The wave of heat hit him like a concrete wall as soon as he stepped off the plane, slamming the breath out of him and nearly making him choke. He grit his teeth in annoyance, stomping down the apparently pre-modern off ramp and swore he felt it shake beneath each step. He felt his comrades behind him, slower and not as obvious in the discomfort they must have been feeling. They left the dramatics up to him.
Schuldig, after all, had always been the flashy one.
"I didn't think it would be this hot," Nagi mumbled. Not complaining, just an observation. Nagi was the reasonable one.
Schuldig snorted at the thought, knowing the kid could bitch with the best of them if given half a chance. But Crawford was there and they were in public, so roles were firmly in place. It was his cue. "Fuckin Mexico. Every single time. I swear they crank the furnace up a notch when they hear I'm coming to town."
"Weren't you complaining about the cold yesterday?" Nagi sighed, and Schuldig spared a glance back at him but the telekinetic was glancing around, probably trying to make sense of the signs.
"Yeah, well, it was cold in Japan. Brat. And now it's hot." Or it was hot, outside. The airport itself had enough cool air running through it to take the weight off.
"Ye're happy, when ye can complain," Farfarello observed calmly, his lips pulling into a half-smile. An old Mexican woman made the sign of the cross and scurried out of their path.
"It's my nature, Far. Why suffer in silence."
"I severely doubt anyone could ever accuse you of that," Crawford put his two-cents in, tone dryer than the tumbleweed Schuldig expected to see blow by at any minute. "You're incapable of not being vocal."
"I don't hear you complaining."
Crawford smirked. "Not all of us are of your nature."
Oh, nice one. Schuldig flicked a piece of hair over his shoulder, nose turned up. "Plebeians," he stated, and walked off to wait for their luggage.
"Does he even know what that means?" he heard Nagi ask from behind, and the noncommittal 'hmm' that made up Crawford's response.
Tapping his foot impatiently against the floor, the German tried to will their bags into appearing so they could be on their way. He checked his watch. He blew his bangs out of his eyes, only to have them fall back again.
And he tapped his foot some more.
"Anxious, are ye?"
"He's planning to cheat on me while we're here," Crawford said. "And that's your bag, Nagi, grab it."
"Aren't we here to work?" Nagi asked, then grunted as his suitcase hit his knee. Dropping it, he turned to the others. "That was the plan, right? We have to check up on something here then take care of...something in Vigrinia."
"Naggles, since when do I not blend work and pleasure?"
"Yeah, but I doubt women here are desperate enough to jump at your...ugh, Schu, you don't make them, do you?"
Farfarello smiled again. "Poor senoritas..."
"No, I don't. And there's mine, Far, grab it."
"Yes, princess," Farfarello chuckled.
"I wouldn't need to make them even if I was interested," Schu continued, rolling back his shirt's sleeves in a smooth motion. "Though if you want a taste of Mexican, kid, you just have to ask real nicely," he leered.
You're a bastard, Nagi thought his way.
"Leave him alone, Schuldig," Crawford ordered. Schuldig have expected him to add a 'or I'll turn us all around and no one will get to kill'. "Nagi, you are aware of our free-lance contact here, are you not?"
The Japanese boy looked blank for a moment, then the proverbial light bulb went off. "You and Schu were in Mexico for a couple weeks. Almost two years ago, I think. Then he," he waved towards Schuldig, who was busily rummaging through his suitcase, "was gone for another week last year while we were on that political case. There was a precog you made a deal with, right?"
"Good Nagi. Have some kibble," Schuldig muttered absent-mindedly, attention elsewhere for the minute.
"Precisely." Crawford nodded. He noted Nagi's look and added, "without the offer of kibble, of course." He paused to grab his own and Farfarello's bag then continued. "Schuldig and I made an arrangement with one ex-CIA agent. I had Seen that he would be a good contact. It was Schuldig, however, that finalized the deal and made our agent agree to cooperate."
Nagi made a low, disbelieving sound in the back of his throat.
"Hey, kid, watch it. Who do you think we got that tip off on Esset's little visit to the Land of the Rising Sun from? Wasn't Crawford. It was my guy."
Farfarello looked thoughtful. "Wouldn't Crawford also count as yer guy as well?"
Schuldig waved his free hand dismissively. "I meant the more powerful one."
Crawford glared more.
"Oh, don't glare, honey. You'll get wrinkles around your eyes," the telepath drawled as he sat back from his luggage. "I give up. I can't find it."
