His art is eccentricity, his aim

How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,

His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He

Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

-from Pitcher by Robert Francis

His Art is Eccentricity

Imagine this. Twenty four years old, tall, red hair, satisfied green eyes. Schuldig is a wealth of cunning but has never been properly educated. He is German, speaks only English with a German accent. This is because he learned English first after German, and traces of his youth remain in the language. And only there. He speaks also Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. Soon he will be fluent in Korean, and will set his sights on Swedish which he assumes will be simple. It will be. He moves with a certain precision and grace that speak of cockiness over self-assurance. He is too thin. That is all right; he wears it well. He likes loud music, angry music, popular music. Of classical music he knows very little, but that he has heard one melody by Chopin and grudgingly liked it. He does not like to read, nor does he like to follow orders, nor does he do what he does not like to do. Sometimes he considers himself bisexual, when he thinks to consider it. More often than not he fucks first and considers never.

He is taking the long way home. It is May. Spring has come. This morning he killed a man Crawford told him to kill. He still has the man's name and address on a piece of paper in his left jeans pocket, with his pack of cigarettes. He looks good. He has color in his cheeks. He's smoked three cigarettes during the long way home. He's just reveling in what he's done. That's the only appreciation the man he killed will get – the only appreciation Schuldig has for life. How good it feels to take it away, Schuldig thinks. It is an unusual and perhaps unnecessary time of contemplation.

It goes like this.

Bang, bang. Ha. Fucker.

There's no more depth than that. Twenty four years old, tall, red hair, satisfied green eyes. He feels good. He feels damn good. He stops along the long way home and buys himself a pack of gum. He buys it with the yen he got out of the man's pocket, before he killed him. This is a robbery, Schuldig said, and then he cracked the fuck up and blew the guy's brains out.

The gum tastes good.

Imagine this. Twenty four years old, unsuspecting, inherently obnoxious, high cheekbones. Schuldig comes home and slams the door behind him. In the kitchen he pours himself a mug of ice cold coffee that probably tastes like shit. He scratches a line through the man's name on the piece of paper with a marker and pins it up on the fridge with a magnet shaped like a banana. He takes a sip of the coffee, makes a disgusted face. He pours an inch of the coffee down the sink. Four packets of sugar substitute and an inch of half-and-half later and the coffee is palatable.

"Shit," Schuldig says to no one, looking for the oreos, "someone needs to make more coffee." It is intrinsic to Schuldig's nature that he will not make more coffee. He finds the oreos, makes a lot of noise with the plastic wrapper taking one out. "Nagi. Nagi, I don't want the fucking cookie part," he calls. Nagi will eat the chocolate while Schuldig eats the cream inside which is a fucking liar, because it doesn't taste like cream. It tastes like sugar glop, like really bad icing. Schuldig likes it.

"Nagi's out," Crawford says, coming in. He makes a face at the old coffee. "Is that old coffee you're drinking?"

"Yeah. Letting your house go to shit, leaving old coffee like this lying around." Schuldig scrapes the white filling off the cookie with his front teeth. He licks the chocolate cookie experimentally. He makes a face. "Want a cookie?"

"No," Crawford says. He doesn't sound amused.

"Well, Nagi eats them."

"Mm." Crawford takes the piece of paper down from the fridge. He lifts a brow at the banana magnet. "When did you buy this?" Schuldig shrugs. If Crawford were a laughing man he would kick his German out on his ass, laughing so hard. Crawford is not a laughing man. Instead of laughing he crumples the piece of paper and throws it in the trash. "Dead?"

"So dead. Dead as a whatever. Dead fucking thing." Schuldig dips the cookie into the cold coffee, waits for it to get soggy. It doesn't taste any better like that, though. He looks at Crawford out of the corner of his eye. Crawford's rolling down his shirtsleeves, buttoning them neatly at his wrists. Schuldig watches his hands for a moment, tilts his head to the side, eats his soggy cookie without thinking about it. "You're bleeding." Schuldig taps the side of his own cheek. Curious. Crawford does the same. One finger comes away with blood.

