Title: The Fullness of Earthly Bliss.
Summary: CrawfordxSchuldig. Angst, lemon, possibly death.
Notes: This fic takes place between the Schwarz Drama CDs and Gluhen. The title is from the Schiller quote "Ich habe genossen das irdische Gluck, ich habe gelebt und geliebt." Piccolomini (III, 7, 9). Crawford reads from the English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.
The departure lounge of Venice Airport was designed with little consideration for any of the town's famous and beautiful architecture. Departure lounges the world over were exactly the same. All white concrete and glass, with hard blue plastic chairs and screaming children and the strange stink of travelling despair. Perhaps it was body odour, jet fuel or long over-percolated coffee. Perhaps it was his own exhaustion.
Schuldig had thought that he loved airports but he had moved from departure lounge to departure lounge for the last six months with occasional stops in cheap nameless hotels, in hostels once in a while, and his opinion had changed. The reality of staying on a train from Paris to Moscow had not lived up to the fantasy and there had been no time to stay in Moscow, to appreciate the scenery, the wonder of travel, just enough to pick up a cheap bottle of vodka from a street vendor, two cups of borscht, drunk laced with the raw vodka and then on the metro to the airport and out, half way to Hong-Kong before they had even stamped his new EU passport.
What surprised him most, because he had thought that he had loved travel, was how very nutritious airline food could pretend to be. There was no flavour to it, that had been steamed out of it, very little colour remained and even watching Crawford chasing the beans around the plastic tray with a little plastic fork had grown old.
Schuldig made the same jokes about the mile high club on this night flight that he made every time, on every flight. Crawford looked at him for a long moment before he pulled the air-line blanket that he had wedged in the pocket in the forward chair, and then ripped it open with his teeth, much as one would open a condom.
Lie on your side he said, and Schuldig twisted in the slim, uncomfortable chair, his long legs getting in the way but knowing Crawford's intent as he pillowed his head on Crawford's shoulder and Crawford draped the blanket over him.
Crawford's hand was hot and dry, the skin turned almost to sandpaper from repeated and prolonged travel, but it was sure and it knew what it was doing. A quick jerk released the buttons on his Levis and strong fingers were inside with skin like an old chamois left in the sun and hard bitten nails. Crawford was perfunctory, he knew Schuldig's responses like he knew his own, and the added danger, the people snoring around them in cattle class, even the smell of detergent in Crawford's stolen hooded sweatshirt just made it that little bit better, that little bit hotter. He could smell the strange peppered chicken on Crawford's breath, bent over, resting his head on Schuldig's as if they had fallen asleep in this position.
Crawford's palm was dry and his fingers loose as they slipped back and forth along Schuldig's cock, his nails catching in fire bright pubic hair and remarkably dexterous despite the position and his still mostly closed jeans, his hand just inside the open fly. His palm rubbed and pulled and it took all Schuldig had to not move into that hand, to murmur because it had been so long, and that had been a quick fumble in a cheap by-the-hour hotel in a suburb of Paris. Crawford straining above him in the street light that came through the window and his eyes boring into him like diamond drills.
The danger, the silence, Crawford's apparent inattention and the memory of that night in the 14th arrondissement and the scratch of Crawford's bitten nails, once so carefully manicured, was enough to bring Schuldig to climax, burying his face in the scarlet coloured sweat fabric of Crawford's shoulder. Don't you dare drool, Crawford warned and Schuldig, boneless, tired, satisfied, just smiled.
There was an argument in Lima because Crawford wanted to move on to Mexico City by train and instead Schuldig wanted to see Machu Picchu. The argument was quick and nasty. They'll expect it, Crawford hissed, Schuldig answered sarcastically what, that we might actually behave like tourists for once and it's not like the last sighting wasn't in Iceland. Crawford told him it's just a building but gave in anyway. He always did when Schuldig made sense. He said it was rare enough that it wasn't as if Schuldig would make a habit of making sense.
Schuldig knew not to push Crawford. It had been a long time since they had run hot, and the lack of control hurt him. This was free-fall, travelling wherever the next plane was going, catching trains when they thought that the planes were too dangerous, to throw off the scent. Crawford's hair had gone white, kept in the same style, though the glasses were long broken and replaced with cheap laser surgery that had almost destroyed his night vision.
