“Look away, Nagi,” Brad instructed, just before firing two shots under the chin of a man he had pinned to the wall. He let the body drop, and hoped his young companion wasn't internalizing the more disturbing sensory information he'd been exposed to so far that evening. Nagi was only eight years old. Brad had been hoping not to traumatize him too badly; if his evaluations came back badly at such a young age, Eszett would just as soon neutralize him than risk him growing to become a threat, and Brad had plans for the child.
When he turned to face Nagi the boy was holding his hands over his eyes, lips thin with a sort of determined sense of duty Farfarello and Schuldig had never managed. Then again, Brad wouldn’t have had to drag the eight year old out into a botched mission if Farfarello and Schuldig could follow orders.
Brad checked one more time that the room was secure before telling Nagi to open his eyes. He resisted the urge to holster his gun; the adrenaline rushes associated with battle were bad for calling visions and tactile sensations sometimes made concentration tricky, however he wasn’t foolhardy enough to stand exposed and weaponless in an enemy’s base. Holstered was as good as unarmed when dealing with psychics.
He got the information he needed, took Nagi’s hand with his right as his left held the gun, and continued through the building, firing clean shots from a safe distance well before his victims even registered his presence. Despite his best attempts to remain stoic, Nagi was whimpering by the time they got to the basement.
The room was poorly lit, being underground and with only a few stray hanging light bulbs jutting out from the ceiling. Dust and cobwebs abounded in the musty smelling room, along with stains on the concrete Brad decided he'd rather not think about. He could hear grunts and taunts nearby, and a sharp whining that sounded like Schuldig. He must have been gagged; the noise was muffled and he wasn’t screaming curses. On the rare occasions Schuldig was cornered and made to suffer, he tended to make a lot of noise.
Brad approached the end of the room and had a quick firefight with the three men who were abusing his teammates. Schuldig and Farfarello had been bound and gagged with duct tape that was now stained red. One of the men was holding a pair of pliers with a disturbing amount of blood and gore at the end of it. Brad shot him first, absolutely enraged that the mission had deteriorated to the point where some squatting mercenary had gotten to torture members of Schwarz. They were usually so much better than this.
The other two pulled their handguns while Brad shot down their colleague, though it didn’t do them much good. Nagi’s training was still in progress, but one of his first lessons had been telekinetically stopping bullets.
The men gaped at their floating bullets and Brad got to fully appreciate the fearful knowledge in their eyes as they blatantly appreciated just how fucked they were. He kept their kills neat and quick, conscious of Nagi’s presence. He did wish he could drag it out though, just a little.
First he freed Farfarello, who was in much better condition than Schuldig. He didn’t need his psychic abilities to understand why; simple knowledge of what the types of people who got on the wrong side of Eszett were liked combined with Schuldig’s general personality and way with words explained that. The men were blatantly sadists based on the other implements of torture scattered on the floor and someone like Farfarello, who couldn’t feel pain and wouldn’t know what sort of noises to make if he cared to fake the knowledge wouldn’t have interested them at all with someone like Schuldig to play with.
“Can you walk?”
“Of course I can…wait, I’m-a bit…bit dizzy I think,” Farfarello muttered, voice more gravelly than usual. “Just gimme a second, all right?”
“Of course. As soon as you’re feeling up to it take Nagi and wait in the car. Keep the doors locked until you see me.” He placed his gun on Farfarello’s lap and turned his attention to Schuldig.
It was possible he was squinting from pain and it was equally possible the teen’s eyelids had been glued shut by congealed blood. Too much blood, Brad thought, taking in the various cuts and bruises marring Schuldig’s normally attractive face. The pliers had been used on his nose; he wouldn’t be chasing off admirers until long after that injury healed. He’d also been hit in the head, or more likely had his head smashed against the concrete floor. Crimson had seeped into his hair in more than one place, gumming several of the pale green strands together.
Brad gently removed the duct tape, which peeled off easily due to the sweat and blood it was saturated with.
“C’mon Nags, let’s get moving,” Farfarello said. He took Nagi’s hand in his and headed for the stairs, minutely slowed by an unsettling limp.
“Schuldig, can you tell me how bad your injuries are?”
Schuldig groaned in response, which quickly turned into a sob. He was trembling. Brad touched his cheek, which was clammy but thankfully not feverish. He still hadn’t opened his eyes, leading Brad to believe he'd been right about them being stuck shut.
“Schu?” He wiped at Schuldig’s eyes with his shirt sleeve.
“My head hurts…” he moaned.
“Open your eyes. I need to see your pupils.”
