The Art of Emergence
11:15 AM, Monday, 12
That's not the sound of his alarm clock. It's a soft voice, but urgent. The little Japanese hint to his own name, and young. It sounds so young, but only when Nagi's saying it.
He rolls over. He shoves his face into the pillow. If Nagi's not careful then he's going to smash him like he smashes the alarm clock. To shut up. To just shut up and let him sleep.
Schuldig, there's something you need to see.
Can it wait?
No. You need to see this. You'll want to see this.
He rolls over again, eyes open to the mid-morning light. He groans at it, curses softly. He closes his eyes again, squeezes them tight shut, and then squints up at his ceiling once more.
It had better be something, he snaps, pushing his hair out of his eyes as he sits.
It is, Nagi assures him. He looks pale and small but it could just be the light, or Schuldig's own reluctance to see anything.
1:14 AM, Monday, 12
If the duration of my absence is longer than you can handle on your own, I'll be getting rid of you upon my return. Feed yourself occasionally. Feed Farfarello more often than you feed yourself. Don't fuck Nagi.
Crawford folds the slip of paper where he knows Nagi will find it, straightens his tie, and leaves.
11:19 AM, Monday, 12
What the fuck does he think he's doing, going away and not telling us! Schuldig is angry. Schuldig's hands are white, trembling things, his wide lips tensed in a jaw-clenching line. Nagi watches him, utterly still. If he's anything more than still right now, the kitchen might explode. Crawford has never done this before. He goes away and Schuldig doesn't like it, but he gives Schuldig ample time to prepare. And Schuldig is never this mad. Leaving a fucking note. What the fuck does he think he's doing? Schuldig really wants to know the answer. Nagi can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Schuldig has ever asked a straight question. This, in all its infuriated childishness, is a straight question.
At least he left the note, Nagi says, into the following quiet.
At least he left the note, Schuldig echoes. Incredulous. What the fuck are you, crazy like he is? Nagi says nothing. Jesus Christ. I don't even know how long he's going to fucking stay away!
You shouldn't be behaving like this, Nagi points out. That's not what he, but it seems like a good idea to shut up then and there suddenly, so he does. Schuldig's eyes are narrow green-gold slits, like stormy waters. The sort of storm ships get lost in, never to be found again. You can be swallowed up by those eyes: one way or another. Nagi looks away.
Schuldig hisses inadequately. The German comes easily to him suddenly.
We'll just wait, Nagi says, have some breakfast.
Like fuck I will, Schuldig snaps, I'm going to have a smoke. He doesn't turn to go to the balcony. Instead, he moves towards Crawford's room, cigarettes and lighter already out. It seems stupid to point out that Crawford's going to smell tobacco and smoke all over his room. Nagi butters himself a slice of burnt toast and eats it with deliberate slowness. It's not going to be a pretty week.
2:05 PM, Monday, 19
It hasn't been a pretty week.
2:06 PM, Monday, 26
It hasn't been a pretty two weeks.
2:06 AM, Tuesday, 27
No fucking phone call, Schuldig says into the eerie post-midnight dark. He's not even writing any fucking letters. I'd rip them up anyway. Schuldig looks tired, with the purple and gray shadow bruises lingering on him, fingerprints of the night.
I suppose you would, Nagi says idly. Schuldig wouldn't. Schuldig would read the letter and maybe then tear it up, and then break something Crawford liked. That's the way Schuldig works. But he's never quite independent enough; he'd read the letter first, if a letter ever came, and then throw his tantrum.
Probably out doing his fucking Secret Agent thing, Schuldig snaps out. He smells like smoke and his fingers are stained with smoke. Even in this state that he's in, whatever state it is, he keeps his hair and himself clean. Nagi toys with his hair, green, seaweed green. It's interesting, having Schuldig's head in his lap.
Secret Agent thing? Nagi can't help but ask.
He's a fucking suave bastard of the fucking new millenium, Schuldig says. And the new millenium hasn't even come yet. He snorts. Nagi sighs. But isn't that like him.
Schuldig says, I'll have breakfast.
Yeah, sure. Make something I like. Schuldig shifts with lazy intent. He's been staring at the opposite wall for too long now, and it's starting to bore the shit out of him.
And you'll eat it.
Mm. Why not?
Good. That's all. Just making sure.
Tomorrow I'm going to go out, too. Use Crawford's credit card. Buy myself something expensive. Schuldig pauses. Absently, he adds, Something really expensive. Nagi doesn't let himself shrug. Instead, he brushes the hair out of Schuldig's eyes, watches the lashes tremble as they close. He took the car. I wouldn't mind so damn much if he hadn't taken the damn car. I bet the credit card doesn't even work anymore, he knows me too damn well. I'll kill him when he comes back. Schuldig is quiet again, not silent. Schuldig is never silent. The quiet suggests the alternative sentence they both know lingers in doubt in the heavy air. I'll kill him if he comes back. Schuldig shakes his head a little to clear it of such thoughts. I'm sick of this. I'm sick of him.
How can you be sick of him if he isn't even here? Nagi is so rational. So logical. So annoying.
Shut up, Schuldig says, without vehemence. Tomorrow I'll forget about him.
It already is tomorrow.
1:03 PM, Wednesday,
28 May, 1995.
Schuldig gets dressed and combs his hair out and ties it out of his eyes with a loose elastic. He checks himself in the mirror for a little longer than he should. Vanity is a beautiful thing. In his case, at least. He runs his thumbs down the sides of his face and watches his own eyes very closely. His nose is long and his cheekbones jagged and his chin sharp and angular. His brows are dark and his skin is pale, his expression quixotic or unreadable or something out of this world. What he wants now is for someone to find him fantastically attractive. He wants to cause a car crash or a suicide based on beauty alone. He picks up his keys and shoves them in his jeans pocket. It's a warm day outside, people are thinking, warm and bright. He should be able to take a nice long walk and smoke in the park and clear his head.
He's at the door when the phone rings and it sets his heart pounding so hard in his chest he nearly throws up.
Nagi says urgently from his bedroom and Schuldig hurries to pick it up.
This is Mr. Reichmann, from the bank. Schuldig feels like he could throw up again.
This is Mr. Reichmann, from the bank. I was supposed to call you yesterday, but we've been busy. The man has the sort of voice that belongs to a stocky fellow in an expensive suit. Schuldig grits his teeth, grinding his molars together in exasperation.
Hm? Ah, yes, there's been a matter with your account. Schuldig wraps his fingers in the phone cord, jerking and tugging. We're supposed to call and confirm the transferral.
1:15 PM, Wednesday,
28 May, 1995.
I'm going to kill him.
