:: Noir, AFAICT, is a sort of hybrid of Lain and Weiss - with an all-girl cast. I want to see it badly. How can I not want to see a show with a soundtrack like this? (And the entire soundtrack *is* like this. You've got to love on principle an anime whose OP is titled "Coppelia's Coffin".)
:: New Wave rock (hey, I didn't have to make it up this time!)
:: tBD OST... *counts* track 6. XD Corresponds partially to below. I put up this version because it's got more of a beat to it, especially if you futz a bit with the equalizer in winamp. (And I'm too lazy to upload twice, so, um, don't *stream* this.)
It's always been a wonder to me, incidentally, that I've *never* encountered a yaoi songfic of Duran Duran anywhere...
Friday, July 6, 2001 10:13 p.m.
Bit between my teeth
At one this morning I thought it would be nice and fine to defragment my c: drive (12 gigs, about 80% filled, file system left to its own devices for a year and a half). Figured it'd take a couple of hours on the outside. Feel free to laugh at me now.
I had - have - the A. S. Byatt to occupy me, though. ^_^ Wonderful, *wonderful* book; I was sherry-sipping and charmed and - *interested*, you know - up to about chap.8, and thereafter I was *breathless*. The reviewers said, repeatedly, that it was a "generous" book, which I thought an odd adjective until I really got into it. There's so much there: such a profusion of ideas, of academic delights, of period references, of humour, of local oddities, of romanticism, of lyrical fire, of characters that get the reader on her feet and rooting, of quotable passages, of *poetry*. I don't mean her prose is poetic. I mean real, live, honest-to-goodness poetry. Byatt is not content with simply giving us her fictional subjects of biography; she gives us *their* output too. I would very much like to copy out some of Christabel and Ash's letters and tack them on my wall. You'd dislike it, I suppose, if you disliked the works of Coleridge or the Brownings - but then again if you did, I don't want to talk to you. :P
So I read, and went to bed, and got up and mowed the lawn in a state of intellectual ferment. :P Stood in the variable sun by my sister's maple sapling, watching my father paint his suburban madonna behind the basement window, and just *thought*. And then I came in, got myself a glass of ginger ale and read some more. I'm just resting my eyes by staring at the computer screen for a little while - don'tsayitIdon'twannahearit. I'm resting my eyes. Heavenly way to spend the day, really.
(The suburban madonna: plump smiling lady in a bobbed 'do and expensive blouse, enthroned in front of a winding staircase, two plump smiling children on her lap holding up their favorite toys - the girl her doll and bottle, boy his black-and-white gerbil - like the Son and the Baptist playing with jeweled spheres of domination and milky symbolic lambs. When I point this out to my father he simply grunts and says there are only *so* many balanced compositions in the world, and the Renaissance artists naturally got to them first. With any luck spectators will perceive it as being gently ironic - but the sort of people who commission such portraits are usually not good at irony, and neither are their social circles. ^^;)
D: De gustibus, like I always say. (*thinks* If I were to be honest, like Jeanne Johnson always says. But I pick up expressions online like mad.) It just got depressing all of a sudden yesterday, because if no one else is going to write it, then *I* have to write it, and I'm too lazy and I'm not sure I can get it right. ^^; Sloth. Lack of self-confidence. 90% of all my problems in this life can be attributed to those two happy qualities, methinks.
I liked Ashlea's story, but I didn't have that reaction to the ending at all. That is to say, I never believed that they'd uhh spoilers you know and so forth - pegged it for a dramatic happi-endo from the first. It's the way I react. Have you ever read the fic about Fuuma selling Seishirou the dead onmyouji? It's kind of like that. You'd have to bang the corpse against a hard surface repeatedly in front of me and I still may not believe it.
(Would be nice if I could actually *find* this fic. I didn't make it up. Really.)
