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Chapter Fifty

The ruined city, 1880

"Throw knives for me to catch!" said Nagi, tugging on Farfarello's sleeve. "Stop working for a while!"

Farfarello gave him a long suffering look, and bent once more to his task of rearranging their belongings in the cart. "Later," he said, regarding his handiwork with some displeasure, as if he were confronted with a jigsaw puzzle that refused to fit neatly into its allotted places.

"You can do that at another time," said Nagi, who felt that he had worked quite long enough that day and was, therefore, concerned that now his friends should also stop their labours and take their ease. "I'll help you!"

"You helped me enough earlier," muttered Farfarello, who had been nonplussed and more than a little annoyed to discover the items and sacks he had set out carefully piled high in the cart. It had taken more time to undo Nagi's aid to the point where he could start once more than he had been in any way happy with. "Are you not needed by Crawford?"

"No," said Nagi, deciding he would not be unhappy to have been chased away by Crawford as well. "He says he can finish up by himself and that I should have some free time."

"Wonderful," breathed Farfarello in a tone that indicated he was not being altogether truthful in the sentiment. "Pester Schuldig, then."

"But I want you to throw knives for me," said Nagi. "Can't you put these things in the cart in the evening? Do it after dinner, Farfarello!"

"Schuldig!" cried Farfarello, turning and waving at the mind reader who sprawled under the awning they had erected to shelter them from the rays of the sun and to catch the evening breeze. "Take him off my hands before I start throwing knives in a way he will not find amusing," he went on in thought, seeing that he had attracted Schuldig's attention.

"You are so moody," murmured Schuldig's voice in his mind. "Like a girl deprived of dances for too long. Is the naughty little boy teasing you too much for your maidenly disposition to stand?"

Farfarello showed his opinion in an uncouth gesture, forcing the smile from his lips as Schuldig's laughter rang gaily within his head.

"See?" said Farfarello to Nagi. "Schuldig wants you. Quick, run. I'll play with you later."

With a heavy sigh Nagi left him and went, with the exuberant energy of youth, to Schuldig's side. "What do you want?" he asked.

"Ah," said Schuldig. "A good question. Maybe I should drill you in the Dativ, what do you think?" He grinned at Nagi's scowling face, for although Nagi's desire to improve his command of the German tongue was real, he found Schuldig's lessons in grammar wearisome, the young German's pedagogical method relying as it did in the main on sarcasm and mockery. "No?" said Schuldig mildly. "Then sit, and relay information on Crawford's doings."

"He's taking a last few notes, he said," said Nagi.

"How can there be anything left that he has not recorded?" laughed Schuldig.

"I think he's sad to leave it," said Nagi with a sigh, for the thought of Crawford's sorrow seemed an unhappy thing to him. "But he said we need to go, and that you'd be happy."

"Ja," said Schuldig in satisfaction. "So I shall be. He's still down there, you say? Perhaps I should make sure he's not weeping in secret, and should console him."

"Oh, he's not lonely," said Nagi. "He's talking to Micah." His voice faltered at Schuldig's scowl.

"What are they talking about?" asked Schuldig. "What?" he continued at Nagi's helpless shrug, "How can I make anything of you if you won't even spy on your friends for me?" He settled himself more comfortably, muttering, "I shall just have to see for myself."

"Schuldig!" said Nagi, shaking his friend's shoulder. "That's very rude! What if they are having private conversation?"

"Precisely," said Schuldig. "Stop shaking me! I can't concentrate!"

"They were only speaking of the native art when I left," said Nagi. "Ask Crawford later, Schuldig. I'm bored, I want you to do something with me!"

"Maybe I will," mused Schuldig. "Here, sit here --" So saying he pulled the lad into an embrace, settling him between his legs so Nagi leant back against him. "Now," said Schuldig, "I want you to think very hard about the times you have been able to tell what Micah is feeling - everything you can remember, Nagi! Don't squirm about so! We both need to be comfortable!"

"Wait!" cried Nagi as Schuldig held him immobile with an arm tight about his waist, and put his hand on the lad's brow. "Are you going to hurt me again?"

