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Chapter Forty-One

The ruined city, 1880

"The ancient natives certainly built on a massive scale," said Schuldig, looking about the dimly lit chamber. "Look at the pillars, Crawford! Are they not like those of the temples in the City of the Horizon of the Aten?"

"Very like indeed," said Crawford in pleasure, looking in delight about the great space into which they had broken a short while before and pushing his spectacles up his nose, privately cursing the great heat that made them all perspire so. All about them were finely wrought pillars rising tall and slender into the gloom. On them were carvings and paintings, all annotated with the ancient native script. Crawford laid a hand on the nearest and felt the weight of centuries, as it were, coursing through him. He turned as he became aware that Schuldig had spoken to him.

"What? I did not hear you, Schuldig," he said.

"How far are we beneath the modern level of the ground?" repeated Schuldig, tracing the outline of a Martian warrior with one grimy finger.

"Forty, fifty feet perhaps," said Crawford. "Such a wonder, left beneath the sands," he murmured. He decided that when they left he would have Nagi cover it over, untouched. "I have destroyed far too much of beauty and antiquity already," he thought. "This I will leave, to sleep on beneath the sands."

"I think you love these old stones more than you do your own friends," grumbled Schuldig. "All your thoughts from waking to sleeping are filled with excavations and antiquities. You no doubt wish you had been given a task as a curator in the Berlin museum."

"Or in the British Museum," said Crawford. "You could have profitably been employed as a floor sweeper in either establishment."

"I'm glad to know your true opinions of my abilities at last," said Schuldig, in a voice that was brusquer than Crawford felt warranted. He seemed surprised himself, and made an obvious effort to smile lightly.

"I'll cook tonight," said Crawford, "unless you would prefer to?"

"Attempting to wriggle out of your turn?" said Schuldig. "No, no, you must cook, and then sadly, we must eat it. A poor reward for our labours - I think you have quite worn Nagi out," he said, smiling minutely and pointing to where the lad sat against another pillar, resting his head upon his knees. "You have been working him hard. You have been working us all hard."

"I do not exempt myself," said Crawford, feeling it was poor of Schuldig to complain when they had all worked so very hard. The young man had been sullen and withdrawn for the last days, working in diligent silence, and resisting all attempts to cheer him up. It was perhaps, thought Crawford, that he and Farfarello seemed to have fallen out, their usual loud bickering and foolishness being replaced by chilly annoyance on Farfarello's part and a studied indifference on that of Schuldig.

"I didn't say you did," said Schuldig, his tone losing some of its careful lightness. "I do not pretend to dissatisfaction under you, nor am I seeking special favour. I know you do not like to play favourites." He turned aside, his face sulky, and would not look at Crawford, even when his friend laid a hand upon his shoulder.

"Schuldig," said Crawford. "Let's not fight. You are so short-tempered recently. What is wrong with you?"

"Nothing," said Schuldig, sounding annoyed. "Truly, Crawford. I am just tired, and thinking I am so damnably hot."

"It's cooler down here, at least," said Crawford quietly. The heat was exhausting in truth, he thought, and had sapped all their strengths. Schuldig had shown his worth and had worked harder than them all in physical labour, and without any complaint, until Crawford had pronounced Farfarello fit to handle his tools once more. No doubt he felt Farfarello's coldness a poor recompense for carrying more of the burden of work. "You have grown too thin, my friend," he said, taking up Schuldig's hand and looking closely at how fine-boned his wrist had become. "You are sweating yourself away. You should drink extra shares of water, we need not ration it, you know that."

"I wish we were somewhere cooler," said Schuldig, turning his hand within Crawford's and intertwining their fingers. He sighed and looked about him, his expression growing sourer by the moment. "I wish we were back in the Balkans."

"You said it was too cold there," smiled Crawford. "And it rained all the time, we were filthier even than here and had fleas to boot! Does hiding from the rain under a bush really seem so attractive to you?"

"I have fond memories of those bushes -- I just want it to be the two of us again," muttered Schuldig, glaring at the others.

"And abandon our friends?" smiled Crawford. "Farfarello would soon be fatally caught in some convent, Nagi would pine for us and Micah would think us deceivers. We'll go as soon as we might, Schuldig." He smiled, continuing even more quietly, "And I will take you wherever you wish to go, and acquire anything that takes your fancy, until even you can no longer bear to be kept in luxury."

