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A Lifetime to Destroy

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He'll wrap you in his arms,
tell you that you've been a good boy
He'll rekindle all the dreams
it took you a lifetime to destroy

("Red Right Hand" -- From Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Let Love In")

~~*~~

"Can you still See?"

"Not very far."

"Are we going to get away?"

"I'd have said so."

"Will we find food today?"

"... I think so. Yes."

"Where?"

They've been through this part of Salzburg a hundred times before. It's usually packed with tourists -- they've worked out that family groups of kids coming for the Sound of Music tour are particularly profitable to prey on -- or people trying to sell things to tourists. He doesn't remember seeing anything locked up or barred before, but perhaps there's been a security scare or something, because for the last week, it's been impossible to find any food.

Of the two of them, he's the one who's last eaten, and that was four days ago. Being able to See ahead is useful, but right now it's more important that nobody sees them.

"When we do," he continues, when the only response he gets is a thoughtful frown, "you're eating."

As if mocking him, something -- someone -- brushes against their minds.

"Did you feel that?"

Yeah, but I can't keep them out of our heads and keep them from seeing us and keep them from hearing us.

Get up.

Where are we going?

Across the street. They're concentrating on buildings and sheltered areas -- we'll walk right past them.

Did you See that?

Let's go.

Right past them, in the open?

Scared? I thought you were good at this?

Perhaps he should take offense at that, but he is scared. Being able to read another's thoughts, whether he wants to or not, means that he already has a pretty good idea of what's likely to happen when they're caught.

If
we're caught.

Out from under cover, he can see what they're supposed to walk towards. A lone sentry is waiting in front of a parked car, while the others -- at least four others -- are searching the alley ways.

Get us to the car. There's -- STOP!

What is it?

There're more of them. Twenty  ...  no,
more,
and they're  ... they're hiding themselves, same as we are.

Can any of them See?

They knew exactly where to look. They're only searching in and around this part of town. And they've only been searching a week.

How do you know?

Someone will tell us. If they're in a good mood. Those shops aren't really barred, we only think they are.

He feels a wave of purest fury that someone's been able to do that without him noticing them tampering with his mind. Seeing is one thing, but he hadn't heard or even smelled the local businesses trading. That grates.

Someone will tell us ... Does that mean they catch us? The touch against his mind is there again. He takes a deep breath and tries to calm down, hoping that anger -- and fear -- don't bring it any closer. So, I'll let them catch me and then you come for me later?

It's what they usually do when they're too hungry to be able to use their advantages and when there's no other alternative. He's spent several days in a lock-up while they both build up their strength, and if nothing else, he can 'persuade' whomever's holding him to let him go.

That won't work this time.

He stays quiet, waiting to hear what they should do instead.

We let them catch us. If they take us back up the mountains by the end of today, they get a bonus for finding us inside a week.

We let them catch both of us? Not just me?

They won't give up until they have us both. If it's just you, they'll make you tell them where I am.

I won't --

They'll make you. If it's just me, they'll do the same. If we try to stay hidden, we'll wear ourselves out, and that means they'll either find us when we're too tired to hide any more, or we'll be dead.

He waits, hearing the options available to them. Being with someone who can See, he's long got past any discomfort over the idea that some actions will end his or their lives, because so far there's always been an alternative.

So we let them catch us, and then escape? When there's no answer, he asks again because he knows what happens when -- not if -- they're caught. Sometimes he thinks they're lucky that they know when the alternative is death. Other times he wonders if death isn't the better option. Will we get free of them?

You will. Promise. They can't hold you forever.

At that point, they're out on the street, and the search party from Rosenkreuz has dropped its shielding, revealing another two men and four woman surrounding the car. They look pleased to see them, and he can feel a combination of relief, pride and fierce happiness at his capture, which slams through him before he realises it's coming from around him, not from him. And it's drowned out what he wanted to ask -- They can't hold me forever, but what about you?

~*~

There's this to be said for Rosenkreuz -- the food is good, and there's plenty of it. Talents grow on strength, and the organisation isn't known for stinting.