I'm going to hunt him down and let Farfarello tear his fucking throat out.
No fucking money, no fucking way to contact him, no fucking instructions other than to feed the fucking psychopath in his fucking cage, no fucking explanation, no. fucking. thing. Nothing. Nagi chews his lower lip. Schuldig looks as if he's about to chew his own lip right off.
Don't hurt yourself.
I'm going to hurt you in two fucking seconds if you don't stop acting like some sort of fucking mother trying to placate me! Aren't you fucking pissed? Don't you get fucking pissed?
It's better to think about what to do now.
What to do now? Don't you know? A note of hysteria in Schuldig's voice now, before he calms himself. Feed me, occasionally. Feed Farfarello more often than that. Oh, and we're not supposed to have sex, by the way. Doesn't that put a damper on your wet dreams? Nagi flinches. Schuldig is glad for it, glad to know that maybe he isn't the only one who feels like shit. Misery loves company, after all. Schuldig watches Nagi's face for a moment. Not like we're going to listen to him, he adds. It isn't out of contrition.
Maybe we should look for a job.
Maybe you should stop being so fucking useful. It's not getting you a pat on the head from me.
We don't have any money, Schuldig. Even if you don't want to eat tomorrow you're going to want to smoke when your cigarettes run out.
This is some sort of test, you know, Schuldig hisses suddenly. Some sort of sink or swim test. What a goddamn sadist. What a goddamn fucking sadist. He spends so much time making sure we can't fucking live without him looking after us every second of the day and then he disappears so we can fend for our fucking selves. He can get himself a new telepath to use and to fuck, I'm not playing these fucking games of his anymore.
Will it help you to kill someone? Nagi asks it so simply and so easily that Schuldig is reminded for a moment of Crawford. Of that blank face. Of those dark eyes. Of that casual demeanor when he brings up sex or death. Like he's talking about the weather or a particularly dull newspaper article on amoeba.
You are one fucked up child.
The point is, Nagi illustrates, we're killers. So let's get a job. Who'd have thought Nagi would be so pragmatic in this sort of situation? Schuldig finds he's laughing suddenly, callous and cold.
Yeah, okay, sure. Let's find someone to kill, have a nice day at work, put food on the table and cigarettes in my pocket. Sure. You know of anyone who needs someone's brains blown out? Great. Fucking great. Point the way. Schuldig's ruger is where it always is, in the second drawer from the bottom, tucked neatly in with his socks. It always seems humorous to Schuldig to have it there, so there is where he keeps it.
Give me an hour, Nagi says. If this is a distraction tactic, Schuldig thinks idly to himself, then it's working. Nagi disappears into his own room a moment later, and Schuldig makes his way calmly to Crawford's.
He stands in the center of it. Watching. Impassive. Smells like Crawford mixed with the stench of cigarettes Schuldig has left there. Territorial. Enraged. The room tastes like one big sweaty memory. Schuldig's eyes narrow as he challenges the empty bed, the bare desk. No suits remain, no comb, no glasses case. Nothing. Schuldig closes his eyes.
In the darkness of his quarantine, Farfarello hears the sound of glass breaking, wood splintering. Farfarello can almost see it, if he closes his eyes hard enough. Schuldig, throwing a lamp at the mirror, ripping books out of their shelves, toppling the main shelf over onto the desk, the bedside table thrown across the room and splintering comically against the wall with the satisfying snap of a broken neck.
5:16 PM, Monday, 3 June,
Schuldig feels the shock run through him at pulling the trigger, feels his teeth vibrate. There's a dull splat of a bullet cracking through bone and lodging in grey matter and blood explodes from behind the man, from the back of his head. Schuldig thinks it isn't an art at all. There's no passion and no beauty in it. There's only a sick satisfaction and a delicious power. He steps back, pushing his hair behind his ear with his clean hand. The other is red and wet in the darkness. Such a seedy job. Such a seedy transaction. Dark storehouse, empty and dusty in the corners, a few crates stacked up to his left. It's like being a caricature of himself. He isn't pleased.
Nagi looks down at the body, then back up to Schuldig.
That was messy, he says. Like a carbon copy of Crawford, only smaller and less of an asshole.
Schuldig snaps, not irritably, feeling a killing catharsis yawn through him, at least he's fucking dead. Nagi shrugs.
he says. I suppose.
They shove his body into one of the crates and Nagi floats it along behind them, dumps it into the water. It sinks. By the time anyone finds the body it will be bloated and unrecognizable and the wood will have begun to rot. Schuldig smiles.
Very good, he says, a long time after he should have responded.
5:01 PM, Monday, 3 June,
Switzerland is nice, and quiet.
That could be because of Switzerland, or it could be because of a lack of Schuldig.
3:23 PM, Friday, 7 June,
Schuldig likes killing more and more, now. After the first job he slept the night through and after the second, a day ago, he found a strength in his blood he'd been lacking for too long.
I was a little stir-crazy, Schuldig explains to Nagi, leaning against the rental car, smoking an almost post-coital cigarette.
I know, Nagi says quietly.
That's why you got the jobs? Nagi shrugs, watching Schuldig out of the corner of his eyes. He looks so solemn, so business-like, so pathetically young. We need to get you suits, Schuldig continues wryly, you can take Crawford's place.
Nagi says. I can't. I couldn't. Schuldig grunts, puffing a slow stream of smoke out his nose. You've been smoking less. That's good.
Can't get out of shape. Can't be wheezing on the job.
It hasn't even been a month, Schuldig says quickly. Not yet.
Not quite, Nagi agrees.
It feels good to kill someone, Schuldig muses, coming back to complacency and satisfaction. Like you've just gotten something restless out of you. Nagi moves, brushes against him. Schuldig looks at him and catches sight of his eyes again. You don't like it? Nagi shrugs again. He's indifferent about it. It doesn't effect him one way or the other. Schuldig cups his chin for a moment, looks at him, smiles. Let's break some rules.
7:00 PM, Friday, 21
The first true month of summer is passing as it ever does: slow and determined, sluggish, fat. Schuldig eats the lukewarm kung-pao chicken out of its container with his fingers, watching Nagi eat his sesame noodles very politely in contrast.
We have another job tomorrow, Nagi says, between mouthfuls.
How many to take out?
Where are you getting this shit?
Crawford taught me a lot of things. Schuldig smirks. He feels self-sufficient and full, ready to go on the prowl. He gives Nagi a pointed look and licks sauce off his own thumb. Nagi watches him. Are you bored?
That isn't it, Schuldig says, I want to fuck you because I want to fuck you. Nagi sizes him up with a comfortable familiarity and swallows a noodle slowly.
he says. I'm still eating, though. Schuldig shrugs.
