It was a long but beautiful ride directly from Heathrow. Unseasonably warm and bright for early October Mamoru silently noted as he trained his thoughts into neutral silence. Rex had long since taken to reading something or another on her tablet. ‘Spotty’ would have been a generous description of wifi in the English countryside. A few discreet glances confirmed she was attentive to her other duties, her keen eyes keeping watch on the car that followed just behind them.
It was rare that business should take the head of the Takatori clan out of Japan, away from the safety and security of his seat of centralized power and influence. But, it had to be done. There were elements in play that were beyond his control, beyond his reach, and, possibly beyond his understanding. Power and influence would gain him an audience only – that he knew. Whether or not he had the tools or collateral to bargain with successfully would be another matter altogether.
The car passed through a bucolic little town poised just below a massive manor house situated on the bluff of a low hill. It conjured images from centuries past but Mamoru didn’t allow himself the luxury of frivolous daydreaming. His demeanor hardened as they rounded the gate taking the long drive that wound towards the house proper. Rex snapped her professional persona into place as well though it would have been difficult to tell that it had ever lapsed in the first place.
As the car rounded the courtyard, a lone figure appeared on the landing atop the half moon staircase. The car rolled to a smooth stop, and the driver was at the door, pausing as two dark suited security men emerged from the car behind them. As they took up their security positions, the door was opened.
Persia emerged from the vehicle.
“You have more important duties to attend to.” He waved them off, the men returning to the second vehicle just as quickly as they had emerged.
“Welcome, Takatori Mamoru, to Phantomhive manor.” Crisp Japanese, a smile, and a small bow from the servant still standing on the higher ground. “My master has been awaiting your arrival.”
London was still somewhat chilly in the Spring. Cold and damp and, of course an incessant grey haze of drizzle hung over the city like a wet blanket. The anemic light filtering through the windows of the small sublet was barely enough to light the room. It was appropriate in a way. The entire atmosphere of London suited Ran Fujimiya much too well.
They had long moved on since Tokyo. Crawford had insisted that Schuldig break the link he’d established all those years ago. But Crawford was also well aware that that link had been maintained for much too long, had gone much too deep and would never be cleanly and neatly broken after Fujimiya had served his purpose.
Despite his best efforts, Schuldig still found himself inexorably drawn to Ran, even with thousands of miles between them. It was why he once again stood over him, this time while he lay in his bed, unnaturally suspended between dreams and waking. A puppet on Schuldig’s unbreakable string.
Even now, Ran’s thoughts always – ALWAYS – returned to the same imagery. The same theme over and over caught in loop that never failed to draw Schuldig in further than he ever intended to go. Ran was a creature born, shaped and sustained by guilt. Crawford was well aware that Schuldig would never be able to resist.
There was always blood. And Ran was always the epicenter of it. Not the source but the catalyst – the guilty one. And that was always overshadowed by the blinding light of his only purpose in this world. An idealized phantom of the sister he never really let himself know. She would never live up to the fantasy of her he had built with his angst and suffering. The phantom sister was his guilt personified and little Aya would always be a bitter disappointment by comparison.
Ran lay there in his bed, soft sighs and quiet pained moans falling from his lips as Schuldig hovered close, long fingers buried in his hair, closer, always closer, deeper, always looking for more. It was always there, buried in the deepest darkest recesses of Ran’s psyche. And finally, Schuldig had coaxed it out of the depths. All these years later, it was finally ready to emerge on its own with only the barest of provocation.
Schuldig slipped into phantom Aya’s skin much too easily, only encouraged when Ran greedily gathered her close. With a deep sinful moan, Ran pulled his phantom into a brutal kiss. And Schuldig let him even as his phantom self resisted and wriggled. Ran just grabbed her harder, throwing her down in a never ending stream of blood, stripping her bare, leaning back to admire the splatter of blood across her milky white skin.
She began to cry, to plead and that only fuelled Ran on.
“It is all your fault. “
They were the only words he said as he fell on top of her, forcing her struggling legs wide.
“It is all your fault.”
He forced his way inside her, her tears and cries only fanning the flames of his anger even higher.
“It is all your fault.”
He brutalized her until he finally spent himself and his anger inside her. She curled up in ball sobbing beside him apologizing over and over.
“I hate you.” Ran whispered, his eyes growing wide as finally began to process all that he had just done.
“I still love you brother. I’m the only one that ever will…” Phantom Aya whispered.
