Crawford says patiently, "nor is it the basis for any sound argument. You know this. You should know this, by now." Nagi looks away. "Though it may be rather cruel of me to say this, you know nothing about Schuldig," Crawford continues, "nor do you know anything about me."

"Schuldig doesn't know anything about you either," Nagi says quickly. "He doesn't like that."

"Schuldig likes to dislike a lot of things," Crawford points out carefully. "He likes to dislike me."

"Not really," Nagi says. "He doesn't really. He-"

"Don't," Crawford warns him.

"But it's true."

"He doesn't know that," Crawford states simply. "It's better if he doesn't." Nagi's eyes grow dark, shielded. "You've been listening to him too much," Crawford repeats, "don't pretend to know anything about the situation."

"Well maybe if you told me-"

"I can't." Crawford cuts him off easily, and Nagi's hands tighten into fists.

"Jesus," Nagi says, "why not?" Crawford looks him in the eye and the room, every particle of life in the room becomes real quiet. Nagi senses the intensity in Crawford's expression, senses the sudden seriousness in his posture. Everything goes quiet because suddenly, Nagi isn't sure what he's gotten himself into. Even the air stops moving. Even the heater goes off, and that's something. It feels a little colder in the room without the air circulating, without blood even pumping. It's just so still. Nagi doesn't even shiver, it's just so still. He'll shiver later.

"They figured it out," Crawford says, "Estet did. The secret to life - no, the secret to cheating life. And, more importantly, they discovered the secret to cheating death. A very long time ago, they discovered it. And we are going to steal it from them." He moves. He defies the silence in the room, the sudden chill. He defies the stillness. He lifts his hand, nudges his glasses up his nose with his forefinger. "Everything I have done since Rosenkreuz has been towards this end," Crawford continues. He looks smug, and certain. "Everything I have done since-finding Schuldig has been towards this end for Schuldig's sake. Not for Farfarello's, not for yours, and not for mine, though I suppose my presence is necessary, if I am to keep Schuldig in line. He needs someone to keep him in line. He has always needed someone to keep him in line." Crawford's lips quirk at the edges. He goes on. "Happiness, I believe, is something he will come to. He will have it when it means something. He will have it when it will last." Crawford opens up his book. "Do not assume you know anything, Naoe," he says, as he finds his place and begins to read again, "especially not when Schuldig himself does not know anything."

"Why the secrecy, then?" Nagi asks. He does not sound, perhaps, so angry, anymore. The situation was close to something unforeseen, for a while. Now, it is not.

"It's necessary." Crawford shifts. The movement might be a shrug. Nagi can't tell.

"All right," Nagi says. He's chastened, and thoughtful, and still upset, though the latter has turned inwards.

"I'd been reading," Crawford says.

"Right," Nagi says. He stands. He pauses to say something, and then doesn't, just turns, and leaves the room. Crawford supposes it's for the best that Nagi knows. Maybe Nagi, unlike Schuldig will be smart enough not to fuck things up. Nagi is not emotional in the same way Schuldig is. Crawford is confident enough: wary, but confident.

He goes back to Borges.

A little while later Schuldig comes in and sprawls himself out on the couch, knowing Crawford won't look up. Schuldig watches him for a while, cat-eyed and fierce, and then shifts so he can rub Crawford's temples while Crawford reads.

"Hard day?" Schuldig asks.

"I suppose," Crawford says, over the top of his book.

"Yeah," Schuldig says, "it's been a fucking rough week." Crawford nods. When Schuldig buries his face in Crawford's neck and obscures his vision - like a cat, wanting attention only when it's a disturbance - Crawford still hasn't finished the story he's on. Crawford sighs and wonders what the hell he's gotten himself into. What hell he's gotten himself into. But, "Jesus Christ," Schuldig says, "you're tense."

Well, it's going to be all right.