Nagi leaned forward to peer into the disaster area. "Find what?"
Schuldig closed the bag and stood, brushing his hands off on his pants. "My hat. It's a tradition. I swear I put it in here."
Farfarello looked thoughtful. "What did it look like?"
"Ugly," Crawford broke in.
"Ah," Farfarello said. "I took it out."
Schuldig grabbed the front of the Irishman's shirt. "Why? Why would you do that, you crazy bastard?"
"It hurt my eyes."
"You only have one!"
He snarled and pushed the albino away, walking out of the terminal with hands clenched into fists, leaving a string of German curses and slightly bruised people behind him.
Crawford handed Farfarello a wad of money. "Thank you."
"I'd of done it fer free."
"Not that all of humanity isn't thankful for your intervention, but now what?" Nagi asked, the last part directed at Crawford.
"We'll call a cab and check into our hotel. Get something to eat. By then, we should be able to meet up with our wayward German."
"Things have a way of going astray in Mexico. She has her own way and tends to get it."
Farfarello's voice rasped, amusement coloring it-rust to gleaming copper. "No wonder he does'na like it here. Schu hates competition."
There were skeletons lining the streets, the windows of every house, dead things grinning and mixing with bright bright colors. To celebrate the dead, he supposed, in a way that most places he had been to in his rather eventful life would never dream of. There was no wailing or tears, but lulling songs in a rolling language. A festival of living-spirits, dust and heat and death doing nothing to change the flow, unable to make a difference when rows of people tracked marks in the dirt and guitars plucked tunes from air and whatever lurked alongside it.
It was bitter, bright, and grimly smiling.
Schuldig thought he had never seen anything so wonderful. Not in Germany. Not in Austria. Not in Japan, where lanterns were lit upon water and floated away from shore. These people walked with it, every terrible step.
And he was somewhere in this crowd.
So Schuldig played native, followed the grinning skulls and cheerful skeletons. Stepped in time with strolling people, pretty girls with flimsy shawls and flowers in their hair. Boys with painted masks and wooden toys in hand. Stayed away from the other light haired heads he spotted, because they wouldn't know where to go. They stayed on worn roads and that was the last place Schuldig would find his prey.
The world swayed in front of him even as the sun began to make its way down, the horizon just starting to turn into ribbons of rose hues and purple-blue bruises. Candles were being lit and it only helped him-so accommodating, this Day of the Dead-and the stones and steel of a cemetery sent a shiver through his bones.
Weeds and creepers stubbornly existed within the boundaries of holy ground, mixed with flowers both wild and deliberate. Stone monuments, angels and mausoleums, framed the smaller markings of others that had lived perhaps not as grandly. But they were all cared for tonight, as long as there was someone to remember.
Black hair all around, curls and waves and lank strands. But Schuldig heard him, vicious spikes of spit and hate in his mind, angrier than the world but determined to be here. To be out, especially on this day.
And then he saw him, nearly blending in with the bleached white carvings he had passed on the way, pointed and pale but surrounded in black. Light and dark, good and bad, pretty and grotesque.
-/fortunately for you/-
-/help me keep the balance by pulling the/-
-/you have only seen too much/-
Schuldig shook his head to clear it and sauntered towards the other man, who rested against a tall gravestone with a cigarillo carefully dangling from his mouth. The smoke curled up in a grey haze, dragon's breath that came from a mouth that could easily burn. There was a boy next to him, dark and chubby with loyal eyes, who watched the German's approach with distrust. The boy tugged on one gloved hand and the man waved him off, face already turned towards Schuldig.
"And who might this be, knockin on death's door. So to speak, of course." The grin was there, sharp and trigger-happy and anything but amused. "Cause I gotta tell ya, buddy, today is really not a good day. Savvy?"
Schuldig stood and watched, eyes narrowed as they followed the path of a black leather hand reaching for shining dark metal. So many guns on such a small guy.
"Es un hombre. Pelo rojo," the boy described. He paused, considered. "Demonio."
"My very own devil, come to play? Gosh, aren't I lucky."
"Yo," Schuldig called out with a pointless wave.
The grin didn't change, except the small twist towards amused. "Well, if it isn't Red. Surprise, surprise. What's a dick like you doing in a shithole like this?"
The German raised an eyebrow. "You didn't see me coming? You must be losing your touch, Sands."