"Hm."

"Talkative, today."

"It's not my blood."

"You been busy?" Schuldig is feeling generous. He gets a paper towel wet and moves to wipe the blood off Crawford's face. Crawford allows him.

"I suppose."

"Looks like it. Whose blood?"

"Gier's."

"She a bleeder?" Schuldig's amused. He's never heard of any Gier but he's amused anyway. He can't help but comment. "You're going down some fucking list, aren't you."

"You could say that. She's in your room."

Silence. Schuldig's hand stills on Crawford's cheek.

"What the fuck."

"She's a bleeder. She's in your room. Probably bleeding on your bed. If you don't act like an idiot I'll buy you a new one."

"What the fuck."

"And," Crawford adds, "she's sleeping. I'll cut your tongue out if I have to, so stay quiet." Crawford takes the wet paper towel out of Schuldig's hand and finishes cleaning himself off. "Hm," he says again. He throws the bloody paper towel in the trash, too, and washes his hands clean. "If you go in there," his voice stops Schuldig at the kitchen door, "I'll shoot your knees off." He hasn't even turned around to look at Schuldig.

"Are you going to fucking explain yourself?" Schuldig asks finally.

"Now that you ask," Crawford says, "no." Schuldig has never wanted to kill him more.

"You sent me out to kill that dick to keep me out of the house."

"I suppose."

"And now there's some cunt in my bedroom bleeding on my fucking bed."

"It would seem so."

"And you expect me to shut the fuck up about it?"

"Against all hopes." Crawford's voice is dry. Schuldig is going to get nowhere and he knows it.

"Jesus Christ, you son of a fucking bitch."

"How eloquent of you. I suggest you watch television, or do something productive like read a newspaper or a book, until Nagi gets back. There's no use explaining things twice."

When Schuldig starts towards his room he hears the click of Crawford cocking his gun and stops. Is it worth it to get his legs shot off just to know what the fuck is going on? Maybe. He's angry enough not to think about the consequences. He wavers.

"Don't," Crawford says, standing in the kitchen doorway. "Go into the living room and calm down."

So, Schuldig goes into the living room. But he does not calm down.

He's watching the Bold and the Beautiful and shoving Oreo crumbs vengefully beneath the couch cushions when Nagi comes in. Nagi looks tired and pale, but Nagi always looks tired and pale. Nagi doesn't get much sleep, and unlike Schuldig he doesn't wear all circumstances well. He's young, he's small, he's fine-boned. He has a weary air that is far from attractive. Sometimes, Schuldig finds it attractive and sometimes Schuldig has the patience to pretend to soothe it and sometimes Schuldig is cautious of it, because after all if Nagi's tired then he could just as soon break you in half as he could make himself a cheese sandwich. Right now Schuldig has no patience, not even for the Pope and especially not for the Pope, and he doesn't give a fuck about how tired Nagi is at the goddamn moment.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Schuldig asks. He throws a cookie at Nagi's head, which comes to a half a full inch away from Nagi's nose. "Nice catch," he admits, as Nagi throws it back to him – to him, at him, same thing. Schuldig licks the icing off.

"We had a full bag of those this morning," Nagi points out. He is so fucking patient. "What's happened?"

"There's someone named Gier in my fucking room," Schuldig says.

"Oh," Nagi says. He thinks, this isn't good.

You're damn fucking right it isn't.

Can Crawford hear us?

Fuck, no. Schuldig hands Nagi the cookie and Nagi sits down next to him, lifts a brow, eats it.

So it's Crawford's fault.

Everything is Crawford's fault. Fuck this, I had to wait until you fucking saw your ass back here to know what the fuck is going on.

"Good cookie," Nagi says, out loud. Crawford, in the doorway, watches them both with unreadable eyes.

"So who the fuck is Gier?" Schuldig asks.

