"Fuck!" swore Crawford.
He threw back the bedcovers, grabbed his glasses from the sidetable and fumbled them onto his face as he ran from the room. By the time he slammed through the kitchen door, it was too late. Schuldig and Farfarello were on opposite sides of the table; Farfarello in a crouch, weaving on his feet, knife pointed towards Schuldig. The telepath, although only wearing the soft grey sweats he usually slept in, was bringing an automatic to bear on the other teen.
"No, Schuldig!" Crawford yelled.
*Was?!?* Schuldig's mental demand was a mixture of outrage and fear.
"Put the gun down," Crawford walked forward so he was at the head of the table, halfway between the combatants, "Put the gun down, now."
"That Scheiß tried to gut me."
Schuldig was a millisecond away from pulling the trigger, Crawford could tell. Farfarello he couldn't read, but he didn't doubt the other teen was on the edge of exploding into violence.
Crawford stepped in front of Farfarello.
"I won't ask you to put the gun down again, Schuldig," he stated evenly, concentrating on keeping his body language and thoughts calm, his shields solid.
The back of his neck crawled at the necessity of turning his back on an armed and disturbed Farfarello. But if he failed to establish dominance at this crisis point, he might as well give up any hopes for his future.
Schuldig glared at him, still snarling with rage and affronted pride at having shown fright. After a couple of long seconds, the automatic slowly lowered.
"Thank you," Crawford almost smiled as Schuldig showed surprise at the unaccustomed courtesy, then turned to look at Farfarello. The other teen was standing upright now, ferocity drained into vacuity, knife held loosely in his grip as though forgotten.
"Explain," he demanded, "I told you your teammates were out of bounds."
Farfarello shrugged, a look of indifference settling sullenly onto his face. "I was just testing. I wasn't going to do anything fatal," he paused briefly, considering, then added, "Unless he wasn't fast enough."
"Wichser!" hissed Schuldig, anger re-igniting on his face.
"Enough." Crawford said, a thread of anger entering his voice now, "Farfarello, I meant what I said. Touch a teammate again and I'll personally deliver you to the Re-education Team - gift-wrapped, with a bow on top."
Farfarello hunched his shoulders, a gesture of both capitulation and annoyance at the threat.
"Schuldig, it takes two to tango. So quit pissing around and learn to get along. I'm not having the two of you fighting and disrupting the team like this."
"Shall we kiss and make up like gute kleine Mädchen?" Schuldig sneered at him.
"No. But you're going to do the Rudnick job together tonight. Just the two of you."
Even though - according to his Sight - it just might kill one of them.
Schuldig had been less than enthralled with Crawford's choice of new team member. If Crawford wanted a combat grunt, there was plenty of cannon fodder available from Rosenkreuz; dim but useable. This kid didn't even have a recognized Talent. Add to that he was homicidal, delusional and oh ja, outright insane, and Schuldig felt he was quite justified in questioning Crawford's sanity.
So maybe part of his frustration was purely pique. No telepath of any intelligence would voluntarily go near an unbalanced mind. No two were ever the same - ranging between the completely disassociated to seemingly (but falsely) normal - and Rosenkreuz could teach nothing more than generalised navigation therein. It was widely acknowledged using telepathy on the mentally ill was just asking to have your own mind pureed, fractured or just lost forever. Now there were two members of his team Schuldig couldn't play thought games with. It just wasn't fair.
They'd slipped through Rudnick's security in the outer compound easily and unseen, then ripped through the guards in the inner compound when their intrusion was finally noticed. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, Schuldig found himself grinning wildly at Farfarello a couple of times before remembering the Arschloch had tried to kill him earlier that morning. The grin changed to a scowl instead.
He had to admit, however, that Crawford had chosen a talented, if messy, killer. Farfarello's rangy body hadn't quite grown to full height and strength yet, but what he currently lacked in muscle he made up for in speed and pure violence. And there was something disturbing about the way he moved - periods of smooth, almost floating, grace interspersed with bouts of awkward jerkiness. Both styles resulted in the delivery of death however.
Even shielding from him as Schuldig was, he could taste the intense pleasure Farfarello radiated at the carnage he was creating. But during some moments, there was no guiding intelligence steering Farfarello's body's controls, merely sheer animal instinct. Schuldig tightened his shields down further.
Finally there was nothing between their target's office and himself but dead bloody meat on the floor and the sound of Farfarello finishing up his victims in the background. Schuldig scanned the room ahead, lighting on the frantic thoughts of a terrified mind. He smiled widely; a white, sharp baring of teeth.