He's late to lunch, and the kitchen staff cleaning up after the rush give him an irritated look before one of them moves off to fix him a plate. He's not too worried -- nobody will outright deny him any meal unless he's being punished for something. Not for the first time, he recalls the aphorism that the way to someone's heart is through their stomach.

The samples that the scientists have taken from him in the four years he's been here suggest that it's not just his heart that Rosenkreuz is after. Whatever it is, though, they're determined to get it.

Rosenkreuz knows what it wants, knows where to get it, is willing to pay ridiculous amounts for it and will not take no for an answer.

"Good afternoon, Schu-chan! How are you today?"

He looks up to find Kaiyo Sato, one of the more experienced team leaders, standing in front of him.

As usual, he hasn't detected her approach until she's announced herself because her thoughts are locked tight underneath a sweet facade. Oh, everybody here shields to some extent, but most of them are at least honest about being dishonest. If it weren't for the occasional, small slip, he'd be convinced that she genuinely believes that she is the embodiment of sunshine and light she wants everybody else to think she is.

"I'm well. How are you, Sato?" he asks, belatedly adding the 'san' honorific when her smile begins to tighten.

"And here I thought your Japanese had been coming along nicely, but it seems it still needs more polish," she says, sunny smile restored as she shows him her teeth. "Perhaps requesting you in the field at the end of the year is premature. Or perhaps not, if you improve. You will work hard for me, won't you, Schu-chan? You've been doing so well for a late beginner."

All students are required to be fluent in Italian, German and Japanese before they are allowed on any external tasks. The staff, instructors and team leaders may switch from one language to the other at any point, and students and other underlings are supposed to follow along seamlessly. Most students have been born in or brought up at Rosenkreuz and have been learning all three required languages, along with English and electives, as soon as they are old enough to speak.

Starting at the age of twelve is a lot more difficult. At least he'd only needed to catch up on his German when he'd arrived, rather than having to learn the entire language from scratch.

"Do you need me for something?" he asks, just blunt enough to balance the line between thoughtlessness and outright rudeness.

She pretends to be shocked at his tone, then gives him a conspiratorial smile that implies that she'll allow it, but that it is far too direct to pass in Japan. Either way, he'll need to make up for the slip. He knows that she's Seen him in Tokyo, and while she hasn't told him when, he's determined to qualify as fully operational before the end of the year.

"I might. Rieser-sensei is finalising the roster for next month's tests, so I will need to coordinate our use of your time."

He makes himself smile to cover for the chill that goes through him. Dr Rieser has been after him for the last few months, but Schuldig has managed to put him off each time. The last time, the tests required only his blood. From what he has been able to pick up from others, he knows that the next set of tests involve biopsies.

"Will my name be on the roster, Kaiyo-san?" he asks sweetly, because while his pride is important to him, his pride won't keep Rieser from cutting holes in his flesh and punching holes in his organs — without any relief for the pain, because his reaction to and recovery from the procedure will be equally of interest to the researchers. The canteen staff member that is bringing his lunch over flinches and drops the tray. Oops. He'll need to be more careful about projecting.

"I haven't Seen that," Kaiyo tells him, placing her hands on the table and resting her weight on her arms as she leans forward to stare him down. "Yet," she adds with a giggle, when he doesn't look away. "Why don't you help clean up the mess you made," she says, indicating the broken plate and the food on the floor, "and we can talk about what else you might do for me this month, Schu-chan?"

"Of course, Kaiyo-san," he replies in the same tone, aware that she wants to be able to deliver her orders talking down to him while he's on his hands and knees cleaning up the spill.

As he stands up, he winds one foot around a table leg and pulls it toward him sharply as he stands up. He's not sure who's more surprised -- him, her or the staff -- when she overbalances and smacks her face on the table before falling to her knees. Hard.

She didn't See that coming?

With her confidence shaken, the lock on her thoughts weakens, and while none of them are fully articulated, he has the strong impression she's worrying about her team finding out -- as well she should be. Precognitives are always made the leaders of whichever team they're in because they have the best judgement. While this doesn't guarantee the survival of individual team members, particularly if the leader has no interest in them, it usually guarantees the success of the mission, and Rosenkreuz is brutally utilitarian.

