Schuldig's shields are disintegrating. CrawfordxSchuldig
Irritatingly, italics don't show up. And I really don't want to go through putting in a bunch of '*'s. So... suffer.
Love and hugs!
The rug is ripped by the living room doorway; an inch-wide strip of pale grey polyester fibre sticking discordantly into the air like scraggly fur. Schuldig has been staring at it for the past three hours, measuring the movement of the sun across the floor, the random puffs of air that make the upright hairs quiver.
Nagi comes in to watch tv sometime after the clearest bars of sunlight vanish, and Schuldig gives him an absent cussing out for disturbing the quiet. Nagi doesn't answer, just shoots him a disdainful glance and turns the volume up.
Schuldig gets off the couch after a while, sick of seeing dog demons and blue-haired freaks (he has enough of those in real life) cavort around on perfect pixilated landscapes, and goes to the kitchen. He gets a banana out of the fridge and sits down in the nearest chair. Picks with his thumbnail at a hardened blob of something-or-other on the tabletop. The light filtering through the crystal pendant hanging in the window creates rainbow fractals on the floor by the sink. He takes a bite of banana and holds it in his cheek for a moment, running his finger over the protruding skin, thinking how hard it feels, when bananas are actually so soft...
The front door slams open, and Crawford is snarling "-doesn't matter what I think. You do your job and I won't have to take matters into my own hands."
The rustle and clatter of a coat being hung up in the closet (Crawford's, since everyone else just dumps theirs on the floor, or in the corner, or over the back of a chair, or nowhere at all), the twin thuds of a pair of shoes hitting the wall, and Farfarello stomps into the kitchen, yanking open the fridge with a clang and clink of rattling jars. Crawford appears in the doorway, takes in Schuldig with a cursory flick of the eyes that both greets and dismisses him. Schuldig catches himself on the brink of shrinking back into his own head.
"Do you hear me?" Crawford asks.
Farfarello just snarls in reply, slamming things around inside the fridge, bent over at the waist. Schuldig notices that he is wearing Winnie the Pooh socks, and remembers buying them a few weeks ago. So that's where they went. He'd wondered.
"Yes. I fucking hear you." He surfaces from the fridge, milk in one hand, peanut butter in the other, banana between his teeth. He tries to talk around the banana, spits it out on the table, and faces Crawford squarely. "I heard you the first time."
Crawford lifts a singular eyebrow, says "Good", nods with his chin at Schuldig, and walks away. Farfarello drops into the chair opposite Schuldig, twirls the lid off the peanut butter, rips the stem off his banana as savagely as if it were a head, and slathers a fingerful of peanut butter on the exposed white fruit meat. He chews, swallows, and glances up at Schuldig as though seeing him for the first time. "Morning," he says.
"It's afternoon," Schuldig responds, guessing. He hasn't looked at a clock in days.
Farfarello shrugs, taking another bite of peanut butter-slathered banana. "Like it matters."
Schuldig slides a little farther down into his chair and nibbles at his own banana. "You're wearing my socks," he says, after a few minutes of nearly sullen silence.
Farfarello looks down, then back up with an unrepentant grin. "They yours? I found them in the laundry this morning. I was in a hurry."
Schuldig wasn't even awake this morning. He'd been up all night, walking back and forth in his room, hands in his hair, lips in his teeth. The headlights flashing in his bedroom windows kept him awake. He heard the city noises-screams; and felt guilty for not being the one causing them. Then guilty for being guilty. Just fucking Guilty all the way through, and who gave a flying fuck. He shrugs. "S'ok," he says. "I have another pair."
Farfarello pauses in his demolition of the banana, and says, "You like Winnie the Pooh?"
Schuldig doesn't answer for a while. He drapes his elbows over the arms of the chair, tips his head against the back, and regards the ceiling like a priceless oeuvre. Water stain here, soot mark there, a chip in the plaster where the champagne cork had connected that first night. That was the only time he'd ever seen Crawford drunk, with his hair in disarray, clothes a beige and charcoal testament to the art of dishabille, hands steady and warm on Schuldig's shoulders. It had only been the two of them, back then. Just Them. It is still capitalized in Schuldig's mind.
"I heard this thing on the net once..." he says. "Pooh gets sick of Christopher Robin being such a mini-prick and does him in. With an axe. Stupid kid's too big to fit in the hole Pooh dug, so he chops off his legs, and maybe his head. I don't remember. And he gets Piglet, too. Drill to the skull. I think he stuck him in the cupboard. Then he shoots up. Rabbit'd given him heroin, or maybe it was crack. Anyway, he ODs. Just croaks."