"Nineteen years old. Five foot six, blonde, brown eyes. Born in Austria. She's just your type, Schuldig, and if you fuck her, I will kill you." Good old Crawford, Schuldig tells himself. Tells you everything about a person and still manages to leave you knowing nothing at all.

Said that about you, Schuldig thinks idly in Nagi's direction, never followed through on that, did he. Nagi eats his cookie slowly and without comment.

"So who the fuck is she?" Schuldig insists.

"I just told you." Crawford looks smug. Schuldig's fingers itch to hit him.

"Why the fuck is she here?" Schuldig tries again.

"Different question," Crawford points out. "One which I'm not answering as of yet, so do please curb your curiosity for the time being." Crawford slips his tie into a comfortable knot, tightening it around his neck. "I'm going out. Don't do anything stupid." He puts on his jacket, and locks the door behind him. From the outside.

Schuldig listens to the click with a mutinous face. He waits three minutes, counting the seconds by the VCR clock, and then he stands. Stretches. Smiles.

"Well, I'm feeling fucking great about this," he says. "I think I'm going to go say hello."

"Schuldig," Nagi warns.

"It's only polite," Schuldig points out. He looks dangerous. Nagi doesn't think he could stop him, even if he tried. Nagi does think that Crawford is going to kill them both, but maybe they'll have time to run away first. Nagi does think of Schuldig and himself as fugitives in some foreign country, Schuldig buying tacky souvenirs and eating at expensive restaurants and sleeping in expensive hotels and talking to expensive whores, and starts to get another headache.

What a day, Nagi thinks. He leaves the curiosity to Schuldig, and goes to take a nap.

She's asleep. Not particularly attractive, her blonde hair dyed, her features blunt and uninspiring, her figure fairly chunky. She has large breasts but, Schuldig decides, she's not Crawford's type. Not his style. She's too ordinary. There's nothing particular to her that could possibly recommend her to anyone, much less Crawford.

Schuldig still wants her the fuck out of his bed.

She's asleep but she sits bolt upright when Schuldig comes into the room. Her eyes are the color of mud, fixed on him. Her English is thick with her native tongue. Gier, her name is. German.

"Who the fuck are you."

"I own this fucking room," Schuldig replies smoothly. "I own that fucking table and that fucking chair and that fucking bed, that's who the fuck I am. Who the fuck are you, now that's a fucking question. She blinks, surprised. She looks tired and disoriented, has a large purple bruise on her cheekbone. Someone punched her a few days back. Around her is an aura of sleepy comfort, thick as honey and just as sweet. Schuldig feels comfortable, himself. It touches all the pressure points on his brain and soothes him, soothes them, soothes their ache. He feels tired, too, looking at her eyes. A slight bruise on his own cheekbone? He brings his fingers to it to check. A dreamy motion. There's a heartbeat in his ears and a different one deep, deep in his belly. Inside he feels like a bowl of honey, a distorted stretch of sickness. Movement – movement – warmth. Thud thud, thud thud. Not his own. That pain on his cheekbone and that heaviness in his stomach. It feels like he's swallowed a rock.

He wraps his arms around himself, gagging. Hands have come out of her head, he realizes, have latched onto his brain. They squeeze. He can only see the panic and understanding on her plain, full-lipped face. He stumbles, drops to his knees. How can he pull his brain out of her head-hands? He's drowning and he never did learn how to swim. He's drowning because she's dragging him down with this weight in his belly. He curls himself into a ball. He tries to breathe but his lungs feel soft and his stomach is so full of something strange and only barely sentient. Pain – his cheek, hurting, a sensation trickling in through a filter.

"Shit," his own voice from far away. He should call for Nagi but when he opens his mouth only one name knows how to come out. "Crawford. Crawford. Brad."

Then there is a swirl of darkness. His stomach caves in against his spine and he –

Black.

