Schuldig's not used to being the one to have to sort things out - especially whan he's not exactly coping well himself.
//When you try to hide behind a window pane, you're as see-through as glass//
Schuldig opens his eyes, only half awake. Then he scrunches them shut again, and puts his arm over his face to shield himself from the light. His head is killing him. Maybe Crawford will let him stay in bed if he looks pathetic enough when he asks. Or at least bring him painkillers and tea before he makes him get up. Schuldig reaches out gingerly. Wakes himself up enough to call out a bit harder -
- oh yeah.
Schuldig goes to take a shower. Schuldig closes his eyes and sways, the water a heavy rope down his back, streaking his body sunburn red. He always turns the shower up as hot as he can bear it, and stands there until his breath is thick with steam and he sees white dizziness before his eyes as he dries off. He touches himself. He rubs his thin hands over thin, strong, tensile muscle and tendon. He touches his scars; the lower back; above the belly button; his arms; his skull; that old surgical one down the centre of his chest, over the breastbone. It's faded almost to white, pale and shiny. Maybe even some more - he doesn't care, or he doesn't remember. He's unnatural and scrawny; he's beautiful, bad-for-your-health crazy beautiful if you look at him wrong, and he knows it.
That was once too often, having to duck out of a meeting early to throw up like a dog in the toilets. Schuldig found himself overflowing with weak tears, with Crawford watching him. Crawford was wondering how he'd got saddled with this sickly teenager when he'd been promised a trained operative.
''M trained,' mumbled Schuldig, 'fuck you'. He was about to say sorry or tell Crawford he was fine, just wait a second. He stopped himself angrily. Crawford was still adolescent enough himself.
Crawford offered him a handkerchief, and put an awkward hand on Schuldig's back. Schuldig tried to sensibly pull himself together. For some reason, the hesitant, comforting touch made this harder than if Crawford had left him in disgust.
He used to get thinner during the summer; bored and confined, 'dancing' in his room, moving frenetically merely to distract himself until he was too exhausted to think. Shaking and sweating, staring at the walls.
He does so again now, feeling the warning catch of bile in his throat with nostalgic relish. He's too old now for granulated banana flavour protein drinks. He's being stupid. He knows that.
It's just that, if he stops, he'll have to think about what to do next.
The air is cold and clear, full of condensation and the smells of asphalt and soba and cigarette smoke breathed out of commuters' mouths. A young man wavers between the mouths, the suited bodies. His shuffling and his odd appearance and the gestures he makes to no-one keep people out of his path. T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms and wandering around in October - he must be cold, skin goosepimpled and stomach muscles clenched beneath the shirt, but he doesn't seem to notice. He takes out a half packet of chewing gum from his pocket. It's been through the wash; must have been there the past month. He peels back the furred paper and eats a piece anyway. Not for the flavour; for the feeling of the mint and the aspartame cleanness on his palate. The vending machines; they've started putting hot coffee in them. He wanted milkshake but he'd settle for cola.
There is another man there, who watches him calmly as his hands hesitate over the buttons. He reaches over and takes hold of the young man's wrist firmly.
Schuldig hadn't even noticed him until then.
Checking himself from tensing for a fight, he blurts out, 'Ich haltete dich fÃ¼r /tot/, du beschissener -,' then trails off. He's aware for the first time in ages of what he must look like.
Crawford's presence is obvious now, even overwhelming, so why hadn't he noticed him before?
'I'm sorry,' says Crawford neutrally. 'Business.'
He can't read Crawford. There's so much, filling up his synapses, blocking them. Hiding things. He catches a glimpse of a visual impression - two shades of pale skin, sweat-dampened hair, the naked dip and curve of a lower back, a scar he recognises as one of his own. He gazes blankly at the ground, at the sodden leaves piling up at the feet of the vending machines, sticking to his shoes.
Schuldig feels only anger.
'I was going to buy milk,' he manages, lying. 'You still have keys, right?'
Crawford's smile is a little sad. 'Sure.'