He's about to lie and tell her that nobody else saw what happened when he notices that two others have entered the canteen. An instructor and a Japanese student that Schuldig has never seen before. Dark hair, glasses, tall and looks nearly twenty. Schuldig wonders if he's returning or if he's new. Beginning Rosenkreuz at twelve wasn't particularly pleasant, but at twenty ... Then again, perhaps the new guy wants to be here?

He feels fear and revulsion as Sato notices what he's looking at. While her thoughts still aren't properly articulated, he picks up that she's Seen this student, that he is new, that he's another precognitive, that he's more powerful than she and his presence  interferes with what she Sees, that --

Her head snaps around to glare at him as she becomes aware of his presence in her mind. He smiles sweetly down at her, not offering a hand to help her up.

"Report to Rieser-sensei after Tactics on Friday," she says, taking her time standing up and setting her clothing aright. "Tell him you have spoken to me and that I have no use for you this month."

It's almost worth it for the flash of fear he feels from her as she walks away.

~*~

Brad Crawford, it turns out, is not Japanese, as Schuldig had originally assumed. He's one of the few psi-talents that Rosenkreuz has been able to recruit from the USA. Normally the CIA find them first, although from the little he's heard, he's not sure Crawford would have been any better off under them.

"How can you never have used a gun before if you're American?" Venus asks as she hands Crawford a Browning.

Crawford's only been here three weeks and is already pretty good at locking away his thoughts, but Schuldig can pick up his irritation at Venus' assumption that all Americans are cowboys riding around the Wild West. Right alongside it is curiosity as to why she's assumed the name Venus when she is one of the most unattractive women he's ever seen.

He's tempted to tell Crawford that Venus is an empath who specialises in lust but doesn't want to interrupt anything that will get Crawford out into the field faster. Languages aside -- Crawford only knows English and a little Spanish -- he won't be allowed outside if he can't protect himself.

Schuldig lounges back in one of the chairs as Venus takes Crawford through weapons safety, handling and maintenance.

Crawford might not be field-ready for a while yet, but his presence at Rosenkreuz is already paying off because Sato and her team left early for some unspecified task, and Schuldig hasn't had to see her since. That alone was worth every tissue sample Rieser extracted from Schuldig in the week before she finally left.

He hates her and her dark eyes and her stupid smile and the way she lowers her head and remains polite and deferential while telling him that yes, he can choose not to do as she says, but that he won't want to, will he, Schu-chan.

It started with something simple, when she assigned tasks on the first outing he was sent on. Saving him till last, she'd waited until they were alone and then told him that his task was to carry her handbag, it was very precious to her, and if he did it well, she might recommend him to other leaders. He'd fallen into the trap and 'accidentally' dropped it as he was following her out of the briefing room, but she'd made it through the door and slammed it shut before the bag hit the ground. Which meant that he was alone in the room when the paint bomb that was inside exploded and coloured everything in green.

As it was his first time with her, she'd conducted his lesson in private so that nobody else need see -- a sentiment he would have appreciated more if the paint hadn't stained his hair for more than a month, and if that hadn't led to him being restricted from participating in external tasks because he'd stand out too much.

Unlike when he was younger, he wasn't given the option of simply staying back and attending classes. Once students turned fifteen, they were required to be useful and to start to repay Rosenkreuz's investment in them. If he couldn't be useful to teams in the field, then he could be useful to researchers in the laboratory, and he had paid, and paid and paid for dropping Sato's handbag. The next time she requested him for an external task, he'd performed it perfectly, even though all she'd wanted him to do was fetch coffee for all of the other members of her team as they changed flights at Thalerhof.

While it would be nice to think that she's left to avoid him because of the incident in the canteen, he knows that there are a lot of other students who are waiting for an opportunity to get their hands on her, and she's managed to leave before any of them find out about the effect that Crawford has on her. He only knows because he's seen one precognitive block another first-hand -- twice -- and he doesn't think it's common knowledge even amongst precognitives.