(What I did relate to was the Trigun story - in terms of dramatic necessity. I... laughed a lot during that last episode. ^^; Mind you, I think they didn't *like* the fact that they copped out on dramatic necessity; I think they did it because if they'd taken it to the end it would have been a story of ethical and moral despair, and that wasn't the message they wanted to get across. The first draft of the ending, I believe, was a merry Evangelionesque mindfarker with the second wave of colonization ships hanging white in the sky and Vash being apotheosed by a transcendent Rem. I almost wish they'd stuck with it.
I also like the battle system in FF9 better than any other PSX RPG I've played up to now. Having four characters to a party is fun. Having designated mages is fun. Having summons that don't last five minutes is fun (although I did miss being able to go to the bathroom during boss fights, being possessed of a weak bladder under stress). Having AP come attached to the weapons and equipment you'd be buying anyway is *heavenly*. If they'd just kept Enc-None (FF8's one glory-alleluia innovation), it would have been perfect. Just as reference, I rather like the FF8 system, although it's rather un-FF-ish and, um, drop-dead easy. As for FF7, the proof of how much I love the storyline and characters is that I actually put up with the materia system enough to replay the thing.
I'm posting the techie details above as the non-obligatory addendum to what I now realize is a *mega* rant, because there's nothing more group-masturbatory than arguing over which battle system of which RPG is better. Except arguing over which character in Dragonball is stronger. And that, folks, is one place I will never be taking you.
Thursday, July 5, 2001 09:14 p.m.
Because after all it's just opinion. It's not as if I really need, or need to try, to convince anyone of anything... and I probably head the line of those who hold blogside polemics in hatred. As far as I'm concerned, the more preaching to the choir I do on this thing, the better job it is for all involved. ^^; But I feel a compulsion, somehow, to state my stance. As if it has to be aired out.
FF9 is my favorite of the Final Fantasy series.
I honestly didn't think I'd ever have to defend *this* game, at the beginning. I've had to defend FF8 often enough: my sister loved it when it was the only game she'd ever played through on her own, and I had to warn her to keep it in perspective, that in terms of the FF series in general FF8 was an aberration... then she tried some of the other ones and made a 180-degree swing in her assessment. ^^; But FF9 was an early crowd favorite when it came out - that is to say, with all the hardcore old-skool gamers of my acquaintance who've been playing RPGs since Dragon Warrior I and who consider 3D graphics the beginning of the end - for all sorts of very valid technical reasons. And then it got the aesthetic raves I thought it deserved on Shioul ML, so I figured I was in the majority opinion for once.
And then I realized virtually none of the gameficcers of my acquaintance agreed with me. As far as I can tell, they simply don't see anything *there*.
It's just opinion. I *can't* defend, I can't argue my position really, because I don't *understand*. o_o I mean, not caring about characters, that I get: it's a fairly mysterious process, who captures you and who doesn't. Being annoyed at weaknesses in the plot, that I get: all the Final Fantasy games suffer from it to some degree, even the beautifully labyrinthine FF7. (Ask me sometime about the FF3 OnionKids.) I'll even admit that most people out there don't care much for the music whereas I'd want the FF9 OST boxset with me on my proverbial desert island - because hey, there's nothing more ineffable than taste in music, right? What I don't understand is how anyone could not fall in love with that *world*. I don't understand how anyone could not love the gloaming forests of childhood imaginings, the aerial theater and the harp beneath the world-tree, the white towers casting their glittering reflection on the waters. There was beauty there: dragons, stained glass, princesses and crystals and birdsong. FF7 had the best storyline out of them all, but its worldbuilding contained referents to RL at every turn - everything from environmentalism to the Hunt for Red October. In FF8 it was the characters who were just like Real Life, which is perhaps why the fanfiction for that game works best out of the three. But FF9 was magical all over, and that is very *very* hard to achieve. People who've played FF5 tell me that's one aspect the series hasn't gotten right since then; I would have called it back to FF4 myself, not having played the former.
I want to write for the FF9 world. It holds so many stories beyond the main; so much breathless rushing child-wonder. Whimsical? Perhaps, but in the same way "The Hobbit" is - a fairytale with a dark heart. I feared Sephiroth's madness and pitied Cloud's pain, but Kuja's hatred made me weep... because it's the same as Vivi's loneliness and fear, the very same as the emptiness that stalks me in my mirror, closing in with every passing day. Anyone who isn't afraid to die, I've always thought, must not understand what death is.