Farfarello is silent for a moment, staring, and then starts laughing. It's nearly a giggle, but not the maniacal one he gets when he's off his rocker, so Schuldig doesn't bother tensing up over it. "That's hilarious," he says after moment.
Schuldig grins with half his mouth. "Yeah." He looks over and makes a face at Farfarello drinking out of the milk carton. "Do you mind?"
"What's the difference?" He wipes away his milkstache.
"I don't want to think about your slobber when I get a cup of milk."
"Why don't you get your own jug, then? You friggin' drink enough of it."
That's true. It's the one thing he likes almost as much as coffee. When it's ice-cold, and at that point where it's almost-but-not-quite sour and sugar-sweet. He loves that sweetness. He'd buy a jug and leave it in the fridge for a week just to get that taste, if there weren't other people in the house who drink it too fast for that. It's good for his bones, too. His bones are so slender and delicate... When Crawford first got him from Rosenkreuz, at the beginning of the Just Them stage, he broke his wrist falling out of bed in the middle of the night. And his ankle a month later, tripping over the vacuum cleaner. Crawford came home one afternoon with a gallon of milk, filled the tallest glass he could find, and told Schuldig to drink at least two a day, or else.
Farfarello is staring at him, waiting for an answer-answer to what?-, so he just shakes his head, shrugs, and stands up, leaving his half-eaten banana on the table. Halfway out of the kitchen, he sees Farfarello reach over and snag it in his long, pale fingers.
The office is nice. Not too cushy, not too standardized. The chair is perfect. Schuldig leans back in it, putting his feet on the desk. The chair flexes with an ominous creak as he rocks back and forth, and Nagi, standing to his left, glances at him, thinks, ~If it breaks, I'm not going to catch you.~
Schuldig, too tired to be cocky, just says, ~Love you too, babe.~
Nagi looks away disdainfully. Schuldig can't tell from his expression if he's serious or not. Crawford, sitting on the far corner of the desk near the door, says ~Behave.~
Farfarello is perched on the windowsill, nose pressed against the glass to stare at the street fifteen stories below. He is thinking about birds, about feathers and flying and sharp beaks and eyes that blend with the heads they're a part of. He thinks that, if they were all birds, Nagi would be a sparrow. He himself would be an eagle. Crawford would be a raven, and Schuldig... Schuldig would be a flamingo.
"Flamingo?' Schuldig says out loud, not meaning too.
Farfarello looks over his shoulder. "They're endangered," he says. "And pink."
Schuldig doesn't answer. Just stares, and wonders if he's been insulted or not. Then he senses something, turns his head, and says, "He's coming."
Crawford stands up, Nagi adjusts his shirt and tosses hair out of his eyes, and Farfarello slips off the windowsill to stalk over to Crawford's side. Schuldig doesn't move. He admires the wood-grain of the desk, idly toying with the handle of the knife sticking out of his boot.
The door opens and the target steps in, juggling coffee and paperwork. The coffee hits the floor when he realizes exactly who is in his office, the papers scatter, and he whirls back to the door with a strangled little cry.
"Far-" Crawford begins, but Farfarello has already darted past the man and slammed the door shut. Somewhat surprisingly, instead of turning back to face Crawford, the man (Kirigama-san, was it?) lashes out with a fist to Farfarello's face. Of course, the Irishman doesn't even flinch.
Schuldig looks away. He doesn't want to watch. It's all so boring. He frees his knife from its sheath and scratches into the wood lacquer, `Schuldig wuz here'. And then scratches it out, because he outgrew such crassity quite a while ago.
Crawford, once Kirigama's face has been caved in a little, starts on his speech about the evils (or at least comparative idiocy) of embezzling from one's boss. Especially when one's boss happens to be Takatori. And even more so when said Takatori has a team of psi talents guarding his so-called assets.
It's all pedantic. Schuldig leans so far back in the chair that it does finally break. Sickening vertigo for a quarter second, and then he is steady and upright again. Nagi hasn't twitched, and doesn't look at him, but Schuldig figures he did it to save Crawford face.
Explosively, he flies to his feet. Crawford pauses, flashes him a warning glare, but he is already shoving past them, pushing Farfarello out of the way, running down the hall as fast as he can. The secretary at the desk keels over, brain-dead, blood pouring from her nose. The front doors are shimmering shaded glass, ten feet wide and ten feet tall. He doesn't even stop.