He hadn't known that one precognitive could scramble another's vision until Crawford's arrival, although it would explain why those teams that were headed by precognitives were usually placed on longterm assignments in the outside world and carefully coordinated when they returned. Sato was retained at the school because of her ability to break new students. Or at least, her ability to persuade them that she'd Seen the alternative to their doing what she said and it was always, always worse.

The mood in the room shifts, and he looks up to see the others watching through the sound-proof glass expectantly. Venus has taken Crawford into the range at some point  and is finishing up her talk, which must mean ...

Yes.

Schuldig sits up as Crawford raises the firearm and frowns at the target, considering. He makes a number of adjustments -- moving his arm, shifting his feet, readjusting his aim -- and stops for a second or two to think each time. When he finally fires, he hits the target, dead centre.

By the end of the session, he doesn't even need to look where he's aiming.

~*~

One hour into the mission, and he knows they're in trouble. Crawford's record isn't perfect, but his hindsight is even better than his foresight, which means that he might make mistakes, but he never repeats them. He learns so quickly that it's taken him only four months to qualify for external tasks.

This, however, is not a mistake. This is a potential fucking disaster.

I don't have the last two digits. Give me another minute, Schuldig sends to Adamo, as Crawford's legs go out from under him.

"Crawford. Brad, what the fuck are you-- " Schuldig cuts off with a yelp as Crawford takes his hand and pulls him into the vision.

This is bad. This is so very, very bad, he thinks, trying not to panic as he Sees the two of them and a number of others -- at least two of whom must be part of their team as they're all in white -- together with -- Wait, she's too young to be Sato, he thinks as he notices the sleeping girl that Crawford is standing over in the vision.

Five minutes until the secretary comes back, Schuldig, Adamo sends back.

It barely registers, but some part of him hears it and tries again to shake them clear of the vision.

Don't think about this, he tells Crawford firmly.

What's happening? He can feel Crawford's confusion that they seem to be Seeing much further than the couple of minutes that Crawford's normally capable of.

Stop thinking about it! he snaps back. Right now! If they find out you're having visions, they'll lock you up for the rest of your life!

There's genuine panic now, and he doesn't know if it's his or Crawford's or both as he tries to veil the vision, trying to make himself think about something else. He's done this once before. Only once and it didn't work perfectly, but it needs to, now.

Work with me, for fuck's sake! he says, imagining himself drawing curtains closed over a window. The roiling motion starts to settle, and he stuffs whatever the hell it is they've just Seen as far into Crawford's subconscious as he can -- they'll probably dream about it later, unless he blocks it. 

"The rest of the code. Now, before Keller," -- their team leader -- "works out something's wrong!" he says, fear making him snap as he senses Crawford wanting to ask about what just happened. To say nothing of the panic that starts to rise when Crawford registers what Schuldig means about being locked up for the rest of his life. Anything less than perfect performance means time spent strapped to a slab in the laboratory, and if Crawford is starting to have visions ...

He'd initially tried to stay near Crawford because that kept Sato off his back, but over the last couple of months, the American is the closest thing he's had to a friend since coming to Rosenkreuz.

"Upper-case Sigma," he says, starting from the beginning and hoping that Crawford will decide to rejoin him in the present, "four, upper-case Phi, lower-case Lambda, nine, lower-case e, and?"

"Eighteen," Crawford says, frowning into the middle-distance, "and then Mu."

"Capital or small?" He feels like throwing up and hopes it's Crawford's nausea.

"Lower-case."

Schuldig sends that to Adamo as soon as Crawford finishes speaking. "Anything else he needs to know?"

"No." Crawford is still looking a little shaken, but he's standing up, and within a couple of seconds, he's pulled himself together. "I've delayed us beyond what we planned. We can make up for it by creating a diversion for the others in the next corridor if we move fast. That'll save you having to wipe anyone's memories."

Schuldig nods, indicating that Crawford lead the way.

Ask me. I know you want to.

Will it happen again?

You're the precog, you tell me, he returns lightly, even though they both know Crawford hadn't anticipated this. It's a vision. You don't See it because you can't look for it. It finds you.

And no-one knows how often they occur or why. It's not a question.