"No," said Schuldig in a comforting tone, stroking Nagi's hair back. "I was sorry to hurt you before, Nagi, I won't do it again, don't worry. I shall take my time with you on this occasion. It's all right. Shhh. Let's start things easily. What am I feeling?"

"Annoyed," said Nagi after a little. "And jealous. Why are you jealous of Micah, Schuldig?"

"Let us concentrate on more important matters," muttered Schuldig. "How about Farfarello?"

"Murderous," giggled Nagi, watching Farfarello fling sacks from the cart and begin his labours yet again.

"How interesting to see your mind at work like this," said Schuldig in tones of professional interest. "Do that again, I want to be certain of how it feels." He wiped his hand, which had grown damp with perspiration, on his knee and placed it back on Nagi's forehead. "Now, concentrate. Let us see if there may be anything different when you can tell what dear Micah is feeling --"

Obedient to his friend's command, Nagi thought very hard about the times he had been sure he had felt what Micah felt, thinking especially of how Micah had been worried about the dov creeping about in the dark during the sandstorm. It was hard to keep his mind as concentrated as Schuldig seemed to want, however, for the late afternoon was very hot and he felt safely comfortable and sleepy, his thoughts continually sliding away to other matters.

"Bah!" ejaculated Schuldig in disgust. "These memories don't tell me anything I want to know. We shall have to do this when you are concentrating on Micah when he is present before us."

"Won't he think it queer of us, though?" said Nagi, "He will surely know you're reading my mind and wonder why."

"I don't haveto be wrapped round you," said Schuldig cheerfully. "It is quicker like this, certainly, but it is really for the ease of the other person rather than me."

"Oh," said Nagi, remembering Schuldig's touch and the sudden pain in his head. Though it hadn't felt very easy to him then, his friend's attentions were usually comforting, he thought. "Why can't I feel whatever it is you're doing?" he asked, wondering if it were possible to detect a mind reader within one's head.

"Do you want to?" said Schuldig. "Like this?"

Nagi squirmed as he suddenly felt that he was not alone in his mind, as if the hug in which he was held had somehow entered into his head as well, and as if he were being tickled. "That's nice," he breathed, feeling himself sinking deep into pleasurable indolence.

"Isn't it?" murmured Schuldig, his breath tickling Nagi more as he laughed quietly. "Much nicer than when I must seek information quickly, hmm? Do you like me doing this? Shall I send you to sleep like this?" Nagi closed his eyes, thinking he would be quite happy to have a nap, and that he was very glad of Schuldig's friendship and affection. Micah was quite wrong to say such friendship was inappropriate, he thought, for he knew that Schuldig did not care in the least for having those younger than him address him in tones society considered respectful. He blinked his eyes open as he suddenly felt nothing at all within his mind and Schuldig's arms fell away from the embrace in which they had held him.

"Let's start making dinner," said Schuldig in a tone of forced cheer. "Maybe you could fry some of the meat from our latest hunt? I always burn it so!" He pushed Nagi up, saying, "Sleep can wait till another time, Crawford will want his meal!"

"All right," said Nagi, busying himself by floating some of their stock of thorn bushes to the pit they had dug for their fire. They would need to go in search of more, he thought, for they had used much of the more easily accessible bushes already. "Are you upset?" he went on as Schuldig cursed and swore at the frying pan.

"No!" said Schuldig. "I just hate cooking, that's all." He smiled at Nagi, handing the offending item over. "I'll get the oil," he said, turning away abruptly. Nagi sighed, rubbing his hand where their fingers had touched, the feel of Schuldig's sudden agitation quite clear to him. "Mind readers," he thought in unconscious emulation of Micah's opinion, "they are so changeable."

* * *

"It is a nice night," said Schuldig, leaning upon Crawford's shoulder. "Let's go for a walk in it."

"Now?" said Crawford in amusement. "Everyone is going to sleep, Schuldig. Don't you want to be rested?"

"I rested earlier," said Schuldig, tugging his friend up, "Come on." Not relinquishing his grasp upon his friend's hand, he pulled Crawford way from the dying fire and out of earshot of the little camp. Once out of the circle of firelight the night was very black, the stars bright and shining overhead in a way that they were never seen from the great cities of Earth, the artificial and hissing gaslights robbing the hours of darkness of their solemn and natural majesty. "Crawford," said Schuldig in trepidation, turning within the embrace in which his friend had enfolded him, "I would value your opinion on something."