Ran struggled for breath as the weight of it all finally came crashing over him, curling him into a ball as he fell face first into a bloody Aya’s lap, shaking uncontrollably, tears finally breaking free.
Crawford found Schuldig with Ran still cradled in his arms, his fingers still buried in blood red hair, sheer bliss etched into his face.
“You have to let him go.”
Schuldig hazily looked to Crawford, a small smile creeping across his lips.
“I’ve let him go a dozen times. He won’t let me go.”
“We can fix that.” Crawford offered, reaching into his jacket for his Walther.
“No need… I think, this time, he may have fixed it himself.”
Ran’s trembling hadn’t subsided. And after a thoughtful moment, Crawford released his hold on his gun. He was fairly certain Ran’s trembling would never subside again.
Brad had been trying to figure out his ‘date’ since he picked him up two hours ago. He only knew what everyone else seemed to know. The guy was weird. Not just in the conventional geek/nerd/art fag sort of way but in a creepy-to-even-be-around sort of way. The instinctive way people fear the overgrown house at the end of the street or the guy in the mall parking lot with the ten mile stare. Sure some of that may have been the lingering German accent or his techno goth gear but that didn’t account for the outright fear most of the school had for this guy.
Yohji was officially a dick. It was rare that he ever won a bet but this time, Brad figured he was – maybe – a bit overconfident in his people reading skills. Girls had always been Yohji’s strong suit…
It wasn’t like he kept his orientation a closely guarded secret. Hell, the whole team knew which side he played on… and several had learned the hard way why it was a good idea to keep their opinions on it to themselves. All in all, it was usually a non issue. That was, until Yohji came up with this unique new form of torture.
Brad supposed he had it coming. He hadn’t been particularly generous when he had been handing out the losing bets either.
There was no guarantee this guy would say yes. In fact, the redhead looked him up and down like a new alien species when he approached him to ask. The giggling gaggle of football players halfway down the hall didn’t help matters any. He obviously knew it was a setup. There was no way he’d accept… except he did.
So here he was half way through Ironman and barely a word between them. How on earth did the redhead slump down in his seat and sit on crossed legs at the same time? It sort of defied the laws of physics and looked all sorts of uncomfortable but there he sat, munching slowly on popcorn, not even glancing in Brad’s direction.
They were like mismatched bookends. Brad was every suburban mother’s image of ‘the perfect clean cut son’. And Schuldig – no one was even sure if he HAD a real name, that was all anyone knew him by – was in black techno bondage gear with more eyeliner than the entire cast of Jersey Shore. He didn’t really have a mohawk but with half his head shaved, that line that bordered it stood up like one until it grew too long in the back and fell straight past his shoulders. The Golden Child meets Rebel Without a Clue.
Yohji definitely had it coming…
The movie ended and they left in silence. It wasn’t until they made it out into the parking lot that Schuldig finally decided to say something.
“Is this the part where your team jumps me?”
Brad looked to the redhead, his eyes a bit wide. “What?”
“At least three of them were in the theatre and that piece of crap old Camaro in the back parking lot belongs to that short kid in the defensive line.”
Schuldig hadn’t looked directly at his date all night but now, he turned a full stare directly on him. Brad hadn’t noticed exactly how intense the blue of Schuldig’s eyes really was. He was ready to swear that he must be wearing those colored contacts. Now he also had a good idea of why people found him creepy. His stare was uncomfortably intense.
After a few stalled moments he finally managed, “What are you talking about?”
“You really think I’m that stupid? Or desperate? Whatever. If this is the humiliation part, can we just get it over with?”
“Humili… “ Brad finally digested what his date was expecting. “No one’s going to jump you. This wasn’t about humiliating you…”
“Oh, that’s fantastic. Asking me out was supposed to humiliate YOU. I feel so much better now.”
It wasn’t often Brad felt so lost for words. In fact, the alien feeling currently fluttering through his stomach may actually have been… nervousness. He wasn’t used to this strange feeling in the least.
“I… wait a minute… you thought we were going to kick your ass and you said yes anyway? That makes no fucking sense.”
The sly smirk that crept onto Schuldig’s face was beyond disturbing. He chuckled low to himself.
“I thought you were going to TRY and kick my ass. TRY being the operative word here.”
The redhead was tall but he was definitely on the thin side. Maybe he did have some sort of skills or maybe he was all bluff. Either way, Brad was pretty sure the truth may be irrelevant because he was pretty sure the redhead was crazy. There was no defense against crazy.