A cold autumn sun's out and he's in a tight t-shirt and jeans, pissed off and violent but civil. Business as usual, may as well be. Perfect day for it. He's quite happy to pretend nothing's happened.
The target is fat, and wears a polycotton shirt. Crawford probably knows his name. Schuldig doesn't. He doesn't care, either.
'Don't - please don't shoot me,' gurgles the target, pinned down on the desk with Schuldig twisting his arm up behind him and Schuldig's gun at his head. He sounds like he's going to puke.
Schuldig considers. 'Yeah,' says Schuldig. 'I can't do that. What if it were to go through the wall and injure somebody in the next room?'
He changes position, braces his knee in the small of the guy's back. Then he flips the gun around in his hand and whacks the guy over the back of the head with the handle.
Crawford addresses the target. His voice carries a crisp, professional air of menace. Classy.
Schuldig shifts. He's getting tired. They used to have Farfarello do this kind of heavy work. Or Nagi - it was funny to see the look on their faces then. So fucking funny. The guy tenses slightly, so Schuldig hits him with the gun again, out of turn.
'Schuldig,' warns Crawford.
'Hurry up with it already, then,' snaps Schuldig.
He's lightheaded; Crawford's starting to sound distant. He really can't shoot this guy, Schuldig thinks. The office is somewhat soundproofed, but it's the middle of the working day. He has a knife but it's still in its sheath, he can't get to it now.
'Schuldig?' says Crawford, pulling him from his reverie. 'Go on, then.'
The target whimpers. Schuldig hits him.
'Hey, you know -' he leans over to speak into the guy's ear, '- she's fucking him. Your wife. I'm going to kill you now, and she won't be sorry.'
He carries on beating the guy. It seems to take a long time.
His right hand's stinging by the end, and his back aches when he stretches out. 'He shit himself,' says Schuldig. 'What the fuck. He actually shit himself. Little shit.' He lets out a manic giggle, panting with exhilaration.
Crawford shoots him a disapproving glance.
Schuldig laughs some more. He feels his limbs tremble. 'Hey,' he says finally. 'I'm going to the vending machine. You want a coke?'
'I'm blind.' He sounds so - lost.
Schuldig feels his own slippery heartbeat, up in his throat. Crawford's eyes are distant, not vacant. He's seeing things no-one else can see. Yet.
'You bloody well aren't already! Get back here!' He grabs Crawford's shoulders and shakes him like he knows he shouldn't, digging his thumbs in. He shouldn't, but he doesn't care, it's worse than shaking a sleeper from a dream and he doesn't care. He feels almost hysterical.
'Get back here!'
Crawford's fist whips up and knocks Schuldig back hard, across the jaw. Quite reflexive - Crawford blinks, jolted back to himself, some seconds later. He's breathing heavily.
Schuldig pokes gingerly at his mouth, checking his teeth. His lip is bleeding. Crawford is furious and Schuldig feels it, but he waits and grates it out level-voiced: 'You do not disturb me like that.'
Schuldig doesn't care. That's not the issue here.
'Is that it, huh? What you said, why you - and you didn't even fucking tell me?' He's yelling and his voice is ugly and Crawford is over him again, pulling him to his feet. Crawford punches him in the stomach, which shuts him up, and grabs Schuldig's hand when it comes up with a knife, twisting his wrist until he drops it. He slams Schuldig against the wall - Schuldig's head jerks back and his teeth click together, and the only reason he stays on his feet is because Crawford is holding him there.
Fuck, thinks Schuldig. He's gone too far. It feels like Crawford might even kill him; you never can quite know, with people like them. Schuldig keeps his head down, tries to breathe; waits for it.
It doesn't come. Crawford holds him at arm's length, staring at him. Schuldig knows better than to try and get into Crawford's head now, but he can feel him looking. Crawford makes as if to get Schuldig to face him, taking hold of a fistful of hair - but then just lets him go. He stalks off.
Schuldig slides down to the floor, dazed.