The world comes back to him all at once. All at once he comes back to the world. They come together all at once. It's a crash of magnificent proportions. Schuldig opens his eyes feeling like scattered puzzle pieces. His eyeballs on one side of the room and his body in chunks all over.

"Put me back together," he demands.

Crawford's hands touch his face. He recognizes them. There is no tenderness, though it is a caress. It shows Schuldig that he already has put him back together. Just like that. Just like Schuldig asked and just when he asked. Crawford's fingers remind Schuldig of himself from his chin to his collarbone. Schuldig's skin twitches over its muscles.

"Can't feel my arms," he says. His lips move like rubber. His jaw is stiff. His eyelids slide lazily over his eyes.

Crawford touches his right arm, fingers from shoulder to elbow to wrist. Crawford touches his left arm, fingers from shoulder to elbow to wrist. Crawford picks up both his hands and squeezes them into life.

"I've been trouble," Schuldig says. "Because my lips feel like fucking Bratwurst."

Crawford touches Schuldig's lips. It's a bad sign he's not saying anything.

"Say something."

Crawford, moving in and out of Schuldig's vision, is moving his lips.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

Schuldig understands Crawford's talking, has been talking, will keep on talking, but there's no fucking sound coming out of his mouth. Crawford's moving but his shirt doesn't rustle, fabric against fabric, fabric against skin.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

He can't hear any of it.

"I can't hear you," Schuldig says. He can't hear himself. He just knows what he's supposed to sound like. It's like being underwater, all alone and limbless. Sinking to an unknown depth, darkness without sound. "You're talking." He knows he must sound wild. He grabs for Crawford and holds on to Crawford's shirt. He pulls himself so hard and so fast against Crawford's chest that he almost throws up. He's underestimated his own strength. His body does exist.

Crawford lets him cling. Schuldig can feel Crawford's heartbeat against his jaw but he can't hear it. Everything in his head is a Crawford-less jumble of hysterical thought. His own, others'. Crawford's hands against his back, Crawford's lips against his cheek: these are the only realities.  single thought sings through above the others, cutting through the others.

I will knock you out if I have to, Crawford thinks. I will knock you out until Tuesday. You're an idiot. Calm down.

He touches Schuldig's cheek. The back of his head. Schuldig smells metal, feels cool metal, against his neck.

Trust me, Crawford thinks.

Crack.

Schuldig feels the gun slam against his skull, up against the base of his skull. He is flooded with gratitude, then pain, then nothingness.

Sun slips underneath his eyelids. It wakes him. This is his second stage of convalescence. He moves his fingers, pulls the sheet underneath them to test their strength. The sound is muted but glorious. Schuldig's heart pounds with relief. The back of his head throbs dully, his chest is tight around his heart, and his blood tingles through his veins. She wonders how long he's been lying here, in a bed not his own.

He takes inventory. His name is Schuldig. He is twenty four years old. Tall. Green eyes. Red hair, these days, not green and not brown. He can hear and he can see and he can think. There's a bitch named Gier in his bedroom. This is her fault. Maybe Crawford will let him kill her. Maybe Crawford has already killed her.

Schuldig looks around. Crawford's room, Crawford in the chair next to him.

"Tuesday," Crawford says simply. "October second. One week and three days you've been useless. It's your own fault. You're lucky I didn't let you die and you're lucky I don't kill you, myself, right now. Can you sit up?"

Schuldig sits up.

"What is she?" Schuldig asks.

"No one knows." Crawford isn't going to let Schuldig kill her. Anger surges through him. "Keep away, until we can figure out how to keep that from happening again. Is it clear now that my advice has actual merit?" Schuldig nods sullenly.

"What happened?"

"You disobeyed me." Crawford, who has not shaved for one week and three days, stands at last. He stretches. He thinks he'll take a long, hot shower. "Don't do it again."

He leaves Schuldig with no answers. Schuldig leans back in Crawford's bed. Only the memory of gun metal against the back of his head remains, and strange gifts given which he will never fully remember. He closes his eyes, and his head hurts.