“So you said yes so you could kick our asses?” One eyebrow arched just slightly . “Is this the part where you jump me?”
Unearthly blue eyes bore into Brad as they approached his car. A long tense minute stretched out until Schuldig reached for the car door. “Nah. I figured I could get a free movie out of it. You can just drop me off if you want… now that you are all properly humiliated.”
Schuldig slipped into the passenger seat without another word.
And still, Brad couldn’t tell if his date was serious, or joking, or hurt. He couldn’t get a read on him at all. He prided himself on his ability to read people – the smallest hints of body language, tiny changes in expression, barely there shifts in balance. It was why he was an all star quarterback. It was why he was already talking to college recruiters. It was why he had stacks of glowing reviews in his transcripts. He knew how to play people to his best advantage.
This may have been the first time someone – anyone, other than his own father – ever caught him off his game.
Brad stood there with his hand on the door handle rifling through his options. The most obvious one was to do exactly as requested – just drop this guy off and forget it ever happened. That would be the most rational response. But somehow, that was the last thing he FELT he should do. He hated to admit it but he was kinda curious.
There was obviously more there than just crazy. In fact, for the first time, he realized he was just put on the receiving end of the same exact game he himself played. Schuldig was a whole lot smarter and craftier than he let anyone believe. He concluded that he was actually intrigued.
With a silent chuckle for himself he slipped into the drivers seat.
“I’m hungry. How about you?”
“Do you want something to eat?” Nagi leaned into Schuldig’s darkened room with half a sigh.
“I’m not crippled…” Schuldig replied from the darkness, the annoyance in his voice compounding with each word. “… I just have a headache. I can still feed myself.” The redhead put a hand to his temple, further annoyed that he just disproved his own words. Speaking was a bad idea.
“Ow.“ The throbbing in the telepath’s head was graciously passed along his mental link to Nagi.
Nagi squinted with the sudden sensation but managed to wrestle a barrier into place to keep the full force of it at bay. He would have been more annoyed at Schuldig for such blatant disregard for their mental boundaries but he knew it was, most likely, unintentional. “You heard what Crawford…”
“I don’t give a shit what Crawford said. It’s his fault I’m here in the first place.” Schuldig shifted uncomfortably in his bed, trying to subdue the cacophony of the angry mob in his head. Their volume faded in and out in time with the blood pulsing through the knot on the side of his skull.
“Right… I can totally see how this was his fault. I’m surprised he stopped the old man before he split your head open. ”
“Of course he did… he needs me too much.” The grin in the redhead’s voice was almost tangible.
“You know, if you keep searching for his limit, you’ll eventually find it.”Nagi dipped his head, crossing his arms, his defensive posture all too recognizable.
“I sure hope so. I wouldn’t want to waste all this effort.”Schuldig tossed back with a mental smirk.
Nagi grunted once in disgust, clearly unwilling to succumb to Schuldig’s usual humor. “And what happens when you do?” He asked in all seriousness.
Schuldig cracked his eyes open in the dimness, seeing nothing but a halo of light around Nagi’s form in the doorway. The devil’s advocate – nothing more than a fallen angel in disguise. Schuldig mused on that for a moment, in much more detail than was warranted, before wandering back to the conversation.
Schuldig chuckled softly, squeezing his eyes closed once again. “He kicks my ass? He fires me? He kicks my ass and fires me?” He knew exactly what it was that the boy feared. “He puts a bullet in my skull?” The anticipation of Nagi’s response was strangely effective at dulling the pain in his head just a bit.
“He wants this more than anything. He won’t even let you stand in the way.” Nagi went rigid and blank, having learned his lessons from Crawford a little too well. But just because he knew how to suppress the emotions, didn’t mean he had mastered the skill of editing the content of his thoughts. He offered way more with his words alone than he realized.
“I don’t doubt he’d kill you.” Nagi dipped his head, the hard, blank slate of his mind nearly quivering with his restraint.
The conversation suddenly took a much more serious tone than Schuldig was capable of dealing with at the moment. Nagi was transforming into a bundle of raw nerves lately. Crawford claimed that teenage hormones and power of Nagi’s caliber was a dangerous and volatile mix. They had to tread lightly around him while simultaneously preparing him mentally and emotionally to control his talent. They needed to delicately smack him with a sledgehammer and more times than not that task fell to Schuldig. It was getting to be annoying. The urge to tease him for caring so much was overwhelming but reminding the kid of what he saw as his fatal flaw could be devastating in more ways than one.