"If you are going to keep me like a pet," said Schuldig, in a petulant voice, "I will cultivate a very high endurance for luxury indeed, until you are quite beggared." His gaze slid past Crawford and he stood straighter, saying more loudly, "And will you need to draw every last inch of the pictures and script within these walls, Crawford?"

"Every last inch," said Crawford, the smile which he wore colouring his tone, but not quite reaching his eyes any longer. "Can you not try to accept him?" he thought wearily, hearing footsteps approach.

"He despises me, you know that," answered Schuldig in like manner, a cheerful expression suddenly upon his face. "You see, Micah," he continued aloud, as that gentleman came up to them, "once more Crawford will lose himself in artistic endeavours!"

"I was very impressed with your skill in drawing those designs from the palace, Bradley," said Micah, looking with interest at the pillar behind Schuldig. "I have no doubt you shall do these justice also."

"I'll have run out of sketchbooks before I copy everything," said Crawford lightly, noting with a slight sinking of his heart that the yearning tone in which Micah had spoken for some days was becoming stronger. "He is being polite - he wants us to like him," he thought. "Having joined with us in truth, you now make him feel unwelcome."

"You can tell the emotions of others now, can you? Have you been taking lessons from Nagi?" thought Schuldig, pointing out a comical depiction of dov dressed in court finery at the same time to divert Micah's attention.

"Be pleasant," thought Crawford, contriving to make his thought as snappish as if he had spoken aloud in frustration.

"Jawohl, mein Herr," thought Schuldig, smiling at him lazily and insolently in a way that made it instantly clear he was engaged in more than one conversation. "And are you well this fine evening, Micah?" he said in overly-honeyed tones. "I've been worrying about your welfare all day." Micah's smile faltered as he looked between them, and with a murmured apology for his interruption he turned away, walking off into the gloom of the great chamber.

"That's better," said Schuldig in deep and vicious satisfaction.

"You are like a spoilt, indulged child," said Crawford in annoyance, his irritation quite outweighing his previous attempted enjoyment of Schuldig's company. "Can you not do even one simple thing when I require it? Now I shall again have to assure him of his welcome."

"If it's such a damnable burden for you, think of how it is for me," said Schuldig nastily, then drew in a sharp breath as Crawford shoved him against the pillar, the back of his head striking the reddish stone.

"Don't speak to me like that! You have not had a civil tongue in your head for days!" hissed Crawford, his friend's insolence and pettiness infuriating him. "Who do you think you are?"

"Oh!" ejaculated Schuldig. "Forgive me, Herr Crawford! I had quite forgot that I may not express any opinion of my own! If I truly have any thoughts or opinions of my own, that is, for as we all know," he said, raising his voice, "mind readers are but collections of impulses and the views of others!" Pulling out his knife and offering it hilt first to Crawford he continued, "Here, perhaps you would like to hack off my hair?"

Crawford took a step back in annoyance, saying icily, "Speak to me when you wish to apologise, and not before." He turned and strode away, his heart beating fast. "I would have hit him," he thought in surprise. "Why does he try to provoke me so, when I have his interests at heart?" Seeing Nagi rise to his feet and hesitantly step in Schuldig's direction, he called, "Nagi! Come here!"

"Ja, Nagi!" cried Schuldig mockingly. "You prefer him in any case!"

"He is being silly," said Crawford reassuringly to the lad who looked back and forth between them in some distress. "The heat and tiredness are making him act so, he does not mean to upset you." Looking back without expression, he thought, "Leave the boy out of your idiocy. Do not try to bully him," then gathered up Nagi and strode away, leaving Schuldig quite alone.

"You utter fool!" thought Schuldig, watching Crawford put his hand upon Nagi's shoulder and lead the lad away. "What is wrong with you? Anyone might think you are in truth as that interloper says! Go after him, apologise," he continued, but his pride would not let him and instead he kept to himself, nursing his anger that Crawford should have been so ungentle, and his irritation that Farfarello blamed him for encouraging him to consider murder only to take the occasion away from him.

