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Adventures in Babysitting (The Thicker Than Water Remix)

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There was no point in ruining a perfectly nice evening, not when they were few and far between these days. And not when it might mean getting your own evening much more comprehensively ruined if your long-lost friend took things the wrong way. Schuldig remembered Nagi's long-ago response to harm to a loved one all too well and wasn't keen to repeat the experience. So he smiled and ordered more shrimp, the ailing credit card be damned, and enjoyed himself talking about old times, and carefully edited new ones. He kept feeling happy all during the taxi ride back to the hotel, the slightly shabby hotel none of Schwarz would have looked at twice when times were good. Crawford had long since stopped pretending to be in a good mood, and just stared silently out at the passing streetlights.

"Cheer up and look at this," Schuldig said, when they'd locked their door behind them. He produced the memory stick with a flourish. "From our little Nagi with love – an actual job."

Crawford perked up and all but ran to get his piece-of-shit laptop. "Give it here," he said.

"Sure it won't give your computer AIDS?" Schuldig said mockingly.

Crawford rolled his eyes. "I think you'd warn me if Nagi was planning that." He closed his eyes a moment, concentrating. "No," he said, in the hyper-focused way that meant he was seeing not yet rather than now, "it won't do anything to my computer." He turned the laptop on and tapped his fingers impatiently as it churned its way through the start-up.

"If this job pays well maybe you can buy something a bit faster, like an abacus," Schuldig said helpfully, stepping back just out of arm's reach. "Maybe we can stay in Tokyo."

"We'll be going back to Hong Kong after this," Crawford said, putting the memory stick in and opening up the file. He bent over the laptop, squinting at the screen.

Word was set to automatically display at 300% so Schuldig didn't have to lean all that close to read. Hong Kong, he thought in irritation. Maybe we could go somewhere different. Maybe we could go somewhere I decide. "It was good, seeing Nagi," he said. "Good of him to give us this, too. It looks straightforward enough – you don't mind working for a Takatori again, do you?"

"As long as he pays us," Crawford murmured.

"Maybe we should stick around, Crawford, think about what it was like in the old days, Reiji had pretty deep pockets, and Tokyo's a fun place to kill people. I bet Nagi could get us at least a sub-contracting gig with his little Takatori boyfriend –"

"Are you deaf?" Crawford said, his eyes still on the screen. "Or maybe it was only in a vision that I said we're going back to Hong Kong." He exaggeratedly looked at his watch. "On the third beep, Schuldig: We're going back to Hong Kong."

Schuldig stepped away, annoyed with himself for thinking, even for a moment, that Crawford would be reasonable enough to entertain another’s point of view. Do not react, he thought. Don't say something you'll regret. It was getting tiring, all the moments he kept quiet.

"Ah, the sweet, blessed silence of someone finally knowing when to shut the fuck up," Crawford said.

Schuldig saw red. "When you had to go out to 'take a phone call,' I told Nagi that Takatori was threatening you," he said, keeping his voice as level as he could. Crawford almost flinched, which was a victory in and of itself. "I didn't tell him what the conversation was about, because some of us have vestiges of loyalty to our teammates left, and I didn't want to see you torn limb from limb over the main course. He thought the idea of his little Mamoru threatening you was pretty funny; the poor kid still sort of looks up to you, did you know that? To you. His fucking savior who took him away from all those monsters creeping in the dark of Rosenkreuz. I guess he forgot it was you who put him there too. Maybe I should ring him and tell him to take a close look at Takatori's little girl's face, ask him who she reminds him of – he'll be so disappointed in you, don't you think?"

There was a moment's quiet, and then Crawford got himself together. "Not your business," he said brusquely.

"If we've lost a contact – if I've lost an actual friend today, then it is my damn business."

"Friends," Crawford sneered. "Since when do you have friends?"

It hung there, and Schuldig nodded. "Point taken," he said. He turned around, quite calmly, and headed for the closet, letting his intention to pack and go radiate out so strongly that even the most brain-dead mundane could have picked up on it. He grimaced at the cockroach that scuttled out from beneath his bag. Europe, he thought. It had been a while, and it would be fun to see people look askance at his natively idiomatic, American-accented German. Fucking Crawford, he thought, getting all over my mother tongue.

"Schuldig," Crawford said, pissed-off, as he folded shirts into the bag. Then, as he didn't respond, a more panicked, "Schuldig, don't be so – I – look, I've been on-edge, that came out wrong. I'm sure Nagi is still your friend – "

"You tell me why," Schuldig said, looking up. "Come on, tell me why you started this whole mess in the first place. I mean, if it had been a one-off thing I'd have thought you were just being a sick bastard, but this was one of your little plans. I know you sneaked into the Fujimiya girl's room more than once, so tell me. Why? It can't just be that you like your women really quiet."

"I told you at the time," Crawford muttered. "It was necessary. It was for our benefit."

He was looking, Schuldig noted, decidedly uncomfortable. Worth a peek. To his irritation all he got was the bone-deep jarring sensation he always got when looking into a precognitive's mind during a vision.

"When? Ten years we've been sliding down now. Is she going to pay for our rest homes, or what?"

Crawford looked down, which was new. "Things will be better back in Hong Kong," he said, but it didn't sound like that was backed up by anything except wishful thinking. "When we do this job we'll be back on our feet; so we've had a bit of a dry spell, so what? Things are going to pick up, you'll see."

Schuldig looked at him wearily. Whatever future path Crawford had looked down all those years ago, it was long since overgrown with weeds. There wasn't anything there now, just the sour pleasure of making him admit it. The only future Crawford could see now was them going back to Hong Kong, back to chasing whatever he thought was going to get them to where they had once been so easily when they were younger and had fewer scars. One thing was sure - they couldn't stay in Tokyo much longer. One of these days Takatori's kid was going to do something as simple as put on one of her guardians' sunglasses, and the family resemblance would sear itself into Nagi's brain. Forget her doing something like actually telling the damn future. So, give up on Tokyo, if he wanted to avoid Nagi in the first flush of rage. Give up on Nagi too, and that – wasn't something he was going to think about right then. He remembered Nagi's first months in Schwarz, how dangerous it had been to wake him from the nightmares and the way the kid had clung on to anyone brave enough to try.

"Schuldig?"

"It's just that Nagi always thought we were the good guys, you know?"

"Schuldig, we kill people for money."

Crawford was looking at him, half irritated, half hopeful, completely fucking pathetic. Or maybe that was both of them, clinging on to their past like frightened kids. Assassination was a young man's game, and here Crawford was, pushing forty, his sight failing and no one left to remember him as he'd been except for Schuldig. Damn it, he thought. He hadn't wanted to go back to Europe anyway.

He laughed a little, shaking his head. "We kill people for money. That we do. Let's do this fucking job and get back to Hong Kong. Things can only get better, right? Just tell me one thing – the other matter, you had to do it, didn't you? You saw something that meant it was necessary?"

"Yeah," Crawford said, and he was surprised. "I mean – yeah. At least, that was how it seemed to me at the time. Jesus, Schuldig. I'm not a complete dick."

"Since when?" Schuldig said dryly.

Crawford's look of unaffected amusement made him look almost like he was back in his twenties, when they complimented each other through insults. It was enough, Schuldig thought, for the moment. It would at least get them through Nagi's job and the flight back to Hong Kong. And then the future could take care of itself. It always had so far.