The sky is steel-slate-grey. No clouds. Or, really, all cloud. An endless canvas of uniformly boring moisture droplets, too high to touch.
Schuldig lights a cigarette and leans against the wall. Jagged bits of concrete dig into his shoulder blades. His pretty white shoes are muddy and nestled up to a pile of dirty rages, candy wrappers, and rotting food. His pants are ripped on one knee. His hair is tied into a ponytail, and the soft ends tickle the nape of his neck if he moves the right way. The collar of his jacket is pulled up as high as it will go, and scrapes the underside of his chin.
He draws in a slow lungful of smoke, holds it in his mouth for a long minute, rolling it around his tongue, and then blows it out through his teeth. It floats up, dissipating, and becomes one with the cloud-sky.
From the entrance to the alleyway, Crawford says, "Schuldig, it's time to come home."
He doesn't answer. He's remembering similar words spoken many years ago. Well, many years ago to him. Just a little over half a decade, but that's a good fifth of his life right there. Flying on angel dust. Giddy and miserable at the same time, draped over a cold, damp toilet in a club where the bass came right through the walls, right through your skull, and didn't bother stopping to say hello. He'd hugged the toilet like a long-lost lover, retching and shaking, body screaming, mind laughing.
And then the stall door had banged open, bolt lock torn right off. Crawford leaning over him, pulling his hair back in time to avoid having it puked on, one thumb pressing into the pressure point on his wrist to stop the nausea. "You're a half hour past curfew," he'd murmured into Schuldig's ear. "Time to go home."
Schuldig had just managed to whisper "Fuck you", before another bout of heaving hit him. When he was done, Crawford picked him up and carried him out to the sink, getting rid of a couple of goth-wannabe groupies with a well-placed glower. Washed him off, let him rinse his mouth out, did up his pants, and packed him out to the car. Schuldig fell asleep against his shoulder halfway home.
Now, Crawford moves down the alley toward him, glossy designer shoes hypnotically staccato on the pavement. He doesn't say anything, just stands unmoving in front of Schuldig until the telepath finishes his cigarette, stubs it out on the wall by his thigh, and pushes away from the building.
"Okay," he says.
Crawford leads him back to the Lexus, and if Farfarello is leaning against it, ready and willing to knock him out and drag him home if need be, it's all right, because Schuldig knows that home is safe, and out here isn't.
He's dreaming. Yes. Hopefully.
It's a memory, actually, but warped and disjointed by the chaotic powers of sleep. Crawford's brand new car. A black Camry with blinding chrome hubcaps. Schuldig, fifteen, smatter than hell but sometimes prone to a ridiculous lack of self-preservation, takes it for an unauthorized drive. The whole tripd makes no sense. He hits ruts that send him hundreds of feet in the air, and lands perfectly, thrilled to the core. People wander into the road, get run over, wisp away into steam. Frogs fall from the sky and hit the windshield with sickening splats.
He cruises the whole city, dreams a different dream halfway through, something about mermaids and horses and Lugers, and then comes back to the car, pulling into the driveway. The Camry is a wreck. One of the doors is torn off, the hood is caved in, the roof is gone, it has only two wheels. In real life (or what he presumes is real life with the part of his brain that isn't caught up in the dream) the damage wasn't all that bad. He'd backed into a telephone pole, that was all. The fender was dented and scraped. Two grand to fix it.
In the dream, Crawford is standing in the driveway, exactly as he had been all those years ago; arms folded, head back, jaw harder than rock. At fifteen, Schuldig had nearly shit himself, and almost went straight into reverse, but then realized how juvenile that would make him seem, and plastered a smirk on instead.
But now... He hits the brake, leans forward over the steering wheel to see Crawford's expression of disdainful wrath properly. And then he feels his face crack into a smile, and brings his foot down on the gas as hard as he can.
He is hanging upside down from the monkey bars. His head is full of blood, eyes swimming, skull tingling. He's been this way for the last fifteen minutes; he's been counting. He raises a finger every time a minute goes by. After ten, he gets confused if he's on eleven, or twenty-one, or thirty-one. Doesn't matter. He scared away the children. He made them see Lucifer Incarnate stalking across the sandbox toward them, fire pouring from his mouth, nostrils billowing smoke, pitchfork raised and dripping blood. It hurt to create that illusion. He still has the migraine. Or maybe that's just from his currently inverted status.