The bus was a converted Volkswagen van, Crawford sat behind a Peruvian lady in a brightly coloured poncho, with a chicken on her knee and a dog on a rope leash, chewing his nails. They had eschewed the tourist bus in a concession to being recognised, though Schuldig had grown his hair long and dyed it a muddy blonde and Crawford's white hair had taken a green rinse. To the casual observer they looked like backpackers, even down to their worn Timberland boots and busted Levi 501s. Schuldig suspected that the kid would be paralysed with laughter to see them, but this was to allow the kid his laughter.
A heavily pregnant woman suckled her child on the back seat, singing him some soft lullaby, as she rocked the baby hanging on her tit. There was a time when Schuldig would have dipped into her mind and felt her happiness as if it were his own, there was no drug, no greater rapture than such simple moments of bliss, but it was too dangerous.
Crawford saw him looking, give her some privacy, he said and Schuldig sighed and turned to Crawford, gnawing on his nails, gaunt and belly rumbling on this long close bus journey across Peru. He looked at Schuldig and asked, do you think I'd catch something if I just ripped that chicken's throat out with my teeth? I'm hungry enough to eat it, feathers, parasites and all.
Schuldig remembered Crawford in the luxury restaurants complaining that his steak wasn't blue enough, or that his beans were over-cooked, he liked his vegetables crisp and his beef blue. He was fussy, complaining about the wrong year in his favourite wine, or the wrong thread count in his napkin. He had been impossible to please, and now he wanted to eat a raw chicken, the irony was almost ludicrous and Schuldig laughed. Then Crawford laughed with him.
They had a chilli prepared at a street booth and served through the windows in a bowl made of stone-baked bread, thick with peppers and large chunks of meat. They ate it on the bus with their fingers, Schuldig bent over his bread bowl as the sauce dripped down his chin. Hot and vicious and good even without hunger.
Crawford laughed at the sight he made. The image of Crawford, chilli smeared around his mouth from eating and his hair a brilliant lime green seemed, just for a moment, to be a whole new person, perhaps who he might have been before Rosenkreuz, softer, warmer, and then he burped and laughed some more.
Schuldig didn't like it though, it wasn't his Crawford, and the thought sobered him up.
At Machu Picchu they found themselves a quick bunk in someone else's tent. In exchange for the use of it they would protect the other couple's stuff from being stolen whilst they took a night hike with a local guide.
The night was clear with little chance of rain. So they sat around a camp-fire as Schuldig pulled at his split ends and Crawford squinted at him, his eyesight almost shot in the dark, even though the moon was full and bright casting everything in a sort of Atzec silvery radiance.
Crawford asked, do you miss it, other people's minds? And Schuldig didn't know how to answer him. So they were quiet for a while, Crawford poking at the fire with a stick because this was too close to being personal to them, too raw and private. Eventually he surprised himself with his half-mocking answer, it's better than burnout, he explained, and they still have too many things to do, and white hair wouldn't suit him. It would make him look pasty.
Crawford touched his own, now green, hair and said nothing.
The sex that night was prolonged and desperate. Crawford seemed fascinated by the sheen of sweat on Schuldig's stomach in the moonlight, using his bitten uneven nails to draw magical alchemic designs on it. It was no longer a flat plain of fanned muscles, inconstant and crappy food had ruined that, now it was soft and somewhat flabby and Crawford was almost as fascinated by the new ability to dip his little finger inside his navel as he was by ensuring their safety.
Crawford had lost weight instead, his clothes hanging loosely on his slender frame where he had borne a comfortable bulk before. He looked younger, less secure, but he had a ceramic glock in his rucksack, just in case. He looked softer, but he was still Crawford and would not concede an inch in their world war.
It just meant he fit better between Schuldig's thighs. Or at least that's what Schuldig told himself.
He was asleep in the back of an open top black Plymouth driving across Arizona when the dream hit him.