"Ah," said Crawford, his smile audible in his voice, "You brought me out here to talk. Well, what is it?"

"Do I act inappropriately with Nagi?" said Schuldig, feeling himself blush and growing angry with himself for such childishness.

"You encourage him in childish behaviour," said Crawford. "That is a good thing, though. He'll have little enough time to be a child once we return to Earth, let him enjoy it while he may --" He paused, peering as best he could at Schuldig's distressed face in the darkness. "Schuldig --" he said quietly. "No. No, of course not."

"I knew it!" said Schuldig in vicious triumph. "That troublemaking --"

"Who said such a thing?"

"You don't want to hear it," muttered Schuldig. "And he didn't say it to me, in any case, he said it to Nagi." He drew an irritated breath at hearing Crawford's sigh. "All right, all right," he said. "Let me anticipate your defence: he meant nothing, the lad did not understand, I did not understand, I take everything too personally, I should not be so touchy, I'll calm down if you pet me and tell me everything is as it should be." He smiled tightly as Crawford blinked and stopped the move he had made to stroke Schuldig's hair into neatness. "Nothing to say, Brad?" said Schuldig.

"I have plenty to say," said Crawford. "I'm too tired to argue, Schuldig. We can discuss this at another time."

Schuldig felt queerly bereft as Crawford stepped back, as if he had only then realised he wanted to fight. "Crawford," he said, catching his friend's arm. "Don't be angry with me for saying such things. I know you want us all to be friends, and I have tried, have I not?"

"Have you?" said Crawford.

"I have! I told myself I was stupidly jealous, that it was merely that I felt unhappy that my family could not miraculously appear - I even privately agreed with Farfarello's view that I was simply unused to so little of your attention! I have felt very much like a silly boy, who cannot abide his friend having another friend," said Schuldig, holding tight to Crawford's hand lest he escape. "But though I have tried, I don't like him."

"You don't have to like him," said Crawford patiently. "Come now, no more silliness."

"He doesn't like me," said Schuldig. "When I am so charming! These things he has said to Nagi; the way he agrees with Farfarello's jests; the things he says to you -- You should remonstrate with him."

"Should I?" said Crawford. "Let it roll over you."

"No, listen to me!" cried Schuldig, afire to persuade his friend of the rightness of his point of view. "From the start he has played upon things he considers weaknesses amongst us - Nagi's worry that he is esteemed the less for not being white, the lapses in my memory, your sorrow at not seeing your parents. If he does not discuss religion with Farfarello it is only because he is justly alarmed at the prospect! Are these the acts of a friend to us? Moreover, if he can see a way in which to lessen me in your eyes, he takes it. I am not as light-minded as he says, you know that! And his fine plans for when we have finally gained our freedom - why, what purpose does it serve to drag you back to Virginia but to play further on your grief and give you people from your childhood while rubbing it in my face that I have no one for you to grow to love? And," cried Schuldig warming to his theme as he saw more grievances within his friend's mind, "you have lost your family so he will give you a nephew or niece? Pah! How convenient! Am I expected to come on this family excursion, or am I to sit in Europe embroidering handkerchiefs? Well? Say something -- why do you wall your mind off from me? Crawford? Don't hide things from me!" Suddenly distraught, he seized Crawford by both arms, thinking he had annoyed his friend too much and that he now believed every opinion of Micah's on mind readers.

"You are right," said Crawford simply.

Schuldig breathed out, an incredulous smile crossing his narrow face.

"He in no way approves of our friendship and wishes to replace you in my affections," said Crawford in his most matter of fact tone.

The smile dropped from Schuldig's lips. "Well, that is ridiculous," he said, feeling nonetheless hurt at the emotionless way in which Crawford had said such a thing, as if he were merely commenting on the weather. "He's your brother, unless he has changed his tune on that score."