"And now the finale," he purred, finding the syrupy heaviness of Rudnick's fear mildly arousing. He stood to the side of the doorframe and twisted the handle, pushing the door open. He slid inside. There was a single reading lamp lit on the desk, but otherwise the large room was obscured by shadows, blocks of furniture barely visible in the darkness. Not that there was any hiding from a telepath, Schuldig gloated. Rudnick was cowering behind an armchair in the left corner, his mind wavering between near-mindless panic and…waiting?
Paranoia caused him to move forward, and only his quickness saved him. The blow that should have staved his skull in glanced off the side of his head instead. Black unconsciousness threatened, then exploded back into white light and pain. Remotely he felt himself dropping to his knees, gun clattering to the ground. Another blow followed across his shoulder blades, with the crack of bone breaking. Schuldig's stomach spasmed in revolt at the slash of agony across his back. He felt hands on him, a thin cord wrapping around his throat and frantically reached out with his mind - but there was nobody, nobody there. Just Rudnick's fright and triumph in the corner and behind him, no-one.
Null! Null! Schuldig's mind screamed, and pain bloomed into terror, because there was nothing he could do against that Talent. He couldn't see his gun and the garotte was squeezing his neck tight now, black and white spots appearing in his vision, the need for air overwhelming even the agony of his shoulder.
He scrabbled futilely at the constricting grasp with his good hand, kicking backwards. A rumble of noise translated into chuckling. Anger spiked through the fear. He yelled out mentally, but his vision was blurring dark, thoughts disengaging. He could feel his hand losing strength, loosening…
Then Schuldig was free, smashing into the ground with his full weight. There was a hoarse scream, and an electric bolt of pain across his shoulder, followed by a span of time of nothingness. He came to with a noiseless sob, into pain and a breath that burnt like fire going down. Farfarello was crouched beside him, face full of interest. Schuldig thought, blurrily, that that was not a good sign. But he was still breathing (however badly) and meant to stay that way. He flipped some mental switches, damped some neural messages, and shoved his agony into a mental corner to be dealt with later.
He tried to speak, but his throat felt like someone had sandpapered the insides down to raw bleeding flesh. Tentatively he touched the edges of Farfarello's mind,
*What are you looking at?* he sniped.
"You," replied Farfarello, then smiled. It was a genuine smile, full of gentle good humour. In surprise, Schuldig slipped further into Farfarello's mind. It was a strange experience, rather like walking down the corridor of a high-speed train with the doors to all the compartments banging open and shut, and the whistle of the wind's velocity outside in the background. Schuldig very carefully didn't look out the windows. He could find was no apparent animosity towards himself, just a sense of appreciative curiosity, similar to a scientist regarding a rare subject.
"It seems I'm not the only one who needs a keeper," Farfarello continued, ignoring the mental intrusion. Schuldig glanced around and saw the body of a large man beyond Farfarello, about the same time as the coppery scent of fresh blood registered. He looked at the dead man's face, but it was no one he'd ever met through Rosenkreuz or Esset.
*Rudnick?* he enquired.
"I thought you might like to finish up," Farfarello nodded towards the armchair, where he could see Rudnick was now sitting, battered, bound and gagged, and sweating with fear.
Schuldig dragged himself to his feet, clutching his left arm in an effort to keep his shoulder still. He swayed over to the desk and sat carefully in the big leather chair behind it. He looked over to Farfarello, who was cleaning blood from under his fingernails with a knife. Given the amount of blood and gore splattered on his clothes, it was an empty gesture, but served to intimidate. Schuldig raised an eyebrow, tilting his head towards their prisoner. As if he were the telepath, Farfarello nodded and grinned, humour gone and only hunger and bloodlust left now.
*Well, Herr Rudnick,* Schuldig broadcast, *Crawford said to make it a quick, clean job. But you know what? Fuck him. Farfarello, why don't you entertain me?*
The combined hit of terror and delight was so very sweet.
Schuldig was already floating on a pain-free chemical cloud when Crawford arrived at the Esset clinic.
*Arschkriecher,* he thought sideways into his pillow as the pale suit came into view, *Wußte ungefähr Null.*
"Of course I did," Crawford sat down in the bedside chair, leaning back, the very picture of unconcern, "I also knew Farfarello would rescue you. Or…"
"Or we wouldn't be having this conversation." Crawford suddenly sat forward, face grave, and laid a hand on Schuldig's arm, "It's important you two trust each other, Schuldig. No division in the ranks."
There was something odd about Crawford's seriousness, but Schuldig was too drugged to do more than note the fact.
*The team that slays together stays together,* he murmured, his mental voice querulously amused.
Crawford watched him slip into unconsciousness.
“Yes,” he finally said, “Yes, I believe we will.”