He is back in Rosenkreuz, in the office of Großvater, young enough to still be dangled on a knee but Großvater is past that, a hundred or a thousand years past that, they whispered in the dorms. He is giving the warning that is instilled in them almost as soon as they came into their power, I know it's good, he says, it's addictive, it's like honey and heroin, but you'll know that when you're older, a smirk to himself, a private joke not shared, but it always ends in two things, you'll learn or you'll burn out. If you disobey, if you're lucky they'll kill you.
He woke up gasping as if he were being held under water, and Crawford was there, holding his shoulder and staring in his face with those eyes like insects trapped in amber, without a moment's softness. I need you, he said, you can't burn out yet.
A cheap motel in Chicago, that rented by the week, the room under the rented sign for a negotiated cheaper rent. Crawford was fascinated by the refrigerator, a small stained thing in the corner, he called it an icebox and the promise of keeping fresh milk had him in raptures like a small child to whom a present was proffered.
Schuldig's head was splitting, a migraine that seemed to wait for him at the Illinois state border and had left his stomach unsettled and the very air painful. He denied to himself what it meant. Just a little longer, he told himself, just a little more.
He didn't notice Crawford leaving.
Drug-store dye and nail scissors saw Crawford's hair a rather banal brown, eyeliner and gel finished the look of a young misanthrope. The stained and ruined sweats replaced with skull printed Vans and cargo pants. He didn't look thirty in them and that was the intention. Schuldig split open his eyes and laughed, if it isn't the fourth member of Green Day. Crawford frowned as he pointed out that they had four members anyway. It wasn't in Schuldig's heart to tell him he was wrong.
The smell of the sheets was making him sick, old sweat, cheap detergent, cigarettes, other people's filth and ordure. He took a handful of Crawford's store-bought day strong and bright blue Aleve and washed it down with toxic green Mountain Dew, wincing at the thin light that was falling through the curtains. He had collapsed on the bed with his boots and jeans on. Did you get me new clothes on your shopping spree? but he doesn't really want the answer, soda to take the taste out of his mouth and the strongest pain pills he could get over the counter, that's all Schuldig wanted.
Crawford jutted his jaw towards the shopping bags falling against each other like young drunks in the corner. Sleep now, he said and he picked up the keys, leaving the glock where Schuldig could find it. There are a few other things I need to get and then he was gone.
Schuldig slept a little, drank the last of the Mountain Dew, emptied the bags Crawford had brought him, a couple of cheap battered tees, probably from a thrift store, cargo pants, short jeans too big in the waist, bright new briefs in vibrant blacks and white, with Converse trainers still with their security tag on, though now disabled. Schuldig wondered if their money was running thin if Crawford had taken to shoplifting, then he saw the price tag and understood.
In the "ice-box" he found a large container of bottled water, a thing that had always amused him about America. It took up nearly half of it and there were a few chipped tumblers and he poured himself a glass, slipping down beside the fridge to drink it, unsure on his feet. He rolled the glass about his forehead trying to cool down, the migraine having left in its wake a feverish feeling and a dry throat. He drank one glass, two, a third, before he felt the need to pee.
In the small en-suite, it was too small to call a bathroom after all, he discovered that they had squatters, two rather annoyed looking cockroaches in the shower stall. He saluted them before he undid his jeans with a quick jerk of his wrist and holding his cock let out a stream of water into the bowl. Out of habit he checked it for blood.
Crawford called him as he opened the door, you feeling more like yourself, he didn't open the bathroom door, just opened cupboards and there was the clanking of things being put away. When Schuldig met him in their small open plan retreat he found Crawford had hit Walmart without him. He had never been so grateful. They were staying here for at least a few days, perhaps the whole week they had rented the room for.
Just a little longer, Schuldig told himself, just a little more.
The smell of good vodka prickled around the edges of the room, sharp like frost, mixed with tap-water ice and Mountain Dew. It was the very best that Walmart had to offer, served in plastic cups and drunk on the veranda outside their modest, foul, little room. They sat on garden chairs pilfered from the side of the empty pool where one of the kids in the complex practised his skating and complimented Crawford every time he walked past, and even helped him with his pink tips.
The ear piercing gun was sitting on the small table back in the room waiting for them both to pluck up enough Russian courage to use it. It was mid-afternoon and they had tickets, courtesy of Steven who wanted to be called Vergil to better suit his goth mannerisms, to see a local band and they wanted to be pierced before they got there. He was a good kid and he'd do stupid things for a tab of E or a glass of vodka, but mostly the chance to feel grown up.