Besides, Schuldig was sure that Crawford wouldn’t kill him. Well, mostly sure. He was positive that no one would get the pleasure of killing any of them unless it was Crawford’s idea in the first place. For some reason, that thought didn’t bring the self-assured comfort and satisfaction that it usually did.
Schuldig cracked his eyes open, looking Nagi over, abandoning his taunts for now.
“What are you making?” The telepath sighed after a long few moments of silence.
“I’m ordering out, probably udon. What do you want?”
“Right.” Nagi turned, retreating to the kitchen to place the call and start water for tea.
Once out of the room and safely out of the conversation, Nagi’s instinctual defenses loosened up. Schuldig was finally able to tune into the drone of Nagi’s thoughts as he went through the mundane domestic motions. It was blissfully numbing, allowing the redhead a few minutes reprieve from the static hiss of half of Tokyo. This would have been easier if Crawford had just stayed home. Since there was no chance of that happening, he hadn’t bothered to ask. Using Nagi like this was a calculated risk on a good day.
“Where is he anyway? He’s usually home by now.”
“Takatori’s meeting with councilman Ota ran late then he had a meeting at the museum.”
“At the museum?” Schuldig quickly swallowed down his concern before it bled across his link to Nagi. The construction crews were nearly done with the tower. All that was left was décor and, of course, ritual cleansing. Whatever the case, it probably meant a meeting with another team. “He went alone? Who is he meeting with?”
Nagi went silent for a moment. Schuldig could feel his reluctance to answer at all. Nagi was well aware that was never an option.He methodically prepared tea for them both in slow motion as a defense, measuring out exactly how much sugar and cream Schuldig preferred, filling the strainer with bitter black tea leaves. Burnt in his mind. He then turned to his own cup, filling the strainer with painfully precise measures of fine green leaves… one… two… three… The din of Tokyo was fading to a whisper.
“Farfarello is with him. He said you shouldn’t worry about it.”
“He didn’t tell you who he was meeting, did he?” Schuldig already knew the answer. Brad would have given a name if wasn’t something to worry about.
“ Why should he?” The annoyance in Nagi’s voice was more of an affectation than anything. “He’s more than capable of functioning without you.” The sarcasm only confirmed that Nagi meant nothing by it. But those words still felt like a slap in the face.
Nagi didn’t know. Crawford had gone to great lengths to ensure that Nagi never needed to know. He was never fully inducted into the politics of Rosenkreuz. He knew enough to identify and deal with the jealousies and rivalries that it spawned without actually being embroiled in them himself. He logically understood why Crawford trusted no one but especially not other Esset teams. He had no idea why those words, spoken in jest, were not only an insult but also a threat.
Schuldig covered his conflicted feelings with a sharp mental grin. “Ironic, that a man who can see the future needs glasses to simply see the hand in front of his face, don’t you think? “
Schuldig grinned as Nagi bristled at the implication. Crawford wasn’t perfect. He may have mastered the illusion of perfect control over everyone and everything but he was far more human than Nagi cared to acknowledge. The boy wrestled with his own thoughts as he finished preparing their tea. Schuldig sighed contentedly as the sweet taste of confusion and doubt oozed into his mind, sinking back into his pillows once again. Nagi took his time delivering the mug, pausing much too long in the doorway before entering with a reluctant sigh. He stood there for a moment, glaring down at the redhead whose slitted eyes glinted back like a hazy smirk. Nagi’s lips creased tightly across his face as he slid the mug across the nightstand before turning to leave without a word.
“Remember, wunderkind, we choose to function together, as a team. We all need each other. Even Crawford.”
Nagi glanced back over his shoulder before turning slowly, heading for the living room to wait for their food. The static hiss of Tokyo grew distant as Schuldig curled around Nagi’s thoughts like a contented housecat, purring quietly to himself as Nagi’s thoughts raged. He propped himself up on his pillows, sipping at his tea, feeling much better as his mind fell silent except for the focused angst of the boy wonder who was finally angsting in the right direction.
Schuldig shifted from the spot he had sunken into on the couch. He sensed Crawford’s arrival home as he pulled into the parking garage but didn’t poke at him just yet. Their link was an open channel but Brad was still locked down tight as he must have been all night long. He would just have to wait for him to judge what kind of mood he was in. It was nearly three am. With a meeting that long it couldn’t be good.