"I always see you coming, sugarbutt. But not always when." Sands stood and took a few steps forward, the kid scuttling around him like a nervous mother until the black-haired man held a hand out, signaling him to stay back. "Chiclet, why don't you go get yourself one of those nice sweet human skulls you ponchos are fond of?"
"Go on. Shoo."
"Yes?" Schuldig asked, sweetly.
Sands sneered at him. "Funny." A pause. "Go on, kid. Scram."
The kid took a few steps away, glancing between the two men-one capped in red, the other in black-before jogging away from them in search of what he probably thought were tastier things.
Kids. So naÃ¯ve.
"So when did you get a seeing-eye dog?" Schuldig threw the question out, setting a line and a board for the game.
Sands took the hint but not the bait, anger flaring like pinpricks before cool water took its place. Just arranged the pieces in a heartbeat, already moves ahead. "Chiclet? Oh, he's always been around. Drug-dealer in training. I told him I didn't want to see him again, must have been about three years ago to the 'T'."
Sly twist of lips. "I haven't."
Schuldig almost winced, but instead barked out a short laugh. He could never resist the appeal of irony. "She has it in for you."
"She's a cunt."
"But she manages to fuck you over. Just like..." Schuldig paused, filing through information, "your little Mexican princess and her eye-drill. Happy anniversaries are in order, ne?"
Sands had his gun drawn and cocked before Schuldig could react, and the German cursed his slower reflexes. The sound of celebrations and aged mourning died down, a wall dropped between the two, somewhere, with the tightening of a trigger. Schuldig quickly weighed his options, deciding in the end to raise his arms-an invisible peace offering to a man that couldn't see-while his right hand still held his own material weapon. His greatest couldn't be taken away from him, not by this man or any other.
He inched forward, making no sound that could tell.
Sands clucked his tongue. "You think about pistol-whipping me with that toy and you're going to have a couple extra holes for your Americano to screw."
"/Honto ne/?" Schuldig asked, the language sliding over his tongue. Switch them around and the opponent grew confused. It also made for a great party trick.
But Sands was a pro, in so many thing, and his aim didn't waver. Just paused enough for the telepath to gain that extra step forward. "You know I keep my death threats."
"Crawford might be offended. I mean, bullet holes aren't that big."
"It should work out great for you then. Why are you here, Kraut?"
Schuldig shrugged a shoulder, considered, then dropped his hands altogether. "Business, of course. You think I'd be here on vacation? The beaches aren't that nice and the beer is an insult to Europeans everywhere."
The other man half-lowered his gun. "Did you happen to bring a suitcase of doe along for the ride? Cause any extra info you want from me is going to cost you extra." A tight, quick smile. Warning, the first.
"I could just take the information I want from your brain, leave you a vegetable, and be on my way..."
And the bullet was a second away from being let loose. Warning, the second.
"...but that would ruin a perfectly good arrangement, wouldn't it?"
If in nothing else, they were straight when it came to flat-out business. They just played games around it, knowing the facts would stand as the facts because they were both beings of manipulation, string pullers and con men of a certain degree.
Sands thumbed the hammer back and holstered his gun, waiting and ready for the next act. There were only two options now, with that third struck out for the time being. It was a game of catch me if you can, with neither of them running.
Just a couple steps forward, fast tango or maybe a jive, and Schuldig wrapped his fingers around a sharp-point jaw, curling and twisting so too-full lips met his. He felt hands crush into him, trying to tear something-anything-because destruction was an art. One wound its way into red tangles, tugged and knotted, before Sands pulled back with a raised eyebrow.
"Where's that ass ugly hat you always wear?"
Schuldig smirked. "Divine intervention," he said, because that sort of thing meant something in this land.
"Small miracles. It made me want to thank Barillo for the eye drilling and I couldn't even see it."
The telepath wondered if this was some sort of traditional joke amongst the optically challenged, passed along at meetings along with 'blind leading the blind' remarks and quips about justice. Then he wondered if there was a secret handshake or something, to go along with it, and made a note to question Farfarello about it later.
Because he was being roped in by his hair, high cheekbones scraping against the line of his jaw before the other man bit down hard on his lower lip. Taste, touch, smell, sound-making up for things lost, to prove he could do without. The telepath didn't bother wincing, like he would if it were Crawford.
It was no fun if no one was there to see the act.