It was a silent and uneasy group that ate dinner that night, Crawford when he spoke at all engaging only Micah in conversation. Schuldig ate but little, noting how Nagi looked at him in worry, and was always prevented from coming to his side, Crawford putting a hand out each time the lad started to move. The boy seemed very sad, and Schuldig felt, though he tried to extinguish it within himself, a sense of guilt whenever he saw Nagi's unhappy eyes. Farfarello looked anywhere but in his direction, and kept his jests and insults to himself. Schuldig stared unhappily down into his plate, thinking things had been so much easier when he had been planning on ways to rid them of Micah, and how bad he seemed to be at accepting what had transpired. "Am I so displeased to have another helper in our struggle?" he thought, and looked up at Crawford, who ignored him still. "Am I simply angry that he has found his brother, when I in all likelihood shall never again see my family?" The thought worried him, making him think that he was simply jealous like a child. To be caught in such unprofessional behaviour strengthened his feelings of guilt, especially as he saw Crawford smile at Micah. He accepted a cup of coffee that the silent and watchful Farfarello brought to him grudgingly, thinking further, "What do I care if I never see those people again? I can barely remember them! These are my family." He groaned as this repudiation of the family he had so recently been harbouring hopes of finding merely deepened the feeling of guilt creeping within him. How fickle he was, he thought. Crawford would quite rightly despise him and think his affections would as easily turn elsewhere yet again. He was a bad example for Nagi and was not fit to show the boy how to act as a man-- "I must stop this," he thought, finding that he was tapping his fingers in a fast and erratic manner. "I will make myself ill. Breathe slowly, you fool! Get yourself under control!" Sighing, he looked up at the stars, as if seeking inspiration therefrom, and then over at Micah, thinking that if he were truly to apologise to Crawford, he should do something his friend would want, no matter how galling to his pride it might be. It would not do to go to bed still angry at Crawford, and for Crawford to still be angry at him. He had felt his anger festering for far too long already, since the time Micah had first insulted him, he realised as he thought about it. It was not a situation that could be allowed continue, especially not as he now felt. Still, he thought, there was no need to act like a total fool. Perhaps he might learn something useful by being as pleasant as Crawford had wanted him to be. "Micah," he said at last, "might I speak with you?"

"What is it?" said Micah sombrely.

"In private," said Schuldig, standing and looking as harmless as he might.

Micah frowned but followed him away from the others. Schuldig led him out of earshot, but not out of sight, thinking it would not do to rouse Farfarello's hopes once again.

"You made me very angry," he said without preamble, "with that damned jest about my sister, and although you apologised I have held it against you ever since." He held up a hand as Micah opened his mouth to speak. "No, wait. What a stupid thing to say, Micah, if you believe, as you say, that I am little more than a beast."

"I don't believe that," said Micah, looking shamefaced.

"Crawford told me you don't like mind readers," said Schuldig. "I can't say I blame you, I'd happily see most of those I know dead. I, however, am Crawford's mind reader, and I want us to be able to work together. I think we can, if certain things are resolved between us." He took a deep breath, told himself not to gabble out the humiliating apology that pushed at his mind, and held out his hand. "I forgive you. For my part I am sorry both for holding the grudge and for those insults I have given you. Can you forgive me for that?"

"Gladly," said Micah, taking his hand in a firm and manly grip. "Bradley needs us both, Schuldig."

"Yes," said Schuldig calmly, shaking Micah's hand and finding within himself the control to push his mind against the other man's as hard and as stealthily as ever he might. He hid his frustration as he read nothing, smiling slightly in an embarrassed way. "You can ask me about mind readers," he said. "I will not be offended."

"No, no," said Micah. "It does not matter. You're his friend, that's all that's important." He looked down, almost shyly, going on to say, "I am not trying to replace you in his affections, Schuldig."

"That relieves me, and as you are his brother, it no doubt will relieve him also," said Schuldig with dry humour. As Micah laughed, he added, to see what the other man would say, "When you were being trained, they instructed you in how to raise mental walls, I presume? Or will you accept my professional advice?"

"In truth," said Micah, "when I was under instruction, their endeavours to force some ability from those they saw as lesser students often had the effect of laying down barriers in the mind."

"Really?" said Schuldig in interest.

"I cannot explain it," said Micah in some evident frustration. "It is as if the poor ability they forced from me must run down certain pathways, and needs such restraints to channel it to the meagre extent I can. That is what they said, in any case."

"No more can I really say what it is like to read minds," said Schuldig, wishing he had Nagi by him to say if Micah betrayed a falsehood through nervousness or not. "I simply do it. Come, let us poison ourselves a little more with Brad's coffee." He smiled and received a smile in return. Within himself he felt unhappy to have used Crawford's name so, but shook the feeling from himself, thinking fiercely that it was not such a betrayal of privacy, and was a sign of putting anger behind him. Leading Micah back to the others he sat beside Crawford, and poured coffee for first Micah and then himself. Crawford was at least looking his way now, and Schuldig felt great relief that he could be open with one person at least. "Do you want me to abase myself to you?" he thought, calmly and quietly as if he whispered, not bothering to hide the tone of shame his thought carried.