Brad wrapped an arm around Schuldig’s back and tilted his face with the other until he could see his eyes, which fluttered open amidst some squirming and squinting. Brad let out a relieved breath. “I don’t think you have a concussion, which is a damn miracle considering the gashes on your head.”
I think I look worse than I am. Just get me home, Brad. I’m not dying, Schuldig thought at him. He closed his eyes and leaned against Brad’s chest, nuzzling like a sleepy cat. Brad dropped him.
“Fuck! What the hell?”
“Clearly it does look worse than it actually is. I’m not rewarding you for disobeying orders by carrying you to the car if you can walk,” Brad snapped.
I dropped my guard for like a minute, okay? I’m fucking sorry, Schuldig said, not sounding sorry in the least. He pushed his palms flat on the ground and tried to push himself up, but his shaky arms weren’t having it and he pitched forward back onto the floor. I think I do need help.
“Fine.” Brad lifted Schuldig up and headed towards the car, not liking the situation at all because with his hands full of injured telepath he’d have a much harder time fighting off unexpected company on the off chance his vision hadn’t been as thorough as he’d thought. He didn’t like the vulnerability that came with the predicament.
Schuldig, for his part. didn’t seem to care. He’d always trusted Brad to take care of him, and it showed whenever a situation like this came up. As soon as Brad showed up to bail him out he’d drop his guard and lick his wounds. He was leaning into Brad’s hold on him again, breathing heavily through his nose and seeming to take a lot of comfort from the contact, something else Brad didn’t like about the situation.
He helped Schuldig into the passenger seat, checked that Farfarello was still okay, and drove his team back to their quarters.
For the next two days Schuldig kept to the couch in the section of their main room they’d designated a sort of living area. He’d been supplied with a pillow and blanket, and Nagi was acting as remote control for their small and television set while he recuperated. This was saying a lot about Nagi’s respect for Schuldig’s injuries, because he hated the teenager and normally wouldn’t use his telekinesis to aid Schuldig unless he had to for work.
Farfarello had needed a few stitches and promptly accidentally tore them out, being unable to feel the extent of his injuries. Brad had threatened not to sew him up if he did it a second time. He’d broken a few toes in his right foot, the source of the limp, and had had those set and was now wearing a Velcro boot to keep him from further damaging the injury.
The clean up Brad had done had marked the mission as a success, and in the report he’d filed to Eszett he’d fudged a few details, something he could get away with as their next assignment wouldn’t arrive until well after Schuldig and Farfarello recovered. Of course his precognition could have been wrong, but so far it had rarely failed him and he was willing to gamble this time. Explaining that Schwarz had screwed up enough to have gotten injured seriously enough to need recovery time would end in a review, and reviews were to be avoided whenever possible for a team planning to stage a mutiny sometime in the next five to ten years.
Brad had set up in the smaller side room with a stack of files, researching for the next job he foresaw them being assigned while everything in the little house was relatively quiet. Nagi and Farfarello were in the yard doing exercises for Nagi’s telekinesis and Schuldig was taking a nap. He knew starting the research over two months in advance was a little impractical but he also didn’t want this upcoming mission to end like the most recent one. So far he’d been cold and angry to his teammates and kept his time filled with monotonous busy work, and it had kept him plenty distracted from brooding over how close Schuldig and Farfarello had come to death.
Well no, that wasn’t quite right. He’d gotten psychic notification of the screw up with time to spare as far as showing up and bailing them out went. But they’d gotten hurt, especially Schuldig, and he felt responsible.
“Brad? Can I talk to you about something?”
“I thought you were sleeping.” Brad looked up from the file he wasn’t really reading and frowned at his teammate.
Schuldig stood in the doorway of the little room, which really wasn’t anything bigger than a walk in closet. There were no windows, so the only light came from a small ceiling fixture that had a tendency to flicker. The room acted as bedroom for Schuldig and Farfarello at night, and was only furnished with a mattress and a few blankets and pillows. Brad was sitting propped against the wall with his long legs stretched out in front of him, orderly stacks of papers spread out on the mattress in easy reach.
“Eh, I’m not tired.” Schuldig sat down on the end of the mattress with his knees tucked under him, blue eyes trained on Brad. He looked a little nervous and that’s when Brad remembered a vision he’d had about a year ago that he was hoping wouldn’t ever play out.
‘Oh shit,' he thought as he remembered seeing the bandage over Schuldig’s nose that just managed to cover his fading freckles, the splint on his right ring and middle finger and that particular ratty grey t-shirt with the donut print pajama pants. He knew what was coming and he didn’t think he’d be any better at handling it now than he’d been in the vision, despite having over a year to come up with something better to say.
