Crawford has mental shields like no-one Schuldig has ever met.
They reverberate against his mind with a shock that, if Rosenkreuz hadn't taught him to withstand worse, might have sent him sprawling to the ground the first time he tries brushing against them. They fill his head with loud, screeching white noise whenever he's near him, painful, restful, until he gets so used to the sound that he stops hearing it. They hold against the presence of his own thoughts, a solid wall to lean against, delimiting his self with cruel precision, throwing him back into himself, safe inside the prison of his head for the first time in ages.
He clings to that, immediately; between safety and freedom, Rosenkreuz has long taught him to always chose the former; but even as he does, he scratches at the surface of those reassuring walls, because of course, he has spotted the lie in this false choice: there's nothing so unsafe in the world as lack of freedom. Rosenkreuz taught him that, too.
They stop, for a few days, in a minuscule hotel in Vienna, eighth district, a narrow, one-way street; from outside, in the city's summer heat, thoughts melt into his brain like dying snow, as if everyone out there, too, had spent ten years in almost constant winter. Inside, Crawford's shields hold like frost.
They keep the windows closed all day to keep out the heat, and the silent chatter finds him without a warning of voices or approaching steps, more unrestrained and sweeter than he's used to; so he arranges for alcohol and salt crackers; and Crawford's shields, as he drinks with him, waver into impermeable, liquid dams, and Schuldig's head is swimming.
Crawford unpacks everything he's brought, suits and ties neatly hung up in the small, old wooden wardrobe. Schuldig'd few clothes get crumpled in his bag, while he waits, and waits, and waits, for his new leader to tell him when they're finally going to move and what they're waiting for. (It's not like Crawford left him any space in the wardrobe anyway.) He sends out small suggestions to the passer-bys through the closed windows, and messes up their mental shopping lists, and pushes against Crawford's mind (you want to tell me what's going on, you want to get me a glass of water, you're very hungry), because sometimes punctured changes are easier than sorting through the messy entanglements of independent thought. Crawford doesn't bulge.
Schuldig sleeps for twelve hours straight and wanders all day, soaking up other perceptions until he feels dizzy; he stops only to press against the cool silence of Crawford's presence, and listens, like a safecracker, for the heartbeat beneath.
Crawford has mental shields like no-one Schuldig has ever met, but then, Crawford has never met Schuldig, and it takes the telepath less than a week to break through.
But Crawford knew that.
Their plane to Frankfurt is going to be late. They know that, but the airline personnel doesn't, so they expect them one hour before the planned departure all the same. Schuldig doesn't see why this is a rule they need to abide by, but here they are, standing at the end of a long, long line to the check-in desk, and Crawford studiously ignores all his silent suggestions on how he could speed up the process. Who'd have thought that travelling with a precog would mean more, not less time spent waiting?
There's another line to get to the gate; at least the luggage search gives him something to do, as he needs to convince the personnel on duty that they carry no guns. Then there's another wait at the gate itself, and Schuldig watches with a sad feeling of inevitability as the screen switches their departure time from twelve to two o'clock. Precognition, he decides, is a fucking useless gift.
It is, of course, forbidden; it's rebellion, it's going to get him sent back to school, he shouldn't – only, no-one warned him he was going to be paired up with a zombie, and who's going to know, except, maybe, Crawford himself, and in that case, shouldn't he have known beforehand and done something already?
The breach is slight and subtle, and he knocks against a tick net of orderly surface thoughts: Crawford hates the heat, they have a flight booked for tomorrow at midday, it's going to be late but not by so much that they'll miss their next flight to Tokyo, Schuldig is scheduled to succeed at eight past three in the afternoon, which is now.
Schuldig jerks mentally at that bit, or maybe he also does so physically; his awareness of his body is dim, all he knows is that he's still safely lying on his bed, Crawford next to him, and the other man hasn't noticed his mental presence, he just knows it has to be there.
Asshole, Schuldig hisses silently, and from the corner of his eyes, he can see Crawford, on the other bed, jump in – is that surprise?