Crawford orders Chinese takeaway. It seems unreal to Schuldig. He has never quite been convinced by the faked solidity of cheap food. He's hungry, so he eats anyway. He's tired, so he doesn't bother to complain. The sauce makes the cut on his lip sting.
When they are full and becoming sleepy, Crawford starts to touch Schuldig. He smoothes over and rubs Schuldig's shoulders. He strokes Schuldig's hair. He's gentle and methodical, and although Schuldig knows, when Crawford runs his fingers over the bump on the back of Schuldig's head, that he's admiring his own handiwork, Schuldig supposes he doesn't mind. He just feels bruised, and very tired, and his head hurts.
'You're tense,' grumbles Schuldig; 'keeps distracting me.'
Crawford is tense - tense, and unhappy. He keeps touching Schuldig as if he's trying to relax him like normal, as if he thinks Schuldig's not going to notice. It feels weird, but Schuldig doesn't feel like thinking about it. Crawford is doing /something/. He's entitled to his stabs at stability.
Schuldig responds, a sleepy normal. Nothing hurts too much if he moves carefully. He undoes buttons by feel and then slides half off the sofa, between Crawford's legs.
/We leave for America tomorrow./
/America ... huh./
It's not real. Really, it's not real.
In the pale grey dawn, he pulls on his crumpled and unwelcoming jeans. The fly buttons are cold against his stomach. He pauses to light a fag, a sharp, isolated heat against the bruised tones of the morning.
This, this is all wrong/. Crawford's the dependable one. Crawford's the one who takes so much pride and fucking /pleasure in having to clear up every time Schuldig does something bad.
He inhales and lets out again the cheap smoke that stings his throat without warming it. He pushes his tangled hair back from his face, scrubs the sleep from one eye with the heel of his hand. Sunglasses; where did he put his sunglasses? Sunglasses before dawn, to hide your bloodshot eyes.
He gets out to stretch his legs - stands on the plain and breathes in the dry air, for the dust to clog his lungs, to be blown out into a tissue when he ducks back into the car. This is America.
He calls Nagi, feeling - not homesick, but probably nostalgic. Curls himself around the phone. Nagi has work to do. He can't stay long.
'You really are half deaf, you know, Schuldig,' says Nagi at one point, exasperated by a string of misinterpretations. Schuldig pauses, stung. It's not so bad that he can't hold a telephone conversation, surely?
'Hey, are you still there? Call me back later, okay? I have to go,' says Nagi. He goes. Schuldig tucks his legs up close to his chest. He forgot to retaliate, even, he thinks.
Nagi hasn't asked about Crawford. There's no reason he would know, realises Schuldig. He's gripped by sudden paranoia. Are they still alive, even? Half a world away, he can't check with his own head and reassure himself. Telephone static - it's not real. It's a reconstituted voice. Electric spittle. So why is it comforting to hear? The last they heard of Farfarello, he was in Austria. Germany, before that. He checks again - yes, Crawford's background noise is still there. On and off, ever since he was fifteen.
People go away - everyone goes away. Schuldig's known that for a long time. He's never known before that it could frighten him this much.
Schuldig wakes with white behind his eyes, warm in bed and sleepy. Is it snowing?
He blinks until his vision rationalises. Crawford is sitting, palely illuminated in the glow of the laptop screen, his time disjointed in a way Schuldig recognises. Presently, Crawford shifts; back again. The snow disappears. He looks over at Schuldig.
'Go back to sleep.' Muted, as if through radio static or a telephone line from a long, cold way away.
''Kay,' says Schuldig, rolling over.
'You know - if you saw a death, and it was me ... would you tell me?'
'You'd know.' That's not quite the same thing, but Schuldig doesn't press the point.
' ... what if it were you?'
His head feels thick; he has to concentrate hard and watch their lips to sort out who was talking and who was thinking before he tries to answer.