“So…can we talk?”
“I’m a little busy,” Brad muttered, glad Schuldig had given him the opportunity for a stall. Of course he wouldn’t be able to put this conversation off forever. He’d been half-expecting it since around the time Schuldig had turned fourteen.
Schuldig glanced at the files with a certain amount of skepticism. “We’re making a hit at the cultural festival? That’s not for two months. Geeze Brad, Farf and Nagi are busy and we never get the chance to hang out just the two of us anymore. If you don’t want to talk to me then just fucking say it.” He scowled, whiny and petulant as ever.
“Obviously we need more preparation before our missions based on that last one, and excuse me if I don’t find you to be an authority on mission prep.”
“Classy. You’re not going to let me live this down even though I was molested with pliers, are you? I learned my lesson!”
“Molested?” Brad repeated, horrified and likely showing it based on Schuldig’s expression.
“Well it was an unwanted touch. D’ya think what he did to my nose is permanent?” Schuldig lightly patted at the bandage over his nose, looking worried.
“Even if it is Eszett understands the value your looks have for undercover missions. I think they’d cough up the money for surgery rather than letting you have a deformity.”
“Oh joy of joy, more undercover perv jobs,” Schuldig said, venom in his tone. “My favorite kind.”
“Well we can’t send Farfarello. And it’s been almost six months since we've had to place you in that kind of scenario,” Brad pointed out.
“So when do the perv jobs stop?” Schuldig asked, flopping onto his stomach and playing with his hair. “I mean, eventually they’ll switch off to Nagi, won’t they?”
“Nagi’s training to be a hacker. He’s going to be intelligence.”
“Damn. And you’re strategy and Farf’s ugly, so I always have to be the booty? That just sucks.”
“Well the drag missions have been dramatically decreased since we got out of training,” Brad pointed out, then wished he hadn’t. Avery Grant, the senior telepath that had trained Schuldig, had abused him pretty badly, and particularly enjoyed putting the pretty child telepath in dresses. It was a conversation topic they tried to avoid.
Abuses of all kind were pretty rampant at Rosenkreuz , an unfortunate byproduct of stripping people of all freedom and personal dignity and then giving them power and resentment over each other. Sexual abuse in particular was apparently particularly bad in the telepaths barracks, where control games were encouraged. Brad hadn’t found this out until well after completing Rosenkreuz training. He’d never run up against anything in the precogs’ barracks, but he was also a good foot taller than most of the kids he’d dormed with and typically top of his class in hand to hand, only ever having been beaten by Sylvia Lin. Schuldig was possibly the most powerful telepath on record, lippy, and sucked at physical fights. Brad had been left with the impression that his mentor probably hadn’t been the first person to hurt Schuldig.
“I guess you’ve been doing a good job so far,” Schuldig said. His eyes were focused on Brad again, who looked away under the scrutiny. “I mean last night was a rarity. Getting my ass handed to me was constant with Grant and Miss Blanca.”
“I appreciate your confidence,” Brad answered dryly. He shuffled some papers, hoping Schuldig would get the message and let him get back to work.
“Brad there’s something I really need to talk to you about…I’ve been working out how I want to say this for, like-“
“A year and a half?”
“So you know?” Schuldig sat upright suddenly, an anxious look on his face “You Saw this already?”
“Yes…” Brad looked up and caught how hopeful Schuldig’s expression was, and resolved himself to keep his eyes on his papers until this damn conversation was over with.
“And? You know how I feel…what about you?” Schuldig leaned forward and knocked the papers back with his hand.
“I, well…we’re not on the same page.” Brad finally set the papers aside, deciding Schuldig deserved eye contact with his rejection, though he still periodically darted his eyes away to his fidgeting hands. Damn, but this was uncomfortable.
“Just to be sure, we are talking about the same thing, right?” Now he was grasping at straws. “I mean, if you’re not really talking about…you don’t have feelings for me? At all?” His voice had gotten very quiet.
“You’re my friend and my teammate, nothing more. And you won’t be. I’m sorry, Schuldig, but I’m not interested in teenage boys. I thought you liked girls.” Brad remembered him having quite the crush on Sylvia Lin, a talented telekinetic that Rosenkreuz had wanted placed on their team. Brad had had to show Schuldig a few of the visions he'd Seen of Sylvia betraying them to the Eszett Elders before Schuldig had finally accepted Nagi's place in Schwarz.
“I’m not picky about that shit. I know how I feel with you and I like it. You’re safe and, and I really don’t know how to describe the rest of it but it’s there. And I thought you felt something too,” he insisted.