I can wait.
Ten minutes later Nagi finishes his noodles and he's turned around, throwing out the napkins and the wooden chopsticks when Schuldig presses into him from behind, and he forgets to be aloof. Schuldig kisses his mouth and his neck and his soft, childishly underdeveloped jaw, the heart-shape reminiscent of something else. Dishes rattle in the cupboards. Cups shake. The countertop against Schuldig's wrist and the small of Nagi's back trembles. Nagi knots his hands in Schuldig's hair and they kiss one another desperately. There's no pretense, no description, and no subtlety.
They just need to get it out of their systems. They just need to get it out of their blood.
11:47 PM, Friday, 21
You fucked th'bloody child. Schuldig gives Farfarello a displeased sort of look, amused but sulking. 'onestly, I don't know why ye aven't been struck down where ye stand.
Your priests aren't any better. Farfarello looks wistful, almost dreamy.
I'd like t'skin them, he sighs. Schuldig watches his face and blows smoke in the opposite direction of it. Farfarello has sensitive skin. Most people who've spent time in a tub of bleach have sensitive skin. He doesn't know he has sensitive skin because he can't feel it anymore, nerve axons or dendrites or potassium pumps or whatever it is – Crawford explained it once but Schuldig didn't really listen – fucked from here to Wednesday so he doesn't know when he's been hurt. The tight lines of his thin scars map his face in a network of expressive emptiness. It's fascinating, if not the sort of face you have nightmares about.
You're positively pacifistic today, Schuldig says wryly.
Am I? Isn't tha' nice.
Pacifistic and particularly obnoxious, Schuldig adds. Can I put my cigarette out on your arm?
Tha's a new one, Farfarello says speculatively. Aye. Go ahead, then. This is the sort of thing Crawford would never have allowed. Schuldig leans across the distance and presses the cigarette butt and its last glowing heat into the soft inside of Farfarello's elbow. Farfarello watches. It smells sickening but Schuldig waits until he's sure the butt is out before he pulls it away, tosses it into a corner of the room. It doesn't hold the same interest for the both of them, but it does hold interest.
You're fucked up, Schuldig says amiably.
An' ye're nae? Farfarello laughs, a snickering, sliding sound. Deep. Pleasant like a snake across your thigh is pleasant. You feel it and your spine aches but you feel a little sick.
It smells like burnt flesh in here.
I wonder why.
I'm taking you, Schuldig informs him, as if all of this has been a prelude to the main point, to kill someone tomorrow. That slippery laugh grows louder, Farfarello rocking on his heels in a childish, gleeful crouch.
Oh, aye, Farfarello mutters into his left knee. Tha's good, that is. Oh, aye.
8:19 PM, Saturday, 22
It's a beautiful thing to behold. Farfarello falls upon the man like a tiger and slits his throat open with one swift cut of his favorite knife. Sharing in the spoils, perhaps. Blood bubbles up out of the cut and out of the man's mouth, too, out of his nose. For a few heartbeats he's still pumping life and then Farfarello gets his hands dirty, really dirty, and rips his trachea out. The other man, whom Schuldig holds at gunpoint, is made to watch.
You'll die slower than that, Schuldig whispers against the lobe of his ear. Much slower. There's something intimate about those words.
Farfarello works his jaw and the muscles in his shoulders roll as he stabs holes in the man's palms, until the man's hands are so stigmatized they could be swiss cheese. It's funny. It's really funny. It smells so much like blood in the room and Farfarello's words of the night before come back to Schuldig in a bloody haze. I wonder why. It's like watching an artist carve a sculpture or a painter create his perfect color, watching Farfarello desecrate a body. Absolutely beautiful. In the same way Schuldig is beautiful. It's the sort of beautiful that nearly makes you wet yourself with terror.
First, Farfarello cuts off the mans pinkies and then his ring fingers and leaves the others. Then he cuts crosses into his wrists, horizontal first, then vertical. The man Schuldig holds back convulses and tries to lean forward to throw up.
Schuldig snaps, wrenching his head back. The world should know, Schuldig thinks. The world should know how vicious art can be, how vicious insanity can become. The voices in Farfarello's head are wild with blood and with lust. They scream and chant with Gregorian precision and harmony. Schuldig can't recognize what he's quoting. Schuldig makes a pleased sound, deep in the back of his throat. It's almost like watching Crawford kill a man only the difference here is Farfarello loves to enjoy the blood. Crawford loves to enjoy the power, an exhibition of his strength.
It's time they shouldn't waste but Schuldig won't deny him this release. Schuldig feels like he does. So many years trapped in a room, tied up and raging to be free. To take a life, to take as many lives as he can, to know his own is real.
At last, Farfarello sits back on his heels, crouched in that familiar position. Pleased. Canine. He cocks his head back and fixes one lone, golden eye on Schuldig.
Do I get th'other, too? Schuldig was going to pull the trigger but he decides against it. He pockets his gun and releases the man who struggles with limp insistence, and stumbles when he finally frees himself. Terrified, he eyes the door and the very still figure of the white, white man, stained now with too much red. Schuldig can hear him think. Schuldig can hear him think he's going to make it.
Farfarello's on him
before he's halfway there. It's a very philosophic moment, before
the screams stop and there's only the sound of bones, breaking.
1:22 AM, Sunday, 23
Nagi has already run the bathwater when Farfarello and Schuldig return from work. With a look of slight disapproval – they are disheveled, Farfarello is stained with blood like communion wine – he directs the two to the bathroom. Schuldig got Farfarello dirty and Schuldig gets to clean him up. What Crawfordian logic.
Just like Crawford, Schuldig mutters as he tugs Farfarello past Nagi, only you don't have the dick to fuck me afterwards. Nagi is decent enough not to respond to that. Schuldig figures the last thing he needs is a miniature Crawford when he's finally free of the regular-sized one, so he should stop this behavior before it really starts. He slams the door to the bathroom shut behind him. Take your clothes off before you get in the tub. You're a fucking mess all over. Farfarello laughs at that, lazy and sated, and unbuttons a now red shirt with now red fingers. Muscles flex beneath white, scarred skin. Schuldig washes his own hands at the sink and watches, too. Just like Farfarello, he likes blood stains on white surface.
Ye're lookin' at me, Farfarello points out distinctly as he straightens completely, whip-cord straight, and undoes the fly on his pants. Schuldig lets his lips curve up in an unpleasant fashion.
Am I? How fascinating. Streaks of blood smeared over Farfarello's oddly graceful hands, streaks of blood climbing up his wrists. Unfortunately, it's already beginning to brown and crack into a thick, unpleasant crust. The bathwater will wet it again, enough for it to glisten once more before it's washed clean.