Some badly translated American western droned on from the tv as Crawford finally opened the front door some twenty minutes later. He headed straight into his office and quietly shut the door.
Yeah. It was bad.
Schuldig lifted Nagi’s feet off his lap as he stood, readjusting his blanket before heading to Crawford’s door. He paused with his hand on the knob, unsure if he really wanted to tempt fate this badly. The choice was made for him as the knob was pulled from his grasp.
“Why aren’t you resting?” Crawford questioned blandly as he turned back into his office, leaving the door open behind him.
Schuldig took the invitation, following him in. “I’m feeling better, no thanks to you.”
Crawford looked up from behind his desk, unamused. “It’s late and I’m not in the mood… go to bed.”
“Like you are ever in the mood.” Schuldig took care to lock the door as he closed it. Crawford was going to hear him out whether he liked it or not. “ So. Who was it?”
Crawford braced his temples, fending off the headache he’d been dodging for hours already. ‘It’s over, it does matter.” At least Nagi had done his job. Unfortunately, Schuldig refused to take the hint laced within his non-explanations.
“I should have been there.” The redhead crossed to the desk, crossing his arms high and hard. “Who was it?” It was no longer a question but a demand.
Brad simply tried to ignore the line of questioning, turning to his laptop, looking to organize his daily files. He wasn’t inclined to argue this here and now. But he was also equally aware that once Schuldig had a bug up his ass, he wouldn’t relent until he got it out. Patience and perseverance were usually Brad’s winning combination but both were in short supply after a day’s worth of abusing both.
“This close to the ritual, no one would dare to openly oppose us.” Crawford glanced up at the redhead but refused to maintain the stare he found glaring back at him. “Just go to bed. We can discuss it in the morning.”
“It’s after three… they dared.” Schuldig perched his fists on the desk. His hours of worry would not go unanswered. There was no way he could sleep on his questions now. “Who?”
Brad stifled a small sigh as he quickly finished rearranging a few files before putting his laptop to sleep. “Suarez, Abernathy and Amlisch – all with direct orders which include reporting to me, personally. Which is why I need you to rest. I’ll need you tomorrow.”
Schuldig studied the tension in Brad’s words, his face, his shoulders. He truly did seem more annoyed than anything else. Still, he was a stubborn bastard that simply kept adapting to all new, inhuman levels of stress, devising equally inhuman methods of hiding it, subduing it or harnessing it into something more productive.
Emilia Suarez and her team were there as glorified butlers for the Elders, seeing to their every comfort and whim. She was quiet, efficient and, more importantly, satisified with her and her team’s position. Macinnes Abernathy and his Scooby Squad would be there to attend to the ritual and all the super secret weird shit only they and the elders were privy to. Neither were particularly threatening in the direct sense. And dear old Colonel Bern Amlisch and his Inquisition team. If the man had direct orders, it was definitely a rare occasion. Usually his visions wrote his agenda, the only name in all of Rosenkreuz or Esset given such unheard of freedom. Even so, this ritual would be the culmination of everything the Elders had built. Each and every one of them, even Amlisch, were subjugated for this single moment in time. There really was no other place for his visions to direct him to but still that thought offered little in the way of comfort. Amlisch had already made it crystal clear that he was a threat. And he was entirely too polite about it.
“Has he thrown you off?” Schuldig studied every minute twitch on Brad’s face, looking for the sign that would betray the denial he was about to offer.
“My visions are fine. It was never Bern who threw me off. Our talents are incompatible.” Brad tucked his laptop away then straightened his already immaculate desk before turning to the mundane tasks of shutting down his day. “The teams weren’t there which is why I need you solid by morning.” His wallet was slipped into his desk drawer, his Blackberry perched in its cradle. “When they arrive I need you on all of them. “ Brad looked up, never more serious. “This is it. The games are over. Understand?”
Schuldig pushed off of the desk with a disgusted grunt, pacing back towards the door. He knew full well when it was time to take care of business. Brad had trusted him countless times to do that very thing. He never questioned it before.
“You need me… “ Schuldig’s rueful chuckle was all for himself. He had just coached Nagi on that very thing. It only took that small spark to ignite the rant that had been building for the past few days, his holding capacity for it having finally reached its limit. He did a sudden about face, spinning on his heels as he tossed his arms in the air. “So why the FUCK did you let the old man club me like a baby seal?! In the fucking head no less! You fucking need me so fucking bad, you could have made sure it wouldn’t be a fucking issue!” Schuldig was gesturing wildly as his rant unfolded. “And don’t try and tell me you didn’t see it! You were fucking smiling, you prick… I KNOW you did. So was the boy wonder. You told him it was coming, didn’t you?!”