This was the closest Schuldig and Crawford had ever had to a date, and even then it was just part of their life here, for however long it lasted.
Crawford had taken to selling recreational drugs to plausibly explain their having any money as Schuldig took the break as a chance to rest, to recharge because it was hitting him hard. There had been no sign of it affecting Crawford after his hair turned white. Crawford had bought an ear cuff and one of them was getting that and the other one was getting studs and that was that, he had spoken.
He had conceded too much by then anyway.
The pain was sharp and quick, like a bolt of fire, through the lobe as Vergil dealt with it; Schuldig kicked his feet but otherwise held still. That hurts like a bitch he yelled, suck it up, Crawford smirked from the door only five more holes to go.
He was wearing a tee for a band that would have reshaped the world twenty years ago and now were only mediocre remnants, he looked young and slightly vulnerable in a pair of plain glass David Byrne frames and chipped black nail polish poking through his fingerless red mittens.
The kid would have choked himself to death laughing if he could have seen them, but to Vergil they were wild and reckless and free and under instruction from his mother, terrifying enough that they listened, that he was not to be pierced.
Coloured gel and eye glitter had completed the look and Crawford looked less like Crawford than Schuldig had ever seen him, a stranger with Crawford's hard gold eyes looking out from his skin.
Despite the pain Schuldig couldn't stop touching the rings in his ears, twisting them through because it felt strange and wondrous and sharp and all his own. The pain was delicious, sexual, tasty. The look of bemusement in Crawford's eyes was like mother-love as he flicked the blue metal ring through his left nipple. He still wondered if and when he had agreed to it, and was pretty certain it involved that purple thing he had been drinking out of Schuldig's mouth.
The pain was delicious.
It ran a thrill down his spine like lightning, the ball hanging on it feeling like one of those plasma balls in an old science fiction film laboratory even as Schuldig crawled across the bed, still slightly drunk, still slightly high to disguise his mental signature just in case, and pushed him back. With a shark's grin Schuldig took the ring in his teeth and pulled.
They had been quiet too long, quick fumbles and disappointing hand jobs. Schuldig was drunk, stoned and horny, and this stranger-Crawford, this stranger-Crawford with a nipple ring, was prey. He was smudged eye make up and painted nails and this, he tugged the nipple ring again listening to Crawford whimper as sex and pain mingled. It had been too long.
He had meant it to be drawn out, to be more than this, but the sensation of Crawford pushed deep inside him, forcing his way in with not enough stretching and not enough lube and almost fire as he rocked against the bed-head, slamming it into the thin plaster, not caring who heard them. He loved the feeling of short nails against the back of his thighs, Crawford stretching above him, limned by the thin light from the table lamp and the clack of the clock beside them as Schuldig curled and uncurled his fingers in the foul-smelling sheet, pulling at it, tugging it from under them as he gasped and grunted and just felt and Crawford gasped and grunted, no names, no dirty talk just the slap of skin on skin, and the tearing of skin torn from skin stuck fast by sweat.
There was sweat, fingers grabbing in it, hands crushing his hips and his thighs against Crawford's shoulders, knees at either ear, bobbing as Crawford slammed into him again and again and again as if this were the last time. It was like a first time, with all the urgency and need of new lovers who didn't know how to touch each other, but couldn't stop from pressing skin to skin and lip to lip. There had never been urgency between them, Schuldig knew but no longer cared as Crawford slammed into him and the bed slammed into the wall and Crawford hissed as a pair of fingers tugged on the nipple ring he hadn't wanted to get.
The kill wasn't as sweet as he remembered. It was quick and futile, like sex against a toilet stall with a cheap hooker and it made him feel dirty, like an oily film had been left behind as the knife slid through the woman's neck. She looked like a secretary, a tailored suit although more JC Penney than designer, the leather of her high heels scuffed and one heel breaking as she fought his hold, pulling her into the alley. She smelled of department store perfume and Maybelline face powder. Crawford nodded, and without a second thought Schuldig slit her throat and the world was down yet another Rosenkreuz agent. He had pulled the blade so hard, because he was so tired, that he had almost severed her head.