It's th'blood, Farfarello distinguishes, naked. He eyes the bath with slight distaste. Can't I keep it on me?
You'll stink up the whole place. Get in before I shove you in. Farfarello snorts. Idle threats, idle threats, his gold eye whispers. He slides himself into the tub,though, strangely complacent after the wild rage in him was satisfied. Schuldig watches the water ripple and pinken. He takes his jacket off and picks up the wash towel and moves to sit on the side of the tub. Farfarello is thinking in calm triplets now, a pattern that's defined and pleasant, rather than brain-shattering.
Killed two men.
Killed two men.
Killed two men.
Cut four wrists.
Cut four wrists
Cut four wrists.
Father son ghost.
Father son ghost.
Father son ghost.
Killed two men.
Killed two men.
Killed two men.
It's spasmodic, rhapsodic, and distant. Farfarello is rarely ever in his head as much as he is in that post-killing period when Schuldig is nearby. When he's slipped himself into a lukewarm bath and he's closed his single eye.
When did you cut your eye out? It's easier to ask Farfarello the question straight away rather than search his brain for it – when he's in this sort of mood. His mind is a maze of fiction and reality, of cantos and of actual memory. You ask Farfarello a question and he'll answer it, if he's been given enough flesh to rend prior. You try to look through the annals of Farfarello's history as stored in his head and you see it through too many eyes, and none of them reliable. Schuldig knows how to figure even the scizophrenic's fucked up head out, so why the hell can't he do shit with Crawford's?
Why're ye askin'? Schuldig shrugs, takes one of Farfarello's putty palms into both his hands and smooths the wet blood from underneath his jagged fingernails. Water drips, drips, drips between them. Schuldig's sleeves are rolled up so they won't get wet. Farfarello watches the curve of Schuldig's arm, forearm to elbow.
Because I don't know.
I did it with a fork, Farfarello answers easily. One o' th'little plastic ones that come with ye'r meals in th'asylum. One of the quieter voices in Farfarello's brain laughs for a moment. Tinkling Pure. Schuldig sees it in a flash of plastic and gore, prongs and pain. If he were the sort of bastard who shuddered, he'd shudder. But he's not, and he doesn't.
So that was it. Instead of eating a potato you cut out your eye.
Somethin' like tha'. I'd got out o' th'jacket. For good behavior.' Schuldig can't help but smile slightly. Farfarello pronounces it They're all such stereotypes, when it gets right down to it.
They put you back in?
Righ' away. One o'them threw up.
You must have been very proud.
Schuldig turns Farfarello's hand over and inspects it and Farfarello doesn't let him for long, grasping his deceptively frail wrist in a broad, puckered grasp. It could be rough, but it isn't. Farfarello doesn't intend it to be. There's a youthful clumsiness in the grasp.
What, do you want in my pants too? Schuldig asks, archly.
Doesn't everybody? Farfarello answers, flat and blunt. Schuldig laughs and he tugs his wrist free.
Give me your other hand, he says, and Farfarello complies. Schuldig cleans his fingers and his palm and the back of his hand and his wrist and then moves to wipe the blood off his mouth with the still wet washcloth. He cleans the blood off the washcloth, into the tub water, and wrings it out. Goes back to cleaning Farfarello's mouth and his cheeks and chin and nose, even, and one spot above his hidden, mangled eye. He rubs the washcloth through Farfarello's bristly hair and then drops it back into the water, letting it float or sink or who knows and who cares. Hands folded over his lap, body distorted by the ripples in the water, Farfarello is the poster child. Schuldig likes that irony. He likes it a lot. He likes the way Farfarello killed those two men and he likes how much of a contradiction he is. He likes that Farfarello's thinking quietly now. He likes that the rhythmic mantras of Farfarello's brain are structured into soothing chants. He likes knowing Farfarello isn't as clean as Schuldig has just made him.
Farfarello touches Schuldig's face then, with wet hands.
Let me see it.
Let me see it. Your eye. Let me take the eyepatch off. It's an impulsive question. Schuldig doesn't really want to see the place where Farfarello gouged his own eye out with a plastic fork. Schuldig especially doesn't really want to see what it looks like now. But he can't help it. He just can't help himself. Schuldig runs his fingers through Farfarello's hair. It's much softer than it looks. Farfarello doesn't protest and so Schuldig slips his fingers to the taut string of the eyepatch and nudges it up. Up. Up. He untucks it from where it is nestled at either side of Farfarello's left ear and then it's all gone slack, and then it's off.
Really, it's nothing special. It's just this mess of scar tissue and mangled brow-flesh and an eyelid that fused shut by old pain.
Schuldig asks him if it hurt.
"Not then," Farfarello replies, "an' not now."
"Hm," Schuldig answers, as he returns the eyepatch to its familiar position. His fingers brush the back of Farfarello's ear. That single gold eye follows every twitch and motion of Schuldig's too-expressive, not-expressive-enough, angular face. "It doesn't look as bad as I thought it would. It's not that bad at all."
"Why'd ye want t'see it, if y'thought it was goin' t'look bad?" Farfarello shows some of his amusement through the quirking and jerking of his lips, some of it through his tone. Schuldig swats his cheek, lightly, expecting it when Farfarello grasps his wrist again.
"Why do you keep touching me?"
"Because ye've naught t'do with any scripture," Farfarello answers him flatly. "Because ye've naught t'do with Heaven, and ye've far too much t'do with Hell." Schuldig is pleased. He lets Farfarello play with his fingers, touch the smooth surface of his palm.
Red red hands.
Red red hands.
Red red hands.
Soft soft hands.
Soft soft hands.
Soft soft hands.
What fucking hands.
What fucking hands.
What fucking hands.
Schuldig stops listening after the third though he's flattered and he's pleased - just the way he is with Nagi - that Farfarello's thinking about him. The distinguishing line between being attracted to someone and being attracted to someone's thoughts about him is one he knows well but rarely listens to. He's attracted to Crawford. He's attracted to what Nagi thinks about him. He's attracted to the way Farfarello thinks about him. And he's no hypocrite. At least he knows the difference. And he's bored and he's rebellious and he wants to be attractive. He's bored and sex means nothing when he's bored, might as well be like giving Nagi an oreo or Farfarello a book. Sex with Crawford is the only sex that means anything; sex when he's bored is something to keep his mind and his body occupied. Other people have hobbies. Schuldig has sex. Or murder. Or those tricks he plays to involve his mind more than his body. That's rare, though; he has to find someone who's just fun enough for that to be a proper distraction.
He's not a whore, though Farfarello jokes with him that he is. Whore of Babylon. Whore of Babylon. Whore of Babylon. But it's nothing of the sort. Schuldig's not giving any piece of himself away.