No. But don't think they haven't tried to find out, and he knows that Crawford has worked out that this is linked to his earlier comment about being locked up. Most precognitives ... Scratch that, I don't actually know how many precognitives Rosenkreuz has. None of the precognitives that are active in the field have had visions.

Crawford stops and looks at him, and Schuldig knows he's worked out what that means.

Sorry, he sends flippantly. It's better to distance himself from the other man early on since there's every chance it will happen again, when he's unable to do anything about it. Sooner or later, Brad Crawford will have a cell to himself, to await his visions in quiet solitude. Couldn't think of a kinder way to tell you.

How do you know that?

Because it only has to happen once. People who can see anything that far away in the future are ... valuable. And like lots of valuable things, they were kept very, very safe.

How do you know? Crawford insists, the question coming through with overtones of doubt since Schuldig is the first person who has ever mentioned these alleged, confined precognitives to him.

You're not my first, he says with a smirk, starting forward again when it is apparent that Crawford is not going to move until he gets an answer.

Crawford follows after him, more inclined to believe what Schuldig has said as his thoughts churn through the implications. Even if they weren't valuable for what they can See, precognitives can become totally incapacitated by visions — especially one as powerful as Crawford who was seeing, hearing and even smelling everything within the vision as if it were really happening to him right then. A risk like that on a sensitive mission, on one more time critical or requiring greater precision than what they're on today -- for fuck's sake, Crawford had nearly blacked out right in the middle of giving Schuldig the password! He would become more valuable in the lab than in the field.

"But you did something," Crawford says aloud, and Schuldig nearly steps back at the sensation of possessiveness that leaks out before Crawford locks it away.

Crawford'll be twenty-one in a couple of months, which is the youngest Rosenkreuz will permit any team leader to be. Schuldig doesn't think Crawford's anywhere near ready yet, but it doesn't pay to underestimate him, and the rules are usually different for precognitives. At least, for the reliable ones. He doesn't need to be one himself to know where this is going.

Don't get the wrong idea. I covered for you just now because you would have fucked everything up for us otherwise. They both know it's a lie, but he is putting a stop to this right now, regardless of whatever his earlier reaction may have given away.

There's no immediate response as Crawford catches up  and walks alongside him. And then, Not even if I said that I'll take you with me when I leave this place forever?

He's turning and throwing a punch that Crawford ducks before Schuldig is even aware he's made a fist. What, did you run through the options of all the things you could say to get me to do what you want, and that was the best you could come up with?

Crawford braces himself against the wall for some reason. I said it because it's true and because you want to get free of --

NO, I DON'T, he sends, so forcefully that Crawford slumps back against the wall. He hasn't wanted that in a long time. If you have half a brain, you'll forget you ever wanted it, either. Or they'll leave you with a lot less than half. Crawford lets go of the wall and comes to stand closer. "You shouldn't want it," Schuldig says aloud. Because he doesn't want it, not since Sato and the others like her convinced him he wouldn't like the alternative. It's not safe, he adds.

"No," Crawford says, one half of his mouth twitching into a smirk, "but neither am I."

Either Crawford is entirely convinced that he can do this, or he wants Schuldig to be convinced that he can do this, but whichever it is, Schuldig lets himself think about a life outside Rosenkreuz for the the first time in nearly three years.

~*~

"You know, you never told me who your first was," Brad says by way of 'hello' as he enters the interview room.

Schuldig raises an eyebrow, waiting for him to make sense. Brad was his first, and his second and his third. Although fourth through to ... whatever he's up to now have been a varied assortment of others.

"Back when I had my first vision. You never told me who you'd been with when it happened to you before."

"We've known each other five years, and you never asked," he says, buying time as he tries to decide whether or not to answer the question, and how truthfully. "Why now?"

Brad gives him an amused look that says he's asking now, and Schuldig realises it's because the smug prick knows he'll get an answer this time.

"My brother. Identical twin, or he might have been a bit older, I don't know. Started having visions before and after we were caught," he adds, because Brad will want to know and will probably ask, "and could See about an hour out if he was feeling well and a couple of seconds when he wasn't -- yes, he was stronger than you, don't worry, you're still Rosenkreuz's finest, he's been dead since before you got here -- "

"There's not a possibility he's still confined somewhere?"

