"Next time, you can monitor the target." Schuldich flung away the derby he had been wearing, ruffling the somewhat flattened locks of his hair with irritation. Droplets of water flicked from its ends and soaked into the reports Crawford had spread across the coffee table. "Um Gottes willen, if he spends all his time as leisurely as he did today, it's no wonder his company's so small."
"Not so small anymore," Crawford reminded him calmly. The was, of course, the source of their employer's paranoia. Nearly tripled expansion in the last five months, after eleven years of consistent, if modestly successful activity. "He's getting the extra revenue from somewhere."
"Unless he's being paid to promote the local bistros with his presence, I didn't see where from." Crawford hid relief at the annoyance in the other's voice. Schuldich gave in readily to the immediate, and an aggravated Schuldich was less likely to instigate situations which were tiresome and trying.
"Who was he dining with?" he asked, not looking from his paperwork.
"Just his mistress." Schuldich stretched out on the couch, resting his head against Crawford in a casual motion and finding himself flat on his back when Crawford moved away with similar ease.
"I want you to maintain surveillance until we report on Thursday." Crawford's voice revealed no change as he gathered his files and left for his study. A decisive click of the lock announced that it would be another long night for the seer.
"I don't pay you to tell me things I already know!" Crawford reigned in the urge to send Takatori to an expedient death. From the tension written across Schuldich's face he could tell that the German was having less success with his struggle. "A week and you have no more knowledge of Matsura's activities that you started with! A group of overpaid thugs is what you are!"
Crawford adjusted his glasses briefly as a vision flashed past, and stepped forward, arms neatly folded behind his back. He caught Schuldich's fist an instant before he raised it. "You would no doubt find disposable help far more costly in the long run." A slight inflection of strain entered his voice as Schuldich loosened his fist and twined slender fingers with his "At this point we have more than confirmed that there is no activity occurring between his company and any of yours. We suspect he is employing a third party in this."
"Then find out who it is!" Takatori had no need to curb his fury. Behind an illusory shield of contracts, influence and money, he imagined himself safe from his shadowy agents.
"Of course sir." The tiniest catch in his voice as Schuldich's thumb stroked upwards, brushing the margin of flesh on the inner wrist, just under the starched cuff. Depositing the folder of accumulated date on Takatori's desk, he pivoted on his heel, jerking his hand from Schuldich's in the same instant.
When they reached the elevator, he shoved Schuldich in, stepped after him and jabbed the 'close' button. The doors slid shut on Nagi's look of mild amusement and Farfarello's disinterested scowl.
Schuldich crashed into the wall, the metal rail encircling the side panels digging a painful demarcation into the small of his back. Crawford stood over him, hands pinning his arms at his sides, his elbows grating against the steel bar. He looked up at Crawford and found nothing there: no flash of anger in those eyes, mind a likewise blank.
"If you ever threaten a client again, I will break your hands personally. Luckily enough your powers function perfectly with or without them." Crawford smiled pleasantly, emphasizing this with a slight increase of pressure. Small bones in his elbows ground against one another and sent shocks of pain along his arms.
"We both know you wanted to hurt Takatori back there as much as I did Brad. That's not the issue here...is it?" The intonation of his words ladened his grin with suggestiveness. Crawford's lips thinned in response, ready to fire a retort that would be both short and cruel.
So cold, standing over him. Eyes burning and stony face a million miles away. Schuldich strained to cross that dreary breadth, ignoring the audible crack from his arm, until their faces were inches apart. "Have I made Bradley a little nonplussed?" His tongue darted out to trace the curve of Crawford's lower lip, and he felt a satisfying tremor, an unintentional tightening of grip, in response.
The silence was deafening, though a myriad of responses were now seeping through the edges of Crawford's barrier. Each paled in the shadow of the anger that accompanied them. Schuldich claimed that rare droplet of emotion like a prize, blood wrung from a stone. Its opiate effect overwhelmed him. He felt the blow to his jaw - it made him bite down on something that filled his mouth with the taste of bitter copper - but he could not feel the accompanying pain.
As he slid to the floor, head knocking against the rail on his way down, he vaguely registered Crawford turning away. "Don't be presumptuous." The frosty words were like a brand to his overloaded synapses.
He never could tell with Brad if he was freezing or burning.
Nagi and Farfarello waited in the lobby, having taken the express elevator. They moved aside as the doors opened and a slightly mussed Crawford walked out, adjusting a cufflink as he swept past. Nagi peered into the elevator to see Schuldich gathering himself up, cradling an arm that seemed oddly hyperextended.
"Always when he's been angered to a pitch by Takatori. You have impeccable timing, Schuldich." Nagi's tone was offset a bit by the mild sympathy in his eyes.
Emerald eyes still heavy-lidded and drunken followed the dark-suited form of their leader until he disappeared behind tinted glass doors. Schuldich wiped a trickle of blood from his chin and cracked a wry smile. "All for the unparalleled pleasures of delayed gratification, my friend."
III | Fanfiction