The problem with werewolves, he thinks, perfectly baselessly, is that they're so damn short tempered.
The goldfish tank in the living room is cloudy. The fish are dead, floating. He'd spent an awful lot of time chasing them around the tank. Slimy little buggers. He holds his hand over the water, places the knife with clinical exactitude on the biggest vein in his wrist, and slices. It barely hurts. He crouches down, forearm pressed into the hard plastic edge of the tank, to watch the tendrils of scarlet spread through the already pale red H2O. It's very beautiful, what with the lamp splaying gilded shafts of light through it, and the reflections of the orange and yellow rocks on the bottom dancing over his bare arm.
Someone gasps behind him, and the knife, the point of which had been swirling absently along his palm, drawing spirals of ruby, freezes in place. "Crawford!" Nagi yells.
Schuldig lowers his head, pillowing it on his upper arm, and sighs.
He stands in front of the mirror, palms on the edge of the sink, leaning forward. His skin is this bruised porcelain colour; dark blue under his bloodshot eyes. He reaches up and prods at a hollowed cheek with one stick-like, glassy nailed finger. His hair still looks like fire, but it's dull and sticks with sweat to his forehead and neck. He hasn't had a shower in three days, and that's worse than it sounds, considering that he never sleeps-or, if he does, he wakes up dripping with sweat, stomach a twisted knot of fear, unable to remember or comprehend why he's crying.
This is one such night. He peers out of the corner of his eye at the tub, but it looks chilly and uninviting; like too much work for a gain that will be nullified in another day or two. Instead, he takes a drink of water straight from the faucet, tilting his head and bending his neck to get close enough, and then slides down the cupboard doors to sit on the floor. He pulls his legs up, wraps his arms around them, and cradles his head between his knees.
He can't think. Things just go around and around. Cars, flowers, cats, children, wooden chairs, corel plates, vases painted with daisies, Rollex watches, dirt caked into the tread of Nike runners, full-spectrum pools of gas in street-side pot holes, roof peaks, Jack Russell terriers, vapour-barrier on unfinished walls, paintings of medieval castles with horses and knights, liverspots on skin that's not his own, not anyone that he knows'. It all just goes over and over and over, until it congeals into one big ball of colour and feeling and sound, rolling around in his head, battering at the walls, scrabbling at the floor, trying to get out, out, out. He can't stand it, he'd kill (has killed) to make it stop. It gets too loud, and his eyes unfocus, and his brain shorts out, and he ends up in a shaking, sobbing, pathetic mass on the floor. Feeling the gripping, stinging cold of the tiles, the wetness of spilled water seeping into his clothes, the lino-hardness pressing into his temple and his too-skinny hips and one shoulder...
No. He's on the floor, but he's still sitting up. His butt is cold, and his neck has a crick, but he's upright.
"Schuldig. You're broadcasting."
He looks up blearily. Crawford is standing in the door, shirtless, pyjama bottoms low on his hips. Nagi stands behind him, peering over his shoulder. "Brad," Schuldig says. It's almost a whimper, awful, so he doesn't say anything else aloud. ~I'm cold.~
Crawford steps into the bathroom. He seems tired, like he's just woken up. He shoves a hand through his hair. The look on his face-irritation, anger, disapproval, pity-makes Schuldig curl in on himself. He lowers his head again, wraps his hands around the back of his neck, and bites the insides of his cheeks.
"Come on," Crawford says, and Schuldig feels hands on his arms. He tenses up. "Nagi." He is lifted into the air, floating chest-high over the floor. Nagi takes him back to his room, deposits him on the floor just inside the door, and vanishes down the hall.
Schuldig sits up, looking at himself in the closet mirror. He looks tiny, frightened, like a child. Absurd, pitiful. No wonder Crawford is angry. Nagi comes back with drugs and water, and he takes them. He hears the boy whisper, "Crawford, you can't just leave him like this, please-."
Stupid kid. Whispering, as though... Schuldig is stricken for an instant, wondering if they really think him so far gone that he can't hear their minds anymore. And then he further wonders: am I that far gone?
He presses into Nagi's mind. It hurts, God, it hurts. The touch of Nagi's delicate shields against his telepathy burns. He pulls back. Fuck. And then presses forward again. Hell if a little pain's going to stop anything.
Nagi's thinking, Please, don't let it get worse, Crawford, see sense, don't be a prick, please. Almost touching, that the kid cares that much. Touching, or perhaps revolting. Crawford-well, of course, he can't read Crawford. But he's leaking concern around the edges.