Chicago came and went, most of the hoops in Schuldig's ears were left behind in Illinois, and he got the tongue stud as they passed through some place called Cahokia. Crawford kept the nipple ring and the guy liner even when he took a pair of proper shoes instead of the cute Vans with the skulls, complaining no other shoes would be as comfortable. Dinner was at a truck stop, some unidentified pig product as they drove south to catch the train that would take them to Chesapeake and then another north to New York. Their plans went no further than that and were easily changed.
The shower in their motel room was a lukewarm stream and the cockroaches in this one hissed.
The television seemed to have come from the seventies and was showing I Love Lucy reruns. The pizza had been generic and tasted of cardboard and too much garlic, the Mountain Dew warm and flat as Crawford sat in the corner, thinking, and gnawing his fingernails. You need to eat, Schuldig told him and listened to the usual answer, later.
Let me blow you, Schuldig asked expecting the same answer but instead Crawford's eyes gleamed like golden beads that caught the afternoon sun, if you must he said instead and uncrossed his legs.
Schuldig looked at the carpet with some distaste before taking one of the towels from the bathroom and laying it down, Crawford raised an eyebrow, pencilled black to hide the true colour, and smirked. That, Schuldig thought as he knelt down, was his Crawford. So he went to work with gusto.
Rosenkreuz keeps a burn-out as an example, like Romans decorating the road-side with used crucifixes.
They keep him in a wheelchair, sometimes spotted as his nurse moves him about the cloisters in the summer heat, but mostly kept squirreled away. His nurse looks like one of the nuns in an old picture book with a tall wimple, and she keeps numerous handkerchiefs in her pockets to wipe away the drool that stains the shoulder of his pyjama shirt. She has ear buds hanging from her ears and there is the dull tinnitus of music coming from them.
Schuldig is a child as he picks a flower from the cloister, leaving his book there on the grass. He offers it to the man.
The nurse doesn't notice but the man's eyes are dull and empty and Schuldig, who is used to hearing the dull buzz of thoughts like the tinny music from someone else's earbuds, hears nothing. There is nothing in the wheelchair but meat that isn't quite smart enough to die.
In New York the hotel was cleaner, the window overlooking an alley and a blank wall. Crawford sat on the edge of the bed with Schuldig pressed against him, his cheek against Crawford's shoulder and his hands were at either side of his hips. The sex had been furtive, quick, with fingers twisting through Schuldig's hair as if Crawford knew something he didn't want to share. He had cut the pink tips from his hair and slicked it back with gel, henna tattoos made him look like a gang-banger and Schuldig had gone more Wall Street in his clothing choices, but when he spoke there was the bright flicker of steel in his mouth, it would have to go soon so he appreciated it.
It won't be long now Crawford said and Schuldig wanted to believe him. It was with disappointment he realised he didn't.
They were in too much danger to run hot, to even dip into their power, living like mundanes running, always running.
Crawford kept his arrogance like a shield and Schuldig couldn't help but think of Crawford's nipple ring, something he should have gotten rid of long since, as a reminder of their time in Chicago, a whole month of knowing where they were sleeping and that there was food in their ice-box and people who thought that they knew them. It was almost a home, more than they had had since they'd left Japan.
London, Crawford said suddenly, we'll fly to Leicester and then rent a car and drive to London, we'll see what happens then.
He didn't protest the hands that crept up around his middle as Schuldig sighed against his back. There were moments, Schuldig thought, that they were no longer themselves and they were other people, shadows travelling around the world, one step, maybe two ahead of the Rosenkreuz hunters. Sometimes they let them catch them up, just long enough to put them down like dogs. So Schuldig sat leaning against his back in their medium-priced hotel as Crawford stared at the wall and what went through his head went through his head.
The bus stop toilets were small and Crawford had predicted that they would be locked up for the night but the lock was busted. It wasn't much of a bus stop, just a small piece of tarmac where two roads interlaced in a small village in the ass end of England, they had taken a taxi here before the taxi driver informed them that the bus stopped outside the airport anyway. Crawford no longer predicted the future, they were too close, too desperate to risk it. A quick scan in JFK had him vomiting blood.