"If we fuck now," he tells Farfarello, "if we fuck now, Nagi's going to be pissed."
"Are ye goin' t'let some little boy tell ye what t'do?" Farfarello knows just where to slide the knife.
"I've been letting a little boy tell me what to do for years." Meaning Crawford.
"Crawford's no little boy."
"Neither is Nagi."
"Ye're holdin' ye'r own."
"You're a philosopher. But I can use logic when I need to." Farfarello strokes Schuldig's cheek roughly, with wet hands. His skin is starting to wrinkle from the water. It's a different sensation; it's new. "Should I go after him?" Schuldig asks suddenly. Farfarello keeps stroking his face, the cheekbones, the sharp cheekbones, the sharp jaw, the sharp chin. Farfarello may be crazy but Schuldig knows enough of the machinations of his brain to know he's also brilliant. Bloodthirsty; brilliant; inspired; homicidal. It's all the same thing. It's all about having too much inside you. Schuldig isn't inspired; Schuldig knows he isn't inspired. He's going to come out on top through being cunning and that gives him a thrill. Through trickery. Through devious beauty. Through the cold anatomy of being not immoral but a-moral.
"Go after ye'r little boy?"
"You said he wasn't."
"A little boy?
A little boy.
A little boy.
A little boy.
Schuldig throws back his head and laughs and feels Farfarello's thumbs press at his bared throat. He doesn't feel vulnerable, though. Farfarello's just playing.
"A little boy," he echoes. Somewhere in the house Nagi wants to know why this is taking so long, why Schuldig and Farfarello are taking so long. A pang of jealousy hits him, cuts him between the ribs. Schuldig would feel bad. Really, he would feel bad. But he doesn't. It's all very strange. Does Nagi think they're fucking? Maybe, in the tub, in the pink-water-blood-tub? Or up against a cold bathroom wall. Or somewhere else. So many options inside one little bathroom. It's not even the big bathroom but there are so many places he and Farfarello could potentially fuck.
"Maybe he wants ye t'go after 'im," Farfarello whispers suddenly. "Or maybe he's gone an' left us all three behind." Schuldig's head snaps back up and he wrenches his arm free, cracks Farfarello across the face with the back of his hand.
"Shut up," he hisses.
"Aye, tha's it," Farfarello continues, with more purpose than Schuldig has ever seen him display - just talking, that is. More purpose than he's ever had with the words of his mouth. "He's gone an' left us t'be nothin'. We'll live on, o'course, but what are we without 'im?" Schuldig cracks him across the face again, once, twice, three times, losing count. Farfarello's mouth begins to bleed.
"Fuck you fuck you fuck you," Schuldig chants, holy three's, what a holy joke, "you shut up. Are you listening to me? Shut up. Shut up. Shut up." His knuckles are bleeding, too. They've met with Farfarello's teeth. Somewhere in his brain he processes the sound of Nagi banging at the bathroom door. Angry, perhaps. Fuck him, he's not Crawford, Schuldig doesn't care what discipline he wants to administer. You've been a bad boy again, Schuldig, you're beating up my pet lunatic, the bleached monster, the Irish-Catholic reject. You've been a bad boy again, Schuldig, only this time I'm leaving. And suddenly it's not losing Crawford that upsets him: suddenly it's all clear. All his memorable life lived knowing Crawford is the best, the strongest, the future. The promise of a future where they're on top. The promise of a future where the whole world crumbles at their feet and they're left the antagonists but the victors. Goddammit. All his memorable life lived knowing that Crawford means not just survival but triumph, and suddenly that vision of triumph is gone.
"So ye look for 'im," Farfarello mutters bloody, "tha' little boy, he's out there, ye look for 'im."
Schuldig drops his hand.
Nagi comes in through the door.
"What are you doing," Nagi asks in a tight, little boy's voice. Schuldig sees things very clearly now and suddenly, he can breathe. If it isn't the man he misses but the concept of the man then it's going to be all right you fucking son of a bitch. Throw him in the water and leave him clutching for some American's pale arms and he's fucked. Throw him in the water and leave him with a sudden epiphany of what there is and what he needs to do and everything's straight and simple. Determination - at least Schuldig's version - is only as firm as the goal is clear.
"I got tired of washing Mr. Schizo," Schuldig says, dipping his hand into the bath water to clean his own blood and Farfarello's off of it. "When's our next assignment?"
Schuldig can't see the future. For now he's going to wait. But sure as there's crazy in his world - and fuck all is there ever - he can shape the path that's winding to whatever end it winds to. He's in charge of his own means. He's got this power in his pocket. It feels cool and smooth like the barrel of a gun. Time is going to pass and Crawford is the future but he is the present, and it's his game, now. His hand throbs. His chest is, surprisingly, not tight at all. He tucks his hair behind one ear and says, before Nagi can answer him,
"I think I'm going to dye my hair on Monday. I think I'm going to dye it red." Nagi just looks at him like he's gone crazy. Nagi doesn't get that he's just gone sane. "And then we're going to kill some people. We're going to spend all summer killing people, isn't that right?" And if Crawford doesn't come back then Schuldig's going to come to Crawford. But this world is too big and its people are too self-centered and Schuldig's not going to be lost in the shuffle; he's not.
1:21 PM, Saturday, 23
They worked best at night, they said, not like shadows at all but like imagined monsters beneath the world's bed. So Crawford had nodded politely, had let them set a time and place for a meeting, and then he had spent a good deal of time drinking coffee in the same small café. He caught up on his reading and stored schedules with new and therefore somewhat amusing philosophies in his head. Sometimes he just sat in his booth and let the future breathe into his brain, run smooth but calculating fingers over each gyrus and sulcus.
It had been a pleasant time, but Crawford had not come for pleasantness. Though he is by no means impatient he can see now from the whispering images that the time is coming to meet them and he is sitting straighter, these days, in his familiar chair. His book is merely a distraction for the time he knows approaches.
It comes today.
The thin and unassuming waiter with pale hair and pale eyes and a slight slouch does not mean to disturb him, but there has been a call for the American man in the corner.
Ah, yes, he's been expecting a call. Are they still on the line, his friends who have called him?
No, but they said they would meet him outside in five minutes, and they are so sorry to have kept him waiting all this time.
Crawford gives the waiter an extra tip and the thin man is most pleased. He doesn't think twice on the oddity because he has extra money in his pocket. People are far too easy, sometimes. Crawford takes the time to finish his coffee but is outside in exactly five minutes from the time of receiving the message. He does not wait for them, but does not presume in stupidity to make them wait for him. The car pulls up the moment he steps outside. The door opens. He walks up to the waiting future and he slips himself into the back seat. The old woman closes the door behind him, a mock-formality. Crawford does not feel placated and he does not exude power and intent, that certain narcissism which strengthens his image.