Instead he scratched a path up under Sands's black shirt, past holsters and squirming and swears, until he could count every rib, pressed down-
"Watch it, fuckmook," Sands snarled and twisted away, landing a fast punch across Schuldig's face. "That one's broken. Line-sniffing bean-eaters managed to get one in." He took a step back, this time grabbing the German's shirt and pulling backwards, knowing when to side-step a grave or veer left on the cemetery path.
For his part, Schuldig let himself be lead, rubbing, rather resentfully, at what would probably be an ugly bruise by morning. "What's the matter, Sands? Does the mariachi beat you up after a night of drinking? It's okay to tell me."
"I walked into a door," Sands told him dryly, swiveled, and watched with satisfaction as Schuldig's back met stone.
The redhead looked up and to the side, getting his bearings, and chuckled. "We're going to go at it against a mausoleum?"
"Just so happens to be a kink of mine. And Jose in there," the ex-Agent gestured towards the door, "isn't going to care much, is he?"
"You must have had a traumatic childhood experience." Crazy bastard.
"Ask me about my father some other time, Doc."
"Did you plan this part out?" Schuldig growled against the other man's ear, tongue flicking out to trace soft flesh. He had to know, just for curiosity's sake. The blind man had maneuvered to the spot with ease after all.
"Keeping the balance, sugarbutt."
And that was that. Schuldig grabbed Sands by the arms, a flick and spin leaving him standing free and making Sands hit the wall face first, sunglasses clacking against the hard surface. He didn't waste time, struck fast while the other was still disoriented, and only suffered a kicked shin and a nasty bite to the hand.
"I knew you were going to do that."
"Ja, ja. Of course."
Fingers trailed down, felt the American's chest start to rise and fall with quicker breaths. Worked his way down until he could pop open a button and pull a zipper down-ignoring the almost-exclamation of 'hey, watch it!'. Sands hissed when his erection was freed, the night air warm but cooling and Schuldig stroking and squeezing and his hips found a pattern, forward, backward, hands hitting the rough mausoleum stonework /almost almost/....
He shuddered when he came, head tilted back so that if Schuldig really wanted to, he could catch a glimpse of gaping raw black, could see shadows splayed across a pale face like tracks of blood from years ago.
Schuldig grunted, pressing his own not-nearly as satisfied arousal against Agent Sands's soon-to-be no longer coveted ass. "If you insist."
"Bastard, unless you have a tube of KY in your pocket, which I know you don't, your sorry dick isn't getting any closer."
Schuldig's eyes narrowed. "Any suggestions then, Oedipus?"
"Ha ha, fuck you muchly."
Sands was still for a moment, then grinned a line of daggers. "Around the corner. You're going to find a nice little bottle next to a white flower."
"You're not going to run for it, are you?"
"And what, trip over my own pants? Not really planning on that, Heidi."
Scowling, he left the blind man to stand pressed against the wall, following his direction, and returned a second later with a bemused expression on his face. Schuldig wondered when the last was that he'd found so many things amusing in such a short amount of time. Maybe back when Weiss was still active. "Holy water?"
"Not quite Jesus juice. Not quite perfect. But better than nothing, I think you'll see."
"It's in a Mother Mary bottle, Sands."
"Ave Maria. And they say the Church doesn't care about us anymore. What did you expect it to be in, an Aunt Jemimah bottle?"
Shaking his head, Schuldig was glad he'd done away with Heaven and Hell back in Rosenhell and popped open the bottle.
Sands just laughed.
Later, as they trudged back towards the cemetery exit-sore and dirt-smudged and bruised-Sands snorted.
Schuldig glanced at him. "What?"
"You and your black hats planning on a long stay?"
"No. We were just here to get that information about Langley from you."
"And a tumble in the hay."
"That's a given. And the info had better be right, or the next tumble you take will be off a well-placed cliff."
Sands offered him a breezy wave of his left hand while the right rested on his hip and the black metal there. "Don't worry about it, Red. I'm not. You couldn't touch me, not if I call on Lassie and his other tone-deaf puppy friends. The intelligence I gave you is correct. What matters is what you do with it and really, I couldn't care less."
Schuldig made a vague sound, stuffing his hands into his pockets. Then he asked, "What do you mean, are we planning to stay long?"
"Well, are you?"
"I just told you now that we aren't. We have a flight tomorrow night," the German replied, studying his companion and noting the full-fledged smirk. "What?"
"Oh, gosh, you'd better hurry then," the smug bastard offered. "Because it seems no one warned your little rent-boy to not drink the water."
And Sands just laughed more.
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