"No," he says firmly, hoping Brad drops the subject.

Brad looks at him for a minute and presumably Sees that they're done with that topic, because what he says next is, "There's still a spot on my team for you."

"And my answer's still 'thanks, but no'," he says with a smile. He likes Brad, but he can't work for a precognitive. And while he's just now turned twenty-one, there are a few months leniency before the decision is taken out of his hands and he's forcibly assigned. Enough to actually look into some of the other teams and pick one that's to be stationed somewhere warm. "Besides, your team has a lousy reputation."

"You take that back," Brad says lazily. "We have a one hundred percent success rate."

"I'm talking about the survival of your team members. You must lose three people a year."

All laziness falls from Crawford's posture and tone as he regards Schuldig intently and says, "You know why that is." Crawford has a reputation as an absolutely ruthless leader who will not tolerate even the most minor failure in his team members, and members who make too many mistakes tend to ... disappear.

"You also know that doesn't apply to you," Brad adds unnecessarily, because fatal mistakes aside, team members only disappear if they've witnessed Brad having a vision. Schuldig is amazed he's managed to keep it a secret this long, but as always, it doesn't pay to underestimate the other man.

"The answer's still the same." He doesn't know what it's like to work for Brad, but there's only one precognitive he's ever trusted, and that boy is dead. Precognitives have their own reasons and their own interests, and anything they do or say is suspect because they're doing it to get the outcome they want. Schuldig is still not entirely certain that Brad slept with him because they both wanted to and not because it was one way to tie Schuldig to him.

Brad frowns in irritation -- or at least, his perpetual frown deepens slightly -- and then he reaches for something inside his jacket and slides it across to Schuldig.

"Airline tickets?" You're awfully sure of yourself.

Comes with the territory. Departure's at 17:15 and I haven't forseen any delays. Don't be late, Brad says, standing and leaving before Schuldig can say anything else.

As usual, Brad's timing is irritatingly precise because less than a minute later, Frau Evert from administration comes in with his paperwork and a parcel.

He's caught up in wondering whether Brad has actually Seen something or whether he's simply hoping for the best by handing over the tickets, and he doesn't really hear anything Evert says until she pushes the parcel towards him.

"It contains everything that was taken from you when you joined us," she says, reading off her checklist.

Everything that was taken from me. Sure. It's like being signed out of prison, and he would know. Only this time, his brother isn't waiting for him or pulling strings for him on the outside. Crawford's outside, he thinks, before he shoves the thought away.

He tears into the parcel immediately, finding the clothes that they were wearing when captured. Even his brother's clothes are signed in under Schuldig's name -- he'd insisted, at the time, and now Schuldig knows why.

Like I want any of this, he thinks, not paying any attention as she blathers about signing in to pick up a weapon, to make sure to select a team before a team selects him and something about mandatory, twice-yearly health checks. Lifting out a sweater -- he's not sure which of them were wearing it, and he can't believe how small it is -- he notices something in a sleeve.

"Yeah, I get it," he says cutting her off, because if it is a note from his brother -- fucking precognitives! -- he wants to be alone when he reads it, and he wants to read it right now.

She continues down her checklist for another ten minutes while he twitches impatiently. What does it say? Let me guess, 'If you are reading this, it means that I am dead'. Or, knowing his luck, it might just be scrap paper or an old receipt or --

"I get it! I'll come by if I have any questions," he says, pushing the suggestion firmly into her mind. He'll pay for it later, but that will be later and he wants to read this now.

Even with all of that, it's another minute before he can bring himself to reach inside the sleeve -- Did I really ever fit into this? Was I really this small? -- and extract the paper.

You will meet people who remind you of me, is all it says. He starts to frown and wonders whether he needs to hold it to the light or apply solvent or something to be able to read the hidden message when it occurs to him to flip it over. If you meet one you don't hate, undo the lock. These things should be shared.