“I feel affection for you, Schuldig. It’s strong, friendly affection. You’re my closest friend and I doubt I’ll ever have a bond as strong with anyone else. But it’s not the same thing as what you’re looking for. I really am sorry.”
Actually that did sound a lot better than what he’d said in the vision, but the result was still the same. Schuldig immediately averted his eyes and started finding excuses to wipe at his face, scratching above his eyebrow, patting his bandage and the such.
“Oh, but, like, are you sure? I mean how do you know you don’t like teenage boys? Have you ever thought about it before?”
“I’ve had enough time to think it over since Seeing this conversation, Schuldig. I’m straight and I prefer dating within my own age range. And even if you were older and female I’d think it was a bad idea.” A romance on the team would paralyze them, especially if it involved the leader and strategist.
Schuldig wiped at his eyes again. He started to speak then stopped when his voice cracked. His face was flushed and based on the fidgeting he was doing he likely wanted to lash out. Rejection counted as humiliation and Schuldig had never handled that very well.
“Schu? Are you okay?”
“Why would I fucking be okay?” Schuldig lurched backwards to avoid the hand Brad had been extending to touch his arm in an attempt at consolation. “Seriously, have you ever done this before? I’m trying to say I luh-that I like you and you fucking nothing me, how is that okay?”
“I don’t nothing you, Schuldig, I do care about what happens to you,” Brad corrected.
“Right, because you need me to take down the Elders, I know-“
“Not just that. We’ve been helping each other. You’re my friend. I care about you as my friend.”
“Friend. Fuck, I’m such an idiot. Farf was right. I was just thinking that maybe…I’m, shit. I’m done talking. I, I gotta go.” Schuldig hurriedly got to his feet.
“Wait, wait a minute.” Brad grabbed his arm and pulled him back down to sit on the mattress. The kid just looked so hurt and he had to do something to fix that if he could. He’d never meant to lead Schuldig on in the least, and to someone with normal socialization who could remember a life outside Rosenkreuz and Eszett their relationship really would have seemed like normal acts and gestures of friendship. But Brad was the only person who touched Schuldig without hurting him and he was the first person to talk to him about anything other than work. Farfarello was his friend as well, but that was an odd sort of relationship. Really, Brad couldn’t blame him for misinterpreting his few displays of kindness.
“Look, Schu, you’re going to have everything you wanted from me from someone else. I’ve Seen it and you are going to be so happy, I promise.”
“I don’t care. I want you to like me,” Schuldig said quietly. His expression was so raw.
“I know you do. I’m sorry. Do you want to See it?”
“What? Your vision of me?” Schuldig asked. His curiosity had blatantly been piqued but on principle he was probably going to resist a little longer. Mad about being rejected, he was going to be snippy for some time.
“I thought you couldn’t show me your visions.”
Brad nodded. “Normally I don’t because of caution. If you Saw it without the training and experience I’ve had you’d just change the future or fall into traps like self fulfilling prophecy. But I don’t mind showing you a snippet of something if it’ll make you feel better.”
“All right. Show me this weirdo who’s going to make me happy.”
Glad he’d been given the opportunity to distract his friend, Brad closed his eyes and recalled a carefully chosen vision while Schuldig established a firmer link with his mind until he could see the vision as well.
An adult Schuldig came into focus. He looked to be somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties. His hair was back to its natural color, and mostly pulled back from his face with a black elastic. His bangs and a few longer strands hadn’t caught in the tie, framing his face in a tousled early morning look. The freckles on his face had faded almost entirely; you would have to stand close to him to see them. He was wearing a faded t-shirt and boxer shorts, humming under his breath as he poked a spatula into a frying pan.
Schuldig cooking was something Brad had yet to see in life. He was lazy and never did anything resembling a chore without a battle, and so far no one on the team was sure he even knew how to cook, let alone if he was any good at it. Based on the vision he probably wasn’t; it looked like he was trying to make scrambled eggs but it was hard to tell based on the burned, sticky mess in the pan. He was failing, whatever it was he was trying to make.
A tall, lanky man entered the kitchen behind Schuldig, who was so focused on his horrible looking eggs he hadn’t noticed. The man was improbably gorgeous; heterosexual though he was Brad could tell that Schuldig’s future lover was an unusually attractive man, the type that should only exist in movies and not in real life in competition with normal people. His body was toned without being heavily muscled, skin golden hued in a perfect complement with his honey colored hair. He was wearing pajama pants that rode low on his hips and nothing else.