Good afternoon, Mr. Crawford, the woman says, pleasantly seated across from him. How have you been enjoying your stay in Switzerland? Svitzerland.
It has been very nice.
That's why we chose it. Her accent is recognizable. Slurred like a certain redhead's English. This iz vhy ve choze it. We are not natives, either. They are not natives anywhere. That is their power. No sense of place, no sense of nationality. They own but they do not belong. Crawford makes note of this distinction, very clear in the shaded back of the car, in simple terms he will never forget. Crawford nods politely. The woman smiles. she continues, zo. We have heard only praise for you. We have seen only good things, only very good things. Another nod, as Crawford doesn't thank anyone but it's best sometimes to seem to do so.
1:21 AM, Sunday, 23
Crawford slips his tie off and lets it rest neatly on the hotel desk of drawers. He takes off his cufflinks and sets them by his tie, and then undoes the buttons on his dress shirt with pristine precision. His movements are markedly mechanical. What he needs now is a shower and then a night of good sleep. What little is left of the night, after all.
They want him - him and his three protegées, as they called it - to work for a man in Japan. It's perfect logistically, they said. And in terms of the future, it's perfect for them. It's the perfect place. It's to get close to this girl, this special girl. This girl they need for a time when the stars are in alignment and their power will peak. Well, Crawford finds it to be far too telling of life's ultimate sarcasm that his anarchy will come to eclipse the highest moment of their strength. But that's the way it goes. And they're old, and the natural order of things is for the new to replace the old. Sometimes you get too old and you are no longer a visionary; you are mired in visions of the past. They are less concerned with the rituals of the future. Once, their plan failed. They do not understand they can't indulge in their own hubris to allow the same plan to fail again. If a plan fails - none of Crawford's have, yet - then you change your plans. If a plan fails, just like a man, you destroy the plan, just as you would destroy the man.
But for now, he can humor them. For now he has been very polite, the picture of obedience, and he can tell by their satisfied smiles that they think he is theirs to employ and dispose of whenever need shall have it. He'll prove to them their strength, that they are necessary creatures, that he is a necessary creature. They will feel safe in their reliance on his foresight and his effective nature, his productivity, and how well he serves them. He will be a bodyguard to Takatori Reiji, some corrupt politician in a sea of corrupt politicians, and he will find this girl they want him to find. He will betray the corrupt politician; he will be loyal to Estet until the time is right. There are parts of it he sees and parts of it he knows. Both combine to form this future which is his future.
It has been a pleasing day. He has been pleasant. They have been pleasant. They were pleasant together and had a pleasant meal at a pleasantly expensive restaurant in a remote but pleasant part of the city. They smiled pleasantly and said goodnight pleasantly and the deal was done with an overwhelming amount of pleasant interaction. The fangs hidden behind the sheath of pleasantness are sharp and poisonous. Crawford feels adrenaline rush through his blood even now and though it was necessary not to include Schuldig on this little trip, he imagines for a moment the seal of his own power as expressed through some physical domination. Schuldig's just fucked up enough to have enjoyed it. If it were so. It is not so, however, and Crawford does not think about it for more than a flicker of possible future that fades away like mist. Forgotten.
Now, all they want is to see him in action. Employ him for themselves for a period of oh, half a year, say? (Oh, halv a yeah, zay?) The woman's accent is almost too much. He agreed of course, because why wouldn't he? They will think over the course of this half a year that they have sealed his 'loyalty,' whatever concept they will have of it, because he is so convenient, bordering on too good to be true but never quite crossing the line into a lie himself. They are foolish. They are old. In a short while they will be foolish and old and dead.
He is pleased with himself. He has done a good day's work. He's going to be upgraded to a far more expensive hotel and he's not going to pay a cent of his long stay there.
There are no worries.
There is, however, one lingering thought, which pushes its impulsive and vulgar way into Crawford's mind, even as he drowns out the sound with the pounding of the shower water. Well, Schuldig can do what he wishes; Crawford will use him and promote him if he is intelligent enough and good enough to work through this on his own, or Crawford will find another telepath and a less troublesome one, at that, if Schuldig proves uninspired. It's simple. It's business. It would be more convenient with Schuldig, already trained even if he may not know it himself. But Crawford's future is flexible, within certain parameters.
Though the future is malleable, Schuldig is in his. Whatever that means, he has yet to find out.
3:14 PM, Monday,
24 June, 1995.
"It's more appropriate," Farfarello tells him, with a certain bemused reasoning. "An' oh, wha' a color." He runs his fingers through the red, trying to come up with a proper comparison to employ. It's too light to be the color of blood - what a pity - and too red to be the color of fire. Farfarello wonders, an exercise in idle thoughts, if Schuldig intended this unique and incomparable color when he chose it. It's bright, loud; it grabs your attention. For Schuldig's first-glance purposes, it's unrecognizable. There's spontaneity and impulse about the color, but it must be contrived.
"You like it?" Schuldig thrills with a smirk at the touch. Fingers through. Fingers pulled through. An artist's fingers pulled through. Farfarello doesn't answer for a while, but the touches approve, in their own way.
"Solipsist," Farfarello says finally, giving Schuldig's hair a little tug before he pulls his hand away. Schuldig makes a face, smooths his hair out again. "Y'shown Nagi, yet?"
"Not yet." Schuldig shrugs. "I'm going to. Solipsist. Fuck you." Schuldig doesn't know what it means. Farfarello is laughing even as Schudig goes out.
3:29 PM, Monday,
24 June, 1995.
"What do you think?" Flippant.
"It's different." Critical. Or attempting casual carelessness.
"'Course it's different. That's why I did it." Scornful.
"Red. Very red." Touching it, now. He likes it, but isn't sure how to show it, if he should.
"Green was getting old." An inclination of his head, into the touch.
"And this is new." A slight quirk fo the lips. Eyes still unfathathomable, depths studiously dark.
"Yeah. I think it's fucking great." Wide grin.
"Even the eyebrows."
"You're almost unrecognizable." A pause at the end of the sentence, suggesting more.
"But never unrecognizable." Nagi steps back. Schuldig tucks stray bright hair behind one ear, head tilted still at an angle. Nagi watches him. "Did you do this for Crawford?"
"Fuck you. No. Would you like it if I'd done it for you?" Nagi frowns.
"What do you want for dinner?"
"You might be."