Up until that point, he wasn't sure if the note really was from his brother or not. They hadn't had much call for writing to one another, since they'd relied on his telepathy, but it looks like it could have been written by him. And the lock ... He can't remember what's in the memories he locked -- that was the whole point, after all -- but he remembers creating the lock at his brother's insistence, trusting that it would make sense later. When his brother died -- starving himself less than a month after his visions were discovered so that nobody could use his life to motivate Schuldig -- he'd almost pushed the memory of making the lock out of his mind entirely, and had eventually forgotten about it until Brad ...

... until Brad brought it up. You will meet people who remind you of me. Well, Brad had certainly done that. And even if he hadn't, he's the only person Schuldig can think of that he has met since he got to Rosenkreuz that he doesn't hate.

He's undone the lock before he's even finished the thought and is awash in his brother's visions. Visions from a precognitive so powerful that he was having them every day, and experiencing sight and sound and touch and smell and taste and ...

... he'd assumed at the time that it was his brother in these visions, but it's him. Too sick in winter to travel or function effectively, but Brad has got the team out of Rosenkreuz and in a chalet deep in the mountains, and is shooting out the kneecaps of hopelessly lost, skiing tourists to make him smile as he watches them tumble down the slope. Or he's in Japan and the heat and humidity is right there with him in the interview room as he drives past a flower shop in an open car. And then he's drowning, physically drowning and can feel himself choking on water that isn't there, and when he opens his eyes, Brad is breathing air into his mouth and hauling him to the surface. And after that, later, he knows that Rosenkreuz and its masters are gone -- not just in Austria, but in Italy and Japan as well-- but Brad is still by his side.

He comes back to himself in the briefing room, alone, and when he checks the clock he finds that whole hours have passed.

He tucks the note into a pocket but leaves the rest of the rubbish behind. These things should be shared, it says, and he wants to share this with Brad. If nothing else, the range of his brother's vision will make him jealous as hell. 

Snatching up the airline ticket, he glances at the clock. He's still not convinced he can trust Brad, but he trusts his brother, and this looks like his best chance at freedom yet. And if it's right, if he's Seen true, then Brad will still be around once it's all over and done.

What time did he ... It's four o'clock already. He'll have to hurry.

~*~

He's only just arrived and hasn't even had a chance to check in when he hears an announcement calling him to the gate, the announcer's careful pronunciation establishing that 'Schuldig' is a name and not an indictment. Oh, very discreet, Bradley, but it isn't really important. Brad has probably already seen the airport blowing up or everybody in it dying horribly or the announcement of his name -- as he pelts through the airport in a Rosenkreuz uniform -- not mattering in the greater scheme of things.

He shoves the ticket at the woman at the gate and homes in on Brad with his telepathy, slipping beside him into the only empty seat and concentrating on doing up his belt so he doesn't have to look at the smug expression on Brad's face.

"You should know I won't take orders," he says, because he wants to make that clear right from the start, before they lift off and Brad dumps him somewhere with no way home. Pulling the strap tight, it occurs to him he doesn't actually know where this plane is headed.

Brad's expression indicates that he knows exactly what Schuldig is thinking as he says, "I wouldn't dream of giving you any."

"And I haven't actually agreed to anything."

"We'll finalise the paperwork when we get back. Besides, we'll need to negotiate your salary first."

He'd completely forgotten he'd get paidonce he was fully qualified. He hadn't thought much further than getting out Austria, but perhaps he can do with the company of a precognitive after all. Brad can take care of the details. And a salary means he'll be able to buy something to wear other than the grey and black uniform he's currently -- 

"There's a bag for you in the overhead locker," Brad says, waving away the hostess who comes around with the hot hand towels. "I packed it myself."

"Yeah? You can get used to doing that."

"I think, however, you can be trusted to carry it by yourself?"

Brad's never actually told him what he did to Sato, or what he did with what was left. Schuldig takes some small satisfaction in that whatever it is, she wouldn't have known what was about to hit her until it was too late, and that will do for now.

"Yeah," he says, deciding that just for that, Brad can wait until later -- much later -- to see the note. Because Brad may have Seen Schuldig joining him, but he won't know what changed his mind. And if things go to plan, then Brad's going to be around for a good long while, and Schuldig'll have an entire lifetime in which to torment him with that knowledge. "I think I can manage that much."