Schuldig stands up shakily, shuddering, and sits on the bed. The drugs are kicking in. He feels at once exhausted and euphoric. Light spots spin before his eyes. His feet meld into the floor. Crawford sits beside him a moment later. He doesn't notice Nagi leaving. Crawford puts a hand on his back. Schuldig melts into the touch. Crawford hasn't touched him like this in ages. When he was younger, it used to be therapeutic. When a telepath touches someone, it's like putting their ear to a loudspeaker. It's the quickest way to break a shield, or get access to the hidden depths of a closed-off mind. Crawford's shields are too strong to be broken, and the touches gave Schuldig reality-bending headaches after a while, but they kept at it. It made him stronger, and thickened Crawford's shields, though Crawford never admitted to that. And, after Schuldig was the best in the biz, and had proven that fact many times over, that specific brand of therapy faded away. Crawford was not, by nature, a physical individual. He dealt in mind games, not brute force, and not gentleness. Schuldig was pretty sure he didn't care.
But now, whacked on some sort of sedative that doesn't even have a commercial name it's so illegal, and with his shields around his feet and his mind telling him things like that the moon is honest-to-god cheese, he turns sideways and buries his face in Crawford's shoulder, clinging to him, trying his damndest not to break down completely. Crawford puts an awkward arm around him, one hand rubbing his back.
Schuldig feels like there is something coalescing in his mind. An all-important truth trapped behind an impermeable layer of sanity and propriety. He starts babbling. "Didn't mean to, I'm sorry, it's just that there was so much, and it wouldn't get out. You know? And it-it-I don't know. It was so loud. And the blood was... No. That's not it. It's not... Just wait, I'll get it."
Crawford doesn't answer. He pets Schuldig's hair, squeezing his neck soothingly. His mind feels so good. Cold and comforting, like pressing naked against a window on one of those nights when it's just so hot you could scream. Schuldig's mouth opens and closes, trying desperately to form this thought, this one all-important thing. He ends up whispering "I'm sorry" over and over.
Finally, Crawford moves him up to the head of the bed, pulling the rumpled covers down and tucking him under them. The drugs are making him so fucking stupid. He knows he's acting stupid. And he's so tired.
Crawford straightens up, about to turn away and head for the door, but Schuldig grabs him and pulls him back. "Please," he says, the `l' and the `s' the only letters actually audible. Crawford stares at him for a moment, assessing, considering, and then sits down again. Schuldig doesn't let go of his wrist.
"Schuldig," Crawford says after a minute, voice soft, "you're going to be okay, you know that, right?"
The thought solidifies. It bursts into his mind like an abrupt alien dawn, all gold-dappled and very nearly terrifying. He sits up, dizzy, unsure, off-balance, swallowing hard on a sound that is clawing at the inside of his throat, and wraps his arms around Crawford's neck. He tries to speak, but he can't. So he says, ~I love you,~ and shoves it at Crawford's mind.
It barely makes it past his own mangled shields, and comes up against a wall of writhing chaos. The ball of everything in his mind mows it over. He can't tell if Crawford heard or not. He says it again, silently, mouth forming the words against Crawford's neck. He is shaking. The world is spinning, screaming in his ears. A thousand voices, a billion thoughts, and they all want him to hear. They're tearing at him, trying to make him understand and care about each individual one. Battering his mind, demanding, cajoling, threatening, pleading... He's just going to die. He can't take it anymore.
And then there is silence. Sudden, total silence. It tastes of Crawford and his glass-obsidian shields. Heaven; bliss; or, if nothing else, sanctuary. He's never been in here before.
"Crawford," he whispers, finding his voice again, weak and desperate as it is. "I-I-" he stutters, "I lo-"
But Crawford shakes his head, puts a hand over his mouth. "No," he says. "Don't. It's all right. You're fine. Just don't."
Schuldig takes a deep breath, regaining himself, and lifts his head, leaning back a bit. Crawford is looking at him, eyes invisible in the shadows. He reaches up, fingers gliding across Schuldig's jaw, his mouth. His lips cant up just the tiniest bit at one corner, and he says, ~You don't have to worry. You're safe... And it's just us.~
Schuldig rolls the words through his mind. They'll do. They're the closest he'll ever get. Closes his eyes, lets Crawford lay him back down and tug up the blankets, and holds the concept, if not the language, as close to himself as he can as the world slips away. Just us.