"Never," thought Crawford, briefly squeezing his hand. "Have you been making friends?"

"Well," thought Schuldig, "it's a start. Crawford, about earlier --"

"We're all tired, we're all short-tempered," thought Crawford, forestalling his apology, and aloud, "Let us all get some rest. Nagi, you have been more than half-asleep for the last hour."

"I'm awake," said Nagi without opening his eyes. He did not resist when Crawford gently pushed him towards the tents, barely opening his eyes enough to make out his way, and falling down quite fully asleep upon the blankets. After a very little while longer, the others all made their weary way to bed also.

"Nagi said you have been becoming queerer and queerer over the last few days; tell me what is wrong," said Crawford quietly, so as not to disturb the sleeping boy, pulling off his boots as he spoke. "Don't disobey this time."

"No, I won't, I swear it," said Schuldig, unhappy to feel better the moment he capitulated, for he knew this to be something that the instructors in SchloƟ Rosenkreuz had put upon him. "Farfarello is angry with me," he said cautiously. "He's been making me feel guilty about something."

"And will I be angry if you tell me what it is about?" said Crawford. Schuldig closed his mouth tight, the urge to say too much receding. Crawford sighed. "Very well," he said. "You don't have to tell me."

"In any case, your anger earlier made me feel worse, once my own had died down a little," said Schuldig, "and I want it all behind me. But I need some distraction from my thoughts, Crawford. Use me for some tiring task, wear me out completely, I will be all right tomorrow. There must be some chore I can do tonight."

Pulling out some notebooks and a dog-eared printed volume, Crawford said, "Here, compare the characteristics of these sketches I have made of the native pottery with those in the catalogue. It is very boring - and so I have made excuses not to do it myself! - and will demand careful concentration." He patted Schuldig's arm as his friend took the books with gratitude, continuing, "Your moods have been getting more extreme recently. Do not let it build up, Schuldig."

"Micah's arrival has made our treachery against our masters seem all the more real to me," said Schuldig. "And today, even seeing him made me feel more and more guilty." He looked up at Crawford suddenly, frowning. "Do you think he can feel what others feel, like Nagi? Could he be forcing me to feel this way?"

"I haven't felt any sudden changes of emotion when I am in his company," said Crawford. "That's not a profitable line of thought, my friend, don't indulge it. You know quite well who wants you to feel this way, and I promise you, you will be free of their influence."

"I want that," murmured Schuldig. "I want to feel my old gay self again, and quickly."

"You will," said Crawford, straightening Schuldig's unruly hair so that it lay neatly upon his shoulders. "You are strong, you will feel better very quickly. You are simply exhausted at the moment and have been neglecting yourself. Tomorrow I want you to rest, do you hear me?"

"You'll need me to help you," said Schuldig, frowning at the pictures of pottery, and flicking through Crawford's notebooks to match them with those pieces they had previously found.

"I need you," said Crawford, lying down and pulling up his blankets. "We'll both rest." He shook his head slightly at the diligence with which Schuldig applied himself to his task. "Come to bed as soon as you feel able, Schuldig."

"Yes," said Schuldig absently, scribbling notes. "Do you mind if I keep the lamp on?" So engrossed was he in his requested task that he noted no answer, and was more than a little surprised when he stretched stiffly some time later, taking out his pocket-watch to find that several hours had passed. Peering stealthily over Crawford's shoulder to where Nagi lay huddled, he told himself that the lad would not feel neglected should Schuldig indulge himself this once, extinguished the faltering lamp and lay on Crawford's other side, feeling his friend stir sleepily. Schuldig burrowed against him, sighing in relief as Crawford's arms went about him, and sleep claimed him quickly and peacefully, with no guilt left to stain his dreams.

Date: 2005-09-24 08:39 am (UTC)
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)
From: [identity profile]
But I need some distraction from my thoughts, Crawford. Use me for some tiring task, wear me out completely, I will be all right tomorrow. There must be some chore I can do tonight."

Hee! I was going, "With Nagi right there?"

I'm so glad Schuldig has decided to work with Micah. I love him coming to thinking about why he's angry. Perhaps even people who don't like to dissect themselves under normal circumstances might be introspective occasionally. (Or maybe Micah can influence moods... eep.)

Date: 2005-09-24 09:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee! I was going, "With Nagi right there?"