Brad’s face instantly went dark, his eyes darkening to near black as he rounded the desk to meet Schuldig’s gesticulations with a single accusatory gesture of his own. “You gave your gun to Farfarello. I know he TRIED to miss. Did you stop to think that, maybe, the man with the compromised depth perception might not make the best marksman?! That his shots would veer a little to his right?”
The cold hard sarcasm was a bad sign. Even though he was seething mad himself, Schuldig backed up a few steps, out of Brad’s fist range. He refused to add a black eye to his list of bruises.
“Yes, I let the old man beat you both… for your sheer stupidity. You deserved it and he saved me the trouble.”
“You fucking asshole. I don’t fucking believe you! You are such an arrogant fucker, you know that?!” The redhead tossed his head back with a sharp mirthless laugh as he paced an agitated circle on the spot. He suddenly sympathized with Nagi’s angst earlier in the night. “And don’t you fucking dare call me stupid! I have never – NEVER – compromised a mission! I have always come through for you! A fucking thank you once in awhile might work better than a golf club. Dickhead. “
“You always come through because I’ve mastered the talent of heading your fuck-ups off at the pass. I don’t need a hormonal teenager with a god complex, I already have one of those. I need a telepath that can do his fucking job without getting distracted every time the wind fucking blows. Grow the fuck up.” Other than the heavy furrow in his eyebrows, and the loose fists clenched at his sides, Brad didn’t really display his anger in the expected ways. His voice was tight but controlled, his volume never reached ‘raised’. The sarcasm was a potential sign but the expletives absolutely confirmed it. Brad was on the verge of losing his iron clad cool.
A surge of giddy, maniacal glee coursed through Schuldig’s nerves like a tsunami as he recognized it. There was no way he could possibly stop himself now despite the sting of the words. The dangerous thrill of pushing Brad past the brink, to the point he lost control… he lived for these moments.
Schuldig dipped his head as a sliver of a grin creased his lips, lapis eyes locking on Crawford as he struck out with a thought. It met Brad’s mental barriers like a bitch slap forcing a pained grunt from Brad’s throat has he winced with the sharpness of it. Before he could recover, Schuldig slithered in and around that smooth glossy shield, adhering to it like a curious, determined octopus, tentacles of force groping at the borders of his mind. Only years of tedious, calculated experimentation gave Schuldig this small advantage. The thrill of it blinded him to the consequences he knew would follow.
“Are you paying attention, all mighty Oracle? What’s the matter? Didn’t see that coming? “ A tinkling laugh echoed through Brad’s thoughts. Schuldig rarely abused their mental link this way. It only proved that Brad had inadvertently found the point the redhead was trying to get to. “Watch me do my job, Brad… You’ll never have ANYTHING as good as me… and you know it…”
Brad wrestled his momentary disorientation, focusing on shoring up his mental barriers. It didn’t matter whether the redhead was serious or only playing, he couldn’t take that chance, especially now.
Schuldig giggled through the surface of Brad’s thoughts as he taunted him further with proof that his distractions were entirely warranted. Weiss materializing from the fog as they cautiously entered the park. A tease. A taunt. A full clip of near misses. A gracefully choreographed dance around Abyssinian’s sword and Balinese’s wire. A symphony of doubt, fear, guilt, rage, both real and imagined which, thanks to Farfarello, peaked in a crescendo of soul crushing anguish, nearly tearing the youngest Takatori apart. Mamoru’s choked, wailing sobs still tasted as fresh and sweet as they did just days ago. That oh so enticing quartet, now strung along a razor’s edge, emotionally primed for the final act they didn’t even know awaited them. Schuldig shuddered with the visceral clarity of it as the memories bled through his link into Crawford’s mind.
“How can you not taste that…” Schuldig purred, his arousal seeping into the mix as he lost himself in the memory .