Paranoid maybe; he knows he's been trapped. His chair falls back with a clatter, tangling between his legs. The glare of sound in his head is part mundane, part immaterial. He can't close himself off from it. He's not sure where his limbs are. People are staring at him, their faces flattening and blurring, gaping like fish. His mouth is open - was he speaking? He can't hear himself over the din.
He's pinned down by a heavy arm, unexpectedly - hadn't seen anything coming. His flailing wrists are gathered in. Schuldig gets two fingers inserted into his mouth, between the back teeth - to keep him from biting his tongue? Schuldig thinks, that's not right, he's not throwing a fit - he tries biting the fingers, and has the grip on his jaw tighten bruisingly in response. It's Crawford. And this, anyway; this was Crawford's fault in the first place.
Crawford drags him outside, competent, saving face. The tension has gone out of Schuldig, leaving him empty. The night air chills the sweat off his face. It prickles. Crawford takes his fingers out of Schuldig's mouth, experimentally - no, Schuldig's not fighting any more. He takes out a handkerchief and wipes his hand, keeping his other arm over Schuldig's back. 'I thought you were dead, you fucker,' mumbles Schuldig. He's already said that. 'I know,' says Crawford, caught up in the future again, absently rubbing Schuldig's back.
Crawford smoothes the hair away from Schuldig's face. He has Schuldig by the shoulders, on his lap. Sulky and closed-off, biting back the anger that covers up his fear. Crawford is not rough, but neither is he gentle. He's - composed. He's being the sensible one. Schuldig thinks he might like to get up, and he thinks that may not be an option.
Maybe it shows, for Crawford tilts Schuldig's head toward his and says, 'What do you want me to do?'
'Can't you see?'
'What do you want to do?'
Schuldig starts to feel claustrophobic. He turns his face away. 'Fuck this, I want to go fucking shoot someone.' He makes an abortive attempt to get up.
'What the fuck do you keep asking me for, huh?' And he pulls away properly, stands up, but Crawford's hand, Crawford's grip on his wrist - Schuldig makes the mistake of glancing back, and sees Crawford looking at him as if he's run out of words. Schuldig slumps back down, half on and half off the bed. He rests his forehead against Crawford's stomach.
'Fuck you, I'm not going anywhere.'
And he thinks but doesn't say, this is your problem, stop trying to make this about me. Don't drive me away. Don't think it's better to drive me away. He's not being all selfish, he's not, he needs Crawford but Crawford needs him as well. He has to. He doesn't even try to articulate it, this knot of feeling; Crawford's close enough to get enough of the meaning.
He doesn't look up, because he's pretty sure Crawford's crying. He rocks forward a bit, concentrating on the heat of Crawford's body, calming himself. He slips a hand in. Crawford is hard, helplessly so. Schuldig bites his thumb and then rubs it over the head of Crawford's cock, curling his fingers lightly around the shaft. His breath shivers out in the closeness, and he strokes more firmly before using his tongue and then his mouth. Crawford doesn't last long. His legs tremble around Schuldig as he comes with a gasp. He sits there without moving for some time, holding Schuldig in place with his legs and a hand twined in Schuldig's hair so tightly it hurts.
'- but they've always been the clearest thing I see. Everything else is getting harder to focus on, but I'm seeing them more and more.'
This coffee is awful. Schuldig lights a cigarette, to take the taste away. Crawford takes one - Schuldig looks up askance, but Crawford's impervious enough behind his glasses.
'You used to drive with your eyes closed. Showing off. I was about ready to deck you for it as well, you bastard.' Schuldig smiles.
' ... That's so.' The corners of Crawford's mouth flick upwards. He dips his head, and pinches the bridge of his nose.
Schuldig stands naked before the open hotel window, pulling his trousers on. He makes an easy, pale-skinned target. He's confident because Crawford is; he's arrogant because they both are - have to be.
He breathes in wet autumn mist along with the smoke when he's out on the balcony first thing. It makes a warm knot of hunger in his throat.
He mentally nudges Crawford. /Hey//, says Schuldig, //Where are we going, Crawford?/
/Mmm//, replies Crawford sleepily. //Who knows?/