They burned out so young, Schuldig thought, and they needed so much.
There was a half hour before the bus would come, the first of the day at 6am, it stopped at the train station from where they would take the first train that came and go wherever the tracks led. He went into the toilet with its busted lock and Crawford followed him and although the public convenience was stinking of cheap disinfectant and black grout it was enough for their needs as he jerked Schuldig's pants down and took him in his mouth, perched on the edge of the broken toilet seat.
Crawford's mouth was hot and strong and his jaw worked noisily, sucking him off and Schuldig didn't care why Crawford would do this, only bunched his fingers in the muddy brown hair of this stranger-Crawford and fucked his mouth with quick and mad jerks of his hips.
When the bus came he leant against his shoulder and smiled dreamily, because it had been good and afterwards Crawford had kissed him and it was new and wondrous because Crawford never kissed him after, because that might have shown he cared. This was a new Crawford, Schuldig thought, but he could get used to him, just like he had the other.
They took the train from Leicester to London and straight through to Paris. They paid through the nose for train sandwiches and coffee that was part battery acid part tar but warm and strangely filling. They changed trains there for Lille and then from Lille the whole of Europe was open to them.
An overnight sleeper to Cannes saw Crawford asleep on the bench seat with his head against the glass, the white bleeding through the cheap dye on his hair, and looking vulnerable and soft, mundane.
Schuldig murmured to himself as he pulled down his bunk, just a little longer, he swept Crawford's hair back waking him so he stood with a stretch of his shoulders and an unwanted groaning exhalation.
The kiss on the back of his neck caught Schuldig unawares and for a moment Crawford's eyes didn't look like amber, hard and brittle, but malleable like honey or molasses.
His kiss hungry but strangely soft, like rose petals against Schuldig's lips, and even with the scratchy feeling of his stubble, four days' worth, and the lingering smell of him because they had only used wipes to wash for days, Schuldig missed the old perfectly groomed Crawford, made of ice. A Crawford that fucked him because he felt good and because he didn't need it, because Crawford didn't need him.
Yet Schuldig didn't push him away, he clicked his tongue stud against his teeth and let Crawford kiss him.
It was funny how their mouths locked on to each other like homing missiles and how gentle Crawford's hands were. He had used lotion so his skin was softer, perhaps it was butter left over from their supper of Brie and grapes smashed into a train sandwich with coffee that, although still foul, made the English equivalent taste like used rocket fuel. There had been bottles of bier blonde and olives in oil with chunks of feta cheese and Crawford had told a joke.
It was strangely comfortable.
It was funny how it felt like coming home.
Schuldig had never had a home and so it was easy to sink his teeth into the bared throat even as Crawford put his hands under his ass and lifted him up onto the bunk.
The sheets were overstarched and crisp, smelling of linen and train exhaust as the train repeated kuh-chush-chush on the rails as Crawford looked at him for a long moment before kissing him again.
He took care as he unbuttoned Schuldig's button-down, making sure not to pop off the buttons as they had before so often, and nuzzling the skin there as Schuldig wondered whether or not to melt into his strong hands, softened by lotion so not at all like the sandpaper hands he had come to know as they travelled. He had even clipped his nails.
But the hand was no less sure. The mouth was no less firm. This, Schuldig thought, was his Crawford, so he closed his eyes so he couldn't see the strange expression that lingered on Crawford's face because he thought he might break. Crawford didn't look like that because Crawford didn't need him and he didn't need Crawford. They were partners, occasional fuck buddies, that was all.
He supposed he must be burning out faster than he'd thought to have such ludicrous fantasies.
Crawford's mouth was exploratory, coming up now and then to taste the metal in Schuldig's tongue as his hands kneaded his ass or flicked his nipples.
Schuldig wondered why he had never gotten a nipple piercing seeing how much Crawford enjoyed his.
That would have to go, the way of the tongue stud, just as he was getting used to it. He enjoyed fellating Crawford with the tongue stud, he liked banging it on the sensitive piece of skin between cock and balls in the way that always made Crawford jump as if it were cold, running it against the place where his balls separated. He enjoyed catching it in Crawford's nipple ring and pulling. He enjoyed the odd little noise Crawford made when he ran his tongue around his anus and the stud caught, not enough to hurt, just a little unexpected thrum of pleasure.