No need for carefulness, then: this time Schuldig simply tears through, deeper, memories and secrets and vague, solid thoughts; words and images and beyond. He edges through visions, he knows not to get too close too fast: nothing is more likely to drag him in than the unfamiliar. Schuldig knows seventeen languages, only three of which he's learned, and higher mathematics he doesn't truly understand, and they take residence in his mind like parasites, trying to drag him over, into the person he took them from; he can only imagine what visions might do to him, myriads of possibilities spread out and tearing him apart, because, purposely, no-one prepared him for it. But he can learn to parse those too, if he has to.
You don't have to.
The words hit his consciousness, and it's not a current thought: it's like a neon-coloured welcome sign or a trap, laid out in advance, for this moment. You don't have to, and there's nothing orderly about this part of Crawford's mind, there's plans so wide and intricate it makes Schuldig's head spin, and brazing, all-consuming want that's all thought and no feeling, and searing knowledge in places where other people have hopes and dreams.
Liar, Schuldig thinks, reading years and years of betrayal, some past and some future, and Crawford's thoughts are honey-sweet and cool. Bits of the future lay before him, bare between the intertwined wires of the journey towards it, some of it known and some woven by hand, distinct images polished, with purpose, for his viewing, gleaming with truth.
You can't mean that.
Crawford's mental voice is faint, his being crushed beneath the onslaught of Schuldig's presence. Schuldig means it: people cement themselves in lies until they believe them, and then the lies are hard to find. He's done it himself, burying his hate and his desire for freedom beneath an endless trail of angry, loveless devotion; but there's a limit to it, this deep in there's a rest of truth, like the memory emerging in his own mind, this is what he wanted, he remembers, he remembers, he has to be remembering, he never wanted to be nothing more than Eszet's pawn...
He reels back.
He's never stopped seeing, but suddenly it's all he sees: the colourless walls of the hotel room, Crawford, in profile, on the other bed, still holding a newspaper even though he's clearly not reading it. The sheets are tussled, they haven't been changed because neither of them have left the room long enough since their arrival. Crawford looks collected and unruffled, and he's wearing a suit; he's probably wearing a suit just to look dignified for this very occasion; Crawford is ridiculous. He rather wants to kill Crawford, and here's a safe thought; he's pretty sure Crawford isn't suicidal.
Crawford puts aside the newspaper and turns to look at him, light reflecting on his glasses, hiding his eyes. Static in his mind, again, but next time breaking in will be easier. And he can kill him, he knows that now.
"I don't need you," Schuldig tells him, and the air of contempt comes to him easily, even if the feeling is not quite there; and quickly, because precogs, and Crawford especially, are like that, he adds: "And I'm not going to."
"If you want certain things you will."
Schuldig opens his mouth in protest and closes it, because he's seen this: not every path that ever existed, but the ones most solid in Crawford's mind. And in Crawford's thoughts, they're endlessly soft beneath Schuldig's feet – for the most part –, light with all the decisions he doesn't need to make, easy and full of victory, because Crawford made them so; and they lead to ashes and panic, the death of every power structure that might hold them back, and to freedom so complete that Eszet's destruction is barely worth, at the end, the current feeling of anticipation.
It's exactly what Schuldig wants. He's pretty sure it's exactly what he wanted ten minutes ago, too, but how is he ever going to know now?
Crawford's thoughts, as he tests them again, are alight with the sincerity of absolute self-confidence, and nothing makes apparent sincerity more suspect than absolute confidence. But maybe Crawford himself has no idea; what does he know, other than the certain results? Crawford couldn't build a bomb to save his life; he's just the guy who pushes the button at exactly the right time.
Schuldig stretches on the bed.
"I'm not making any promises," he says. Crawford gives no answer, but he must understand the concession within the warning, because his surface thoughts are all badly suppressed triumph. Schuldig chooses to take the compliment for what it is; he can almost see why, apparently, in the future, he doesn't hate Crawford. And if I decided to kill you, Eszet would thank me.
It's not worth it, Crawford answers. What's Eszet ever going to give you? And, without bite: Stay out of my mind.
No promises, Schuldig repeats, grinning, even as he retreats.