If Schuldig had offered to share this at any other time, in almost any other way, Brad would have been just as aroused. The attraction lie in how simple a task manipulating them was for the redhead, how easily he toyed with them, a bored predator batting at its prey solely for its amusement. Schuldig was right – no one and nothing would ever compare to the raw power he commanded and willing placed under Brad’s control. Brad not only tolerated Schuldig’s diversions involving Weiss but subtly encouraged them, his visions pointing to the most advantageous scenarios. It offered the telepath not only amusement but all too precious distraction – a focus for his thoughts that would help control the ever present chaos that threatened to overwhelm him. And it provided Brad ever tighter control of the events beginning to unfold – his mental link and long time proximity to Schuldig brought unprecedented clarity to his visions regarding the redhead and all that he may do. It was a symbiosis that they both relied upon and one that Schuldig took for granted all too often.
Like right now.
Schuldig’s eyes slipped closed as he indulged himself further, prodding at Brad’s shields.
It was then that Brad shot out, dodging to Schuldig’s side. The redhead detected his leader’s movement a mere second too late. Brad was nearly behind him as the redhead tried to turn. A sharp kick to the back of his knee sent him down to the floor on one knee. Brad followed him down, scooping up an arm, shoving him face first into the carpet with a knee jammed hard between his shoulder blades. The redhead grunted hard as the wind was forced from his lungs, the bruise on his cheek now hot and angry as the carpet abraded it further. The mental fingers evaporated from Brad’s mind as he refocused on his sadly mistaken, wayward telepath.
“Now is not the time to fuck with me.” Brad growled as he cranked Schuldig’s arm behind him further.
“What? Is it my turn already?” Schuldig shot back with a cruel laugh. “And here I assumed Nagi would be your first victim.”
“What?” Despite the anger growing in his thoughts Brad was genuinely confused. He paused, breathing heavily as he tensed his grip, tumbling that statement over in his mind a few times before latching on to what he assumed was Schuldig’s point. “You know why we need to do it. There is no other way. You are already long past your first spike.”
“It’s never enough for you… we aren’t enough for you…” Any hint of Schuldig’s amusement instantly died, an alien sense of uncertainty waivered in his words. Crawford was lost. Not only did he not know where this was coming from but he hadn’t seen it either.
“Enough? It needs to be done. If there was any other way…”
“How do I know what you saw? You’ll risk his life to take theirs. What did your all precious visions finally say about Farfarello? Are we going to risk him too?” Schuldig struggled hard beneath Crawford’s hold, growling in pent up frustration finally finding it’s release. “ What do you care… we’re just your fucking toys anyway. It doesn’t matter if you break us as long as you get what you want.”
Brad’s face went dark as his composure drained away. They were so fucking close. Schuldig, of all people, couldn’t unravel everything they had worked so hard for. Brad bent down, close to the back of his head , grinding his knee harder against the redheads’ spine.
“You are not fucking doing this. I don’t give a shit what your fucking self pity is about – you are going to get your head where it fucking needs to be. Now.” Brad’s voice was nothing but a dark hiss nearly against Schuldig’s ear. It enraged the redhead but even more so because it also sent a hot twitch of arousal through his nerves. But it didn’t keep him from acting.
As Schuldig felt the last warm hiss of breath against his ear, he slammed his head back hard, smashing his skull against Crawford’s jaw hard enough for them both to see stars. Crawford stumbled back over Schuldig’s legs with the blow, his split lip instantly streaming blood down his chin. They both scrambled clumsily to their feet, Schuldig taking his slight advantage to add insult to injury and sink his fist into Crawford’s gut. As he doubled over nearly breathless, Brad followed his own momentum, shoulder tackling Schuldig into his desk, then spinning to hip toss the redhead to the floor once again. Schuldig snarled as his back seized in pain.
“Break me now Brad and you won’t be able to use me when you need me.” The redhead wheezed the words as he struggled to his feet.
“Stupid… Why the fuck do you think I didn’t hit you in the head?” Brad wheezed back as he forced himself upright with a wince of pain, wiping the blood off his face with the sleeve of his now ruined shirt.
Schuldig glared hard at his team leader, struggling with the off handed confirmation that Brad was, indeed, just using him. His outraged ego suddenly swelled as he launched himself at Brad in a blind rage ready to beat him to a bloody pulp.
Those few seconds had been enough time for Brad to refocus his anger, collect it and lock it down where it belonged. His visions resumed their dutiful watch, narrating Schuldig’s attacks blow by blow. Block. Dodge. Smack and deflect. Dodge. Block. All seemingly in slow motion for the precog and beyond infuriating for the telepath.
“AHHHHHH… I FUCKING HATE YOU!” Schuldig screamed in fury as he doubled his ineffective assaults.