Schuldig suspected it wasn't sex that night, but something they didn't want to name.
We're too close, he thought, just a little more, he promised himself, just a little longer.
A rented car in Cannes took them to a small village in the Languedoc, the kind of place not even Rosenkreuz was aware of. Schuldig asked him why. Crawford's answer took him back to the Crawford he was in Tokyo, he simply said Blue apples. They drove through Couiza and stayed in Rennes-le-Bains but every day Crawford took the car elsewhere leaving Schuldig behind in the spa town. He had Turkish baths and ate proper French food in proper French restaurants. Crawford crawled into their shared bed at night, commenting how good he smelled but took no other action.
From Le-Bains they went to Bonn, the sort of German place that Schuldig thought should make him feel homesick, but he had preferred France.
Bonn led to Berlin and Berlin took them to a place called Sedlec where they abandoned the car for another. It was there Schuldig realised what Crawford was doing. They were ticking off their places to see, a strange quiet conversation that they had had in Tokyo years before with bellies full of Takatori's best cognac. He realised it when Crawford left him at the door of a church and told him he'd be back in a few hours.
The tongue stud went in Kuala Lumpur. Crawford looked sad to see it go.
The last pair of earrings met their end in Calcutta.
Crawford kept the nipple ring.
An internet cafe in Beijing, which had pretty Chinese waitresses who giggled at Schuldig's gall and his black hair with scarlet underneath and heavy eyeliner and leather jewellery. Crawford was checking their mail, an ingenious system created by the kid using a child's network and a girl with rich parents who did exist to provide a cover for their IP addresses if it were needed. He had been looking online to see if he could divine their next style. He had decided on kodona for himself but Schuldig was still a mystery.
The message was coded, of course, a single paragraph in a much longer email about a boring school trip. I read the most horrid gravestone the other day, -continued to repeat myself even after death-. I was visiting my grandmother's grave when I saw it, and even a non god fearing child such as I was offended. It's not the sort of thing I'd like to leave behind me, perhaps I'm just traditional, I wanted to white-wash it but that is offensive, I can't imagine how it would be treated, after all I was on a school trip and I didn't want the criticism of my behaviour.
Then the email continued about the waterfall he had seen there and how he enjoyed being with friends but the summer he had spent with Eleanor, Crawford's alias, was sorely missed.
Crawford picked up a novel to read on the way out and turned to Schuldig, still between disguises, and threw a second book at him. It's time, he said.
On the plane, first class, Crawford in a suit looking like a J-rocker and the dye bleached out of his hair in the airport bathroom, his left eye twitching. Schuldig tried to be interested in the book but his eyes kept drifting away from the two hitch-hikers and back to Crawford, intently reading and rereading the same page, his mouth twitching along and the muscles of his left eyelid jerking.
I'm getting you a monocle, Schuldig joked, your winking at me is getting distracting.
Crawford looked up for a moment and then read aloud the passage that had him so fascinated.
"There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lover enters the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire. A love story is not about those who lose their hearts but about those who find that sullen inhabitant who, when it is stumbled upon, means the body can fool no one, can fool nothing--not the wisdom of sleep or the habits of social graces. It is a consuming of one's self and the past. It is a consuming of oneself and the past."
Schuldig just laughed and told him he was being sentimental.
Crawford didn't say anything again throughout the flight, but he did clink together their champagne flutes and said how far would you go to make me wear a monocle.
It turned out to be very far indeed.
The elevator had protected them from the worst of the blast, there was blood along Crawford's neck and shoulder, dripping from his ear and the monocle lost in the debris. Schuldig had lost his coat and he was pretty sure that his right arm was broken, but he didn't want to mention it. Crawford's eye had stopped twitching. Schuldig wasn't sure it was a good sign.
From the pocket of his stupid kodona trousers he had pulled the paperback he had bought in Beijing and started to read, aloud, in the flickering light that remained in the elevator cab from the emergency generator. Kid'll get us out, Schuldig said and tried to make himself believe it as Crawford continued to read the words on the page as if he had never spoken. And it's better than burning out, isn't it?