"Or I'll hold you against the wall and make you." Nagi says it with impulse and venom and perhaps the sudden tension in the room is what makes Schuldig's belly clench. Perhaps it's something else illicits the response. Nagi doesn't display such intent though perhaps he's always had it.
"You're starting to sound like Crawford."
"Maybe it's because I'm starting to understand why he sounds that way." Nagi's voice is cool. He reaches up to touch Schuldig's hair again and Schuldig laughs a little.
"So maybe I did dye my hair for you, Herr Naoe," Schuldig murmurs with slinking humor. Nagi gives him a look. For a moment Schuldig is tempted to bat Nagi's hand away, but he doesn't, giving him a cutting look instead.
"Don't call me that." Nagi tenses his touch in Schuldig's hair.
"Fine. Kid?" Nagi grimaces.
"What the fuck is a solipsist?" Nagi's hand stills against the side of Schuldig's face.
"Who called you that?" he asks. Schuldig wonders how he knows, and frowns at it.
"Farfarello." Nagi looks as if he's about to laugh. He doesn't, watching Schuldig's frown instead. Finally he shrugs, tucking the uneven hair back behind one of Schuldig's ears.
"Someone like you."
"That's tautology," Schuldig snaps. "I'll just go get a fucking dictionary." He's not as uneducated as he'd have you believe, Nagi reminds himself. He gives Schuldig's hair a little tug.
"I have a question." Schuldig brings his attention back to Nagi's pale face.
"Would you like it?" If only Nagi weren't so cryptic. But Schuldig supposes that comes with youth.
"Would I like what, you fucking walking non-sequiter?" Using 'big words' now, because he's pissed and he isn't an idiot despite the looks Crawford used to- despite the looks Nagi tends to give him. The sort of look Nagi just gave him. If only you'd gone to school, you fool, you'd be more useful. It'd be easier to talk to you. Well fuck that, Schuldig's getting along just fine knowing what he does know, and that's a damn sight more than most. It isn't about words, in Schuldig's head. It's about meaning.
"Would you like it," Schuldig registers Nagi as saying, "if I held you up against a wall?"
"Oh Jesus Christ," Schuldig snaps back, "this isn't a fucking porno."
"No, it's not. Answer my question." It's apparent Schuldig doesn't want to. His eyes are angry at the simple mention. Nagi needs to know, now. Because of that. Nagi has to push the question.
"What the hell have you been eating lately, you little pubescent fuck?" Angry. Schuldig really doesn't want to answer the question. He bristles like a wet cat, and Nagi can almost feel his hackles rise. Or, he would, if Schuldig had them. Something clenches now in Nagi's stomach. Worry, perhaps, or hesitancy, but he has to have this question answered.
"Tell me," he insists.
"Why the fuck do you want to know this?"
"Tell me." Schuldig runs his fingers through his hair, turns his back to Nagi and then whirls back around.
"No." He slings the word at Nagi like a weapon, fierce and unrestrained. "No, I wouldn't." Nagi is silent. Nagi doesn't flinch. Nagi just stares at Schuldig's face, as if he's expecting some forthcoming explanation. Schuldig doesn't give him any. For a long minute they stand there and stare at each other, unblinking, as Schuldig calms. At last, with a flip of his shoulders and a toss of his head, Schuldig turns away. "Don't you fucking get it by now?" he asks, but it's a rhetorical question, and he's gone before Nagi can answer it.
11:47 PM, Monday, 24 June, 1995.
It comes to Nagi before he falls asleep. Sudden. Like a punch to the stomach or a blow to the back of the neck. It knocks all the air out of him and leaves him gasping like a fish, only on the inside. His lungs and stomach collapsing into empty, shrivelled sacs of air.
Crawford is the only one who can hold Schuldig up against a wall and make him do anything.
It isn't fair, Nagi tells himself, clenching his jaw, feeling the air in the room get tight. Crawford isn't even here. His room is a mess and Schuldig pointedly ignores it and the study where Crawford once worked through the night. But like some fingerprint on the hippocampus, Bradley Crawford remains. It means - and all three of them know this well - that Crawford isn't gone. He's just away. It's worse not knowing when he's coming back, or if they're going to have to go after him. It leaves them hanging in a place of limbo, despite the safety of their positions.
Nagi isn't one to curse, or to spend a restless night. There's too much danger in his position in not keeping a solid hold over one's own emotions. He doesn't see the future and he can't read minds; he can only watch and wait and bend iron or pull down buildings with the actual blink of an eye. He's relying on intuition and strength of will now to keep the three of them afloat until Crawford and whatever boat Crawford's riding in now are sighted. Crawford is coming back. Crawford is coming back.
He isn't sure how pleased he is by that. It doesn't comfort him that the air is whispering metallic promises, that he knows by some strange and physical instinct that they're going to be on their own for a long time.
Crawford is the only one who can hold Schuldig up against a wall and make him do anything.
Nagi unclenches his fists. There isn't anything he can do about that. But for now, he's with Schuldig and Crawford is far away. It's an interesting distinction that forms itself suddenly in his mind, between the past and the future and the present. And suddenly, he's got no trouble at all falling asleep.
11:59 PM, Tuesday, 31 December, 1995.
It is cold outside, warm inside. Outside in the night breath condenses on the air, hot puffs of warmth fading into darkness. Schuldig has smoked a cigarette, two cigarettes, and has already listened to the sounds of laughter echoing from building to building, party to party. He'd shared some champagne with Nagi and some champagne with Farfarello and he'd then gotten so disgusted at the movies on TV he'd chucked the remote at it. Nagi had told him not to do that and he'd looked at the clock at it had sad 11:45 PM. Tuesday. The thirty-first of December. In fifteen minutes from now, Schuldig had told Nagi, it's going to be 1996. Then he told Nagi, I'm going to get my suitcase and I'm going to pack. He had left the room, had left Nagi mulling over the possibilities of Schuldig's impending actions. They are simple enough to guess, Nagi told himself. Schuldig is going to find Crawford.
Some internal clock now tells Schuldig that all he needs to do is close the suitcase, but he waits for it. Waits for it. He waits for the sound of muted laughter and cheering and the little light on his bedside alarm clock to flicker. He waits for it. He sits on his bed and smokes his third cigarette in fifteen minutes and waits for it. Then, it's next year, and he snaps his suitcase shut with precise, left-handed movements.
Someone in Belgium saw a tall American man with glasses and black hair, wearing an expensive gray suit, six months ago. In fact, this someone - a waiter at a small restaurant near the busiest airport in Belgium - served him a cup of coffee at 4:15 in the afternoon on May 31st of 1995. The American man tipped well. So Schuldig is going to start in Belgium.