"Schuldig --" started Crawford, then shook his head ruefully. "Try not to be sillier than you must. He is as jealous of you as you are of him - I am exhausted with the way the pair of you stalk about each other with your competing claims: his of family and yours of friendship. Can you both not accept that neither of you is threatened --"

"Am I not your family?" interrupted Schuldig. "You've said it to all of us before, we're your family. Is he better than us because those in SchloƟ Rosenkreuz think he shares your blood? You see, I do not say he is a liar - I say merely that he, like you, may have been misled by faulty information."

"Of course you are," said Crawford. "But this is different -- you do not want me to think of you as a brother, do you?" he said, trying to lighten the moment.

"You're humouring me," said Schuldig. "You're humouring me." Ruthlessly he stamped down the feeling of deep hurt and glared at Crawford. "You're not listening," he said.

"Schuldig," snapped Crawford. "You're an idiot. You want me to throw away an ally as proof of affection. I will not. He wants me to distance myself from you as proof of affection. I will not."

"I'm just a subordinate to you," muttered Schuldig, "now that you have your brother."

"I had subordinates," said Crawford, "our masters put me over you and Farfarello. Now I have no masters, no subordinates - I have only friends. And family, if you will. We are equals, and we are free. Micah's silliness cannot drive me from you -- do you think me a fool who believes you bring only disaster to your friends? And your silliness will not drive me from him -- really, Schuldig! Do you think there is another man in all the worlds as infuriating as you? I should be bored with anyone else."

Seeing that the walls were no longer firm about his friend's mind, Schuldig felt a little more at ease, letting the tension fall from his frame. "Maybe I have been foolish," he allowed. "No doubt Nagi misremembered what Micah had said to him, which caused me to misinterpret things in the worst light." He let Crawford draw him closer, murmuring, "All the same, you would tell me if I were being inappropriate with Nagi, wouldn't you?"

"Of course," said Crawford quietly. "But you are not. Don't forget, I know you my friend. You have nothing to worry about."

"I'd hate it," said Schuldig in a thin voice. "I'd rather die. And you'd hate me too."

"I'll never hate you," said Crawford. "Come now, we are too good friends to be unhappy so long. Humour me, and cheer up." He lifted Schuldig's hand to his cheek and smiled at the lightening of the misery in the mind reader's eyes. "Oh, Schuldig," said Crawford quietly. "Don't you know that only death could make me stop being your friend?" As he said it, he felt something within him turn over and knew he spoke with foresight. Though he at once tried to hide it within the defences he had been trained to erect about his mind it was too late, and horror suffused Schuldig's countenance as he put his other hand over his eyes, as if to hide from whatever it was he saw within Crawford's mind.

"Gott," said Schuldig brokenly, "Ach, mein Gott."

Date: 2006-06-01 05:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh noes! Cliffhanger!

I am always happy to see another chapter of this pop up because I know there will be goodness within, and there is, but really. Did you have to leave it there?

Date: 2006-06-02 11:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee! Thank you :-)

There was originally going to be another section, but I thought the chapter was getting quite long enough . . .

Date: 2006-06-01 05:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh you cruel and vicious woman! To leave us on such a cliffhanger... *laughs* Even so this was a fantastic chapter. I really enjoyed how conscientious Schuldig is beneath his outward seeming of selfish bravado. Not to say that he isn't a selfish and lazy man, of course, but it is sweet that he still has concerns about his own behaviour and whether he's doing right by those few he considers his friends.

That Micah is a right insidious bastard. I can't help admiring what a perfectly evil fellow he is... well, that is to say if his machinations are intentional. I'll confess I'm more of a mind with Schuldig on this one than with Crawford, for all that the latter makes some good arguments in Micah's defense.

And Nagi... is still so damn darling.

"...he found Schuldig's lessons in grammar wearisome, the young German's pedagogical method relying as it did in the main on sarcasm and mockery"

*laughs* Can't help empathizing with him there.

Date: 2006-06-02 11:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you!

Schuldig does have a conscience. Sort of. Where his friends are concerned, at least.

Micah's sorry he's so tactless. He doesn't mean to offend and cause self-doubt. Although he does get a certain pleasure out of seeing his rival brother-in-law comrade tear his own air out.

Nagi's innocence will hopefully not be terminal :-)

Date: 2006-06-01 05:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

I agree, and the suspense is rendered even more suspenseful with the promise of more suspence. You toy with us so! (but please, don't stop...)