Brad hoped teenage-Schuldig noticed the smile that lit mystery man’s face as he watched the adult Schuldig fight with the eggs.
The man came up behind his lover and hugged him from behind, caressing his stomach and hips with long fingered hands. “Baby, you tried to cook for me?”
“What the fuck do you mean 'tried?' You’re eating this damn thing,” Schuldig grumbled.
The man looked at the frying pan, wrinkled his nose in distaste, and chuckled warmly. “Don’t make me distract you.” He kissed Schuldig’s neck, and he promptly dropped the spatula and leaned backwards, a blissful smile on his face.
“I tried…didn’t want to make you cook on your birthday.”
“I’d rather have had you stay in bed with me. But I appreciate the thought. Does that count as a pun?” He turned Schuldig in his arms so that they were facing each other. He began playing with the strands of hair that had escaped the elastic, stroking and caressing Schuldig’s face, which successfully distracted him from his cooking failure.
“I don’t think it’s exactly a pun. Sorry I suck at cooking.”
“I don’t care. I didn’t follow you to the other side of the world for food. Turn that off, throw it out and let’s head out for breakfast, okay? Crawford’s brother told me about a bagel place near here that’s supposed to be addictive.”
Schuldig reluctantly disentangled himself from his lover and turned off the burner. “Was it CJ or Darren?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yeah, I trust CJ. But Dar likes to fuck with people, and yes, even over food.” He began scraping the burned eggs onto a plate. The boyfriend quirked an eyebrow. “I think they’re too hot to go into the barrel. You’re off the hook; I won’t make you eat this gunge.”
Schuldig frowned, staring at the plate with an odd expression on his face, which his boyfriend correctly interpreted as self-disgust. Most people could cook scrambled eggs. The boyfriend pressed up against Schuldig again from behind, reached around him to grab a fork, and shoveled a bite of revolting looking eggs into his mouth.
“Yohji, what the hell are you doing?!” Schuldig exclaimed, watching the man’s face contort and even pale a little. He gulped the eggs down with a gagging noise and let out an exaggerated “yech!”
“Now you can never say I don’t love you. Babe, you have got to explain to me how you made the eggs slimy and crunchy at the same time.”
“Why don’t you find something to wash that taste out of your mouth first,” Schuldig suggested with a smirk.
“Yeah, good idea. Ick…” The boyfriend walked over to the fridge and took a swallow of juice from a carton. He’d just barely replaced it and shut the fridge door before Schuldig grabbed him for a passionate kiss. He threaded his hands through his boyfriend’s hair, using it to pull him close.
“Happy birthday, kätzchen,” Schuldig all but purred.
“Mmm…thank you. Much better than scrambled eggs.”
The vision faded and Brad opened his eyes, reorienting to the walk-in closet bedroom. Schuldig kept his eyes firmly shut, a sad smile on his face while the tears he’d been holding back flowed freely down his cheeks. Brad refrained from speaking. He’d give him as long as he needed to come back to reality. In the meantime he could always go back to those files…
Schuldig finally opened his eyes and self consciously rubbed at them. “Wow, that was, um…is that, like, likely to happen?”
“At this point it’s pretty likely. I’ve Seen a few visions with that man and you, er, involved. You suit each other pretty well but there’s always a good deal of drama following you. He’s going to become an enemy of Eszett’s and get involved in the game.”
“Well drama keeps things interesting,” Schuldig said. He smiled again, and chewed on his lip. “Thanks, Brad. I…I guess I really needed that.”
“You’re welcome. But this was an extenuating circumstance. I’m not going to make this a regular thing-”
“No, no I get it. I really want that one to happen. Did you notice how he came up behind me, twice?”
“Yes…” That had been the most striking thing about the vision. Schuldig involuntarily freaked out when taken by surprise from behind.
“I’m gonna really feel comfortable around him I guess,” Schuldig said, eyes distant.
“Are you lonely?”
“Not really…I just like the idea of someone liking me. You know, attention, but the good kind?”
“Right, understandable.” Having received love and affection before, Brad could live without it for the foreseeable future. In fact he planned on it. He didn’t want to open himself to those kinds of emotions until he was in control of his destiny again, which meant freedom from Eszett and Rosenkreuz. But he could also see how someone who’d never had love would be curious about it.
Schuldig’s inability to use the word love and tendency to replace it with weaker synonyms was going to be a problem. From what he’d Seen it was going to piss the boyfriend right the fuck off that Schuldig was going to be emotionally guarded. This Kudoh appeared to be very open and also very touchy-feely.
If he survived the first week of trying to date a temperamental child of Rosenkreuz though, he’d probably be fine.