People everywhere are turning over new leaves. The new year has begun. It is no longer evening, but morning. No longer PM, but AM. Schuldig puts out his cigarette and buttons up his coat, tightens his scarf around his neck.
People everywhere are turning over new leaves. What idiots. The only leaf you can turn over is your old one. The only newness is the angle at which you look at your old leaf.
Schuldig leaves by way of the living room.
"Call," Nagi says simply.
"Okay," Schuldig replies, before he closes the door.
11:59 AM, Tuesday, 14 January, 1996.
It happens before it happens.
The man is reading Camus which he finds to be entertaining but eventually worthless. His coffee is half finished on the small table in front of him. Sunlight streams in through the window at his left. It bounces off the line of the spoon which rests on the untouched napkin beside the coffee cup. Somewhere, in the back of the coffee shop, two old men and an older woman are talking. Here, the man reading Camus is waiting for them to finish and knowing that they will be done at precisely 12:23 PM. However, because it all happens before it actually happens, he knows that the time between 12:00 PM and 12:23 PM is what he's waiting for. But that time he doesn't yet have down to the minute, the split-second. This may make all the difference.
12:04 PM, Tuesday, 14, January 1996.
Then, it happens.
The door swings open with calculated silence and they pull their guns at the same time, the exact same time, barrel to forehead, barrel to forehead. It's the first time Crawford's been shorter than the man who holds him at gunpoint and the man he holds at gunpoint. But all Crawford had to do was turn around in his chair and bring his gun up. If extra movement isn't necessary, simplicity puts on the best show.
"Don't make a scene," Crawford says.
"No one else in this place can see what's happening," Schuldig answers coldly. "Did you expect any fucking less?" Crawford doesn't respond. For a while they stand there, at some sort of impasse. Then, Schuldig's lip curls up and he snorts, nostrils flaring. "You gonna kill me?"
"If you do anything stupid." The tension in the room screams for a moment. Then, a moment of rash but calculated impulse, Schuldig pulls his gun back. Crawford realizes that if he pulls the trigger now, Schuldig will be gone, will use that speed and that shifting of external perception to dodge that bullet. "Hn." He lowers his gun, sets it down on the table next to his coffee and his spoon.
"You left." Schuldig inspects his own gun for a moment, then tucks it into the pocket of a black leather coat. His hair is red now, a strange mix of red and orange that Crawford has only seen in misty black-and-white.
"Yes," Crawford answers. There's no need to illustrate the obvious.
"What the fuck do you think you were doing?" Schuldig asks the question so casually. Now, he's inspecting his fingernails, easily as he looked at his gun. That's the way Schuldig works. If Crawford gave a fuck about nostalgia or anything involved with that sort of indulgence, he would recognize that about Schuldig. That habit which accentuates the usual and makes unnoticeable the ridiculous.
"Fuck you." Not much has changed. Schuldig shifts, his head lifts. His eyes are darker. A lot has changed. Something grows smug behind Crawford's impassive, unmoved expression. He waits. More dialogue will be forthcoming. "I just thought you might like to know I fucked Nagi three times and Farfarello once. Also, you've done a damn good job with Nagi, he's going to grow up to be just fucking like you and isn't that sweet? What the Hell do you want with fuckin Switzerland and reading fucking Camus, you are one completely ridiculous fuck of a man!" It happens before it happens. Crawford catches Schuldig's wrist as Schuldig swings the back of his hand to catch Crawford across the side of the face.
"Don't." The muscles in Crawford's jaw are tight. Schuldig smirks. Crawford's grip on his wrist is crushing. Luckily, he'd used his left hand.
"You going to break my wrist?"
"Keep it up." Schuldig laughs harshly.
"I should have shot you."
"I would have shot you," Crawford points out.
"I know." Schuldig is dangerous, angry. He twists his wrist in Crawford's grasp but Crawford holds tight. Their eyes meet. Schuldig's brows are thin slashes in his forehead, making his face look angry and tight. "You know, I don't so much hate you as want to blow your head open." What a nice sentiment, Crawford thinks. He catches Schuldig's other wrist a second later, before it connects with his face. I would be foolish of Schuldig to keep his hands trapped this way, but it keeps Crawford's busy, as well. Schuldig knows that. And both their legs are equally available, should it come to that. It doesn't seem like their going to spend the next five minutes trying to kick one another to the cool tile floor, but futures can change.
"Did you come here to be an idiot?" Crawford asks. Their faces are very close.
"I came here to show you how much of a fuck you are," Schuldig whispers, confident, "and tell you you sure as hell wanted to be found, or else you left a trail of clues behind you even a dead dog could've picked up your scent." Crawford's expression grows smug.
"Six months, you asshole," Schuldig hisses, a whisper grown angry again. "Six months and you couldn't even tell us where you fucking were. Is there something special about Switzerland?"
"You fucking answer me with more than a monosyllable. What the hell are you doing here?" Crawford checks the clock on the wall. 12:11.
"In twelve minutes, you'll see."
"Am I sticking around?" Again, their eyes meet. Crawford lets go of Schuldig's wrists with a snapping motion, pushing him back as he does so. Schuldig doesn't even stumble. Good. He hasn't let himself get rusty, at least. If he had, Crawford would have killed him then and there.
"Since when do you ask me this shit?" Schuldig doesn't expect the answer that comes next.
"Since now." Crawford picks up his book and shifts back in his chair. He opens the book, finds the page he was on. He looks, for all intents and purposes, deeply absorbed in his reading. Schuldig doesn't know whether to be enraged or pleased. After a moment's pause, he settles on a mix of the two, tugging his gun out of the folds of his coat and pressing it against the side of Crawford's pale jaw.
"One of these days," Schuldig says in a low voice that shows no animosity, "I really am going to kill you." Like, one of these days I'm going to change my hair again. Or, one of these days I'm going to leave you and let Nagi push me around. Like, one of these days I think I might get a manicure, I hear they're nice. Or, one of these days I have got to see Ben Hur because it's so fucking famous, you know? Crawford doesn't smirk. Crawford doesn't smirk now, either. He doesn't even take his eyes off his book. At 12:23 PM he's going to tell the old woman who comes out of the back room to smile at him and tell him it's time to leave that he's sent for his partner. If she is surprised or upset he'll tell her that it's best to make sure he is working directly for them, is it not? She will be placated. That she will be placated is a fact, will be the present soon enough. The cool of the gunmetal against Crawford's cheek is also a fact, the present. Schuldig's presence is loud and also a fact, the present. The past. The future.
Schuldig puts the gun away, throws himself down in the chair and shoves his hands into his coat pockets.
"So," he says, blatantly ignoring the fact that Crawford is quite clearly reading, "what's good here, anyway?"