So was I, as I was writing :-)

Poor Nagi's very tired. It would take the Second Coming to wake him up. (So they'd get the first one without any problems).

Schuldig: Use me! Wear me out!
Crawford: Hey, you're the one who wanted the kid sleeping in our bed.
Schuldig: Hang on, I can put him really deeply under.
Crawford: Alone at last! *pounce*

Schuldig doesn't like too much introspection - a waste of good mischief time, and he doesn't really want to dig too much up. He's rather happy to have been able to put his anger behind him.

Date: 2005-09-24 09:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"I am so damnably hot." - yes Schuldig, you are :p. I'm glad things seem fine at the moment; almost a bit too smooth - I keep waiting for a native attack or something ;-).

Date: 2005-09-24 09:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
yes Schuldig, you are

Oh, how he suffers :-)

Everyone's happy at the moment, no one's really feeling too queer - in fact I'd say that the new day will see them all as gay as they've ever been!

Date: 2005-09-24 01:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"I want to feel my old gay self again, and quickly."

As do we all, Schuldig!

And I can just see Farfarello : "But Schuldig! You PROMISED I could kill him!"

Yay for updates!

Date: 2005-09-24 01:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Schuldig will be as gay as ever soon, all his queer feelings put behind him! Farfarello will get over his annoyance in a while :-)

Date: 2005-09-24 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh no, Mom and Dad are fighting! Eep!

Date: 2005-09-24 02:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee! *sad face* Yes, they are. Luckily, they haven't started the custody battles yet.

Date: 2005-09-24 02:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Queerer and queerer Hee! Fantatic as ever. *___*

Date: 2005-09-24 02:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Schuldig was very queer indeed for a while. Crawford hopes he'll be gay again soon.

Date: 2005-09-24 02:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
:giggles: I am sure after being so thourghly worn out by Crawfords work, and with sufficent sleep, he will be his gay self soon! ^___^

Date: 2005-09-24 02:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Crawford will spare no effort to make sure Schuldig is properly exhausted, and after lying for a while so limply happy in Crawford's manly embrace, he'll be fit to face the day with a gay smile upon his lips!

Date: 2005-09-24 02:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Like a gay battery charger! Hee!

Is Micah really not going for brother slash?

Date: 2005-09-24 03:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee hee!

Even the inhabitants of a Fennish world would notice that's not manly and heterosexual! But he will hold hands with Crawford from time to time.

Date: 2005-09-24 03:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

:make them watch boondock saints: Ha! Such fraternal manlyness! :giggles:

Date: 2005-10-05 09:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey there!
Ive really enjoyed reading this story so far (stayed up all last night to finish it ^^), and look forward to more. Im totally in love with your Schuldig, and i like the relationship between the members of Schwarz.
Micah though...Im curious what direction you'll take with him. Something about the guy just gives me a bad feeling.
But anyways, i love the way you write the characters, and the plot is original and interesting.
I was wondering if you mind that i friended you? I dont want to lose track of this journal now that I've had a taste of it ^___-

Date: 2005-10-06 01:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

I'm so pleased you like this! I'm having such fun writing it :-)

Micah, eh? *looks mysterious*

Please do friend this journal. I have another very long Victorian sci-fi story at [ profile] mars_manliness (no Weiss Kreuz characters), and a lot of fic in my memories over in my personal LJ, [ profile] daegaer too.

Date: 2005-11-02 06:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi, I just discovered this yesterday, and have been reading through it as fast as I could. I absolutely adore it. Especially the Crawford-Schuldig-Nagi relationship. and the Schuldig-Farfarello relationship. And...well, most of it actually.
I'm really starting to hate Micah, though. I don't suppose you'd be able to tell me that Schuldig ends up killing him messily and painfully? Please?
You are going to finish this, right? Cause leaving it like this probably counts as cruel and unusual punishment.
Anyway, just wanted to tell you how much I'm enjoying this.

Date: 2005-11-02 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much! I'm really pleased you've been enjoying this! (And Micah's astonished at how many people hate him, when he's being so nice and polite, most of the time :-)

I have every intention of finishing this as quickly as possible, but have been having serious computer problems for a while. The moment I have my home computer back I'll be writing more, don't worry!

Thanks again :-)

Date: 2005-11-03 04:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Micah reminds me of an ex-friend, who was always an asshole, but could always find a reason why it wasn't his fault, or why things weren't as bad as I thought they were or why he was in the right. And then he would apologize and say he'd change, and never follow through.
That's why I dislike Micah. Plus, there's just something wrong about him.
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