Date: 2006-06-02 11:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! The next chapter should be up soonish, I hope!

Date: 2006-06-01 07:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
D: ach foreshadowing cliffhanger meep *beats with tiny ineffectual fists*

*pets Schuldig* He needs petting. and manly embraces whut
I feel sorry for Crawford, trying to keep them all in line.

How can I make anything of you if you won't even spy on your friends for me?" - *hee*

Date: 2006-06-02 11:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Schuldig needs petting right now. The heavier the better, as far as he's concerned. If he and Crawford can stop being worried, of course.

And he's doing his best with Nagi! But children can be so lazy!

Date: 2006-06-01 07:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I can't tell you how much fun this is to read. I hope you have the next chapter up quickly, I can't take the suspense!

Date: 2006-06-02 11:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much! I'll be working on it over the long weekend!

Date: 2006-06-02 05:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is... adorable, suspenseful and amusing by turns. Somehow, it seems fitting that pseudo-Victorian serial literature comes out by installment, even if one desperately wants more immediately.

I'll believe Micah's no more than a weak pyrokinetic with impressive shielding. He doesn't *need* to be anything else to drag Schwartz back to hell Rosenkreuz via his very earnest good intentions.

I'll also believe he genuinely thinks he wants the best for Crawford, and possibly Nagi. (Or perhaps he thinks Nagi has potential to be molded by Rosenkreuz that neither Schuldig or Farfarello possess in his eyes.) Whether they would agree with his concept of 'what's best' is less certain.

'Good intentions' and a sense that what he sees as the good must be best for everyone -- quite colonial/imperialistic, really, in a way. I think I find Schwartz' more conscious brand of evil (self-serving rather than ideologically 'selfless') more sympathetic.

Micah seems to have decided Schuldig's the weakest link -- suggesting he's inappropriate towards Nagi, joining in on Farfarello's (far more friendly in intent) jibes towards Schuldig and inflaming Schuldig's jealousy of Crawford smiling at anyone else... and Schuldig does rather seem to be fraying more than the others, though Crawford's probably coming second.

I shall await the next installment with eagerness.

Date: 2006-06-02 11:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you!

Micah's feeling quite satisfied himself. He's a stabilising, sensible influence on Crawford. Those mind readers, you know - they can't really help themselves, and they cause a lot more trouble than they mean to (and when they get spiteful well . . .) Schuldig should keep to his place - firmly under Crawford. Not that Micah approves of that either.

Micah wants to live in a world where all men and some women are seen as equal, no matter what the colour of their skin. Those with supernatural abilities should run the world, of course. They are better than everyone else. (Something that Schwarz wouldn't actually disagree with).

I'm glad you're enjoying this!

Date: 2006-06-02 10:59 am (UTC)
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Schuldig cuddling Nagi... you just wrote that so... Okay, I feel like a perv, but it's your fault, you, you... marvelous thing. It's so sweet and completely innocent, and yet it has so much hot! It's just bursting with the UST, and completely unaware of it, of course - perfectly Victorian. *hearts you!*

Now you've got me very curious, though (you're always doing that) - I was afraid, before, that Crawford was going to see Schuldig's death, but I almost think Schuldig wouldn't have been as upset by that. Or would he? If he saw it leaving Crawford alone, in grief, and unprotected by him, perhaps.

Date: 2006-06-02 11:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hee :-) Schuldig's currently feeling a bit like a perv too, now that it's been pointed out to him.

Schuldig: Brad, those times when I cuddle Nagi, and hold his hand and call him pet names and invade his mental privacy and let him feel me touching his brain, and encourage him to curl up between us in our bed -- do you think there's anything a bit off about that?

Crawford: By Rosenkreuz standards? We're practically saints.

Ah, curiosity! So I shouldn't leave a few weeks before posting the next chapter, then?

Date: 2006-06-02 11:30 am (UTC)
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I wouldn't want to hurry the creative process and cause you distress! :)

Date: 2006-06-02 11:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think I'm on a Victorian roll, so there should be more manliness and hand-holding shortly!

Date: 2006-06-04 01:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Schuldig's sentiments exactly.
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