“The feeling’s mutual.” Brad shot back as he caught Schuldig’s left hook by the wrist, followed by a round house right that was also frozen midswing.
Schuldig struggled to wrench his wrists away. Brad only squeezed harder, his perfectly manicured fingernails digging into the redhead’s skin. Schuldig pulled back, aiming a knee which Brad deflected before the redhead’s foot even fully left the floor. Schuldig charged him, looking to head butt him or, at least throw him off balance. Brad leaned into the attack, Schuldig’s hair whipping around his face as he ducked his head to the side by millimeters, letting Schuldig bounce off the solid wall of his chest, his grip never wavering around his wrists.
Schuldig was nearly vibrating with rage as he stood his ground, finally acquiescing to the futility of outwitting a fully engaged Oracle. Schuldig watched the subtle details play across his face – the dark, focused stare was the same look Brad had when on a mission, his visions fully engaged, directing not only his own moves but those of the entire team. It was the look he had when he’d get to kill. That look had been the subject of so many of the redhead’s fantasies; they enthralled him to the point of looking for excuses to get Brad in the field more often. Even with that death glare directed at him, it still made his cock twitch. But that dark glare took on a sudden glassiness, Brad’s eyes dilating just a bit wider than they should be. He had wondered when the contact would kick his visions into overdrive.
Schuldig twisted again in Brad’s grip, his hands starting to tingle from the lack of blood flow. Brad cranked his grip even tighter, yanking the redhead back into place. All the while the vision persisted – the longer they were, the further into the future they delved. Brad was seeing long past here and now. Brad was the undisputed master of multitasking – he could see the future, rewrite it and kick your ass all at the same time. Schuldig just stood there tense but quiet until Brad’s pupils contracted, the glassiness draining from his eyes.
“Let the fuck go.” Schuldig quietly demanded, still glued to Brad’s reactions.
Brad stood there, face still dark, long slow breathes swelling his chest as he licked lightly at his split lip. The lack of an identifiable reaction set off all sorts of alarms in Schuldig’s head. If he tried to forcibly extract an answer out of Brad now, he would very likely get himself shot after all he had pulled already. He gingerly pulled again at Brad’s grip, the anger morphing into caution and confusion. He had never been the focus of Brad’s scrutiny like this before. He wasn’t sure if he should get as far away as possible and stay there for awhile or if he wanted Brad to actually see him – really see him – for the first time.
“Let go.” His words held no conviction.
After a long minute, Brad slowly pulled Schuldig closer forcing him to take a step forward. Schuldig tensed and resisted but Brad didn’t relent until they were nearly chest to chest. The redhead’s thoughts started racing and even more so as Brad leaned closer, the tilt of his head suggesting his target. Schuldig was positive that Brad was going to repay him for the split lip and he flinched as Brad’s lips met his own. But the bite he expected never came. And Brad’s lips were still there – soft and swollen in one corner, moving against his own, unhurried but insistent.
Brad was kissing him.
With that realization Schuldig froze as his mind instantly reeled. Brad was doing this for a reason. Brad always had a reason – a well thought out and much debated conclusion reached by the mini board of directors in his head. Everything he did was merely a step towards the result he desired. He was as spontaneous as a train schedule and much more reliable. So, Brad had a reason to be kissing him but what was it?
Nagi may have been right. Brad wouldn’t risk failure this close to the culminations of his plans. He needed all three of them to see it through. Brad was well aware that this was what Schuldig had wanted for years. Nearly a decade of denial had made an impression – he never anticipated seeing any of his desires through. Brad could just be delivering exactly what he wanted to buy his compliance just as the elders had counselled him several times before. But Brad had openly refused that advice, and privately confessed that he’d never manipulate him that way. But Brad was a masterful liar. Schuldig always knew for certain that he lied to everyone else as it suited his purposes but Brad had never lied to him. Had he? Would he start now or had he been lying all along?!
Luckily, Schuldig’s libido ignored the mental gymnastics tying him in knots. His lips softened under Brad’s and tentatively returned the kiss, so much softer and undemanding than he had ever imagined. Brad’s eyes were on his, the look he found there further confused him because it something he had never seen before. This was all new territory - unexpected, inexplicably random and potentially lethal from Schuldig’s point of view. He closed his eyes as he tossed all caution and doubt to the wind. It didn’t really matter what Brad’s reasons were, he wasn’t going to miss a single second of whatever this was.