The odd thing is, I've always thought FF9 would make the best novel out of them all. Not a novel like the ones so often written nowadays - historicals and SFs that end up thinly-disguised as fantasy due to unwillingness to "limit" oneself with real research - but a novel by a Peter S. Beagle or a Patricia McKillip, by a C.S. Lewis, by a Neil Gaiman even if he were willing to lay off his own mythologies. A novel by a writer who doesn't *need* the crutches of "magical systems" or technology - who can craft worlds familiar only to the heart, a writer who can make spells sing true. Fanfic would do, of course.
That being said, there *is* no fanfic of the sort for FF9. Not that I've read. Not that I've found. There's strictly well-written stuff, true, but nothing that makes the points I thought it should. People who go ahead and write it as if it were FF7 or even FF8 - which are games that more or less demand the systematic, explanatory treatment - and probably wonder afterward why it doesn't compel in the same way. *Not* that I'm the author to do it either, because as Mari pointed out not long ago in my g-book, I turn magic into mundane technology faster than anyone else. ^^; And yet... and yet...
Does anyone else even *see* what I do?
Thursday, July 5, 2001 05:24 a.m.
Before going to bed
I forgot to mention yesterday that there is good Sailor Moon smut at fanficrevolution.org. Consider this my public service announcement for the week.
(I've been reading Sailor Moon smut for longer than I've been reading yaoi, don't ask - and since I have an odd academic fancy for tracking the evolution of hentai fanfiction parallel to yaoi - sekkusharu roman, anyone? - I kept up with it. The good stuff is hard to find, though.)
Thursday, July 5, 2001 04:24 a.m.
Don't say a prayer for me now
(Save it till the morning after...) Fic, or everything else. It really does seem to be a dichotomy. Follows hard upon the last part I posted, plus or minus a bit of setting - soit dit en passant, after this story is finished I will never write about nightclubs or bars again. Or at any rate not for the rest of the year. >_< And I don't owe Raymond Chandler anymore, I owe Chris Carter. Real X-Philes will recognize the episode in question. Dammit, I liked the show back then. I don't know what happened to it.
(Oh, and Sarah: Omi is Nene but Youji *isn't* Sylia. That's where it all falls apart. :P That and the ADV Police, a version of which could conceivably have made Weiss a better show. But then, a lot of things could have made Weiss a better show. At least 2040's animation rocked.)
"He was around," the man said, glancing over at the far side of the bar. Baba was there, Crawford noticed, slumped over the same half-empty tumbler as if she had not so much as shifted position in the interim. Stringy, steel-grey hair tumbled over her face, but she made no move to push it away.
"Put half a grand toward her tab. In greenback." The bartender raised a quizzical eyebrow at him, as if expecting him to claim credit for Schuldich's sudden surge in net worth. But Crawford said nothing, and the man grunted.
"None of my business anyway," he said, reaching into some hidden compartiment under the bar. "Here. Said to give you this if you showed."
Crawford took the paper, unfolding it automatically. Baba lifted her head to look at him then, roused by the rustle of paper – and her face was dead. The corneas had gone completely white, bulging with congealed humours; the skin around was mottled and discoloured. The mouth was a blue rictus. With cold, no doubt: how long would she be left to herself before someone bothered to check, curled in her slow blanket of snow with an anonymous lintel in guise of deathbed? Days?
Crawford closed his eyes briefly, reopened them. The old woman drew back from him, muttering, already drunk, her pale blue eyes wet with rheum. He breathed again and returned his gaze to the note. The immediate future shifted with his every motion and decision, but the deaths were final. He knew she had less than a year left. A toss-up which would let her down first, the money from her pawned possessions or her liver – but until then she'd be here in the evenings, no young embrace to warm her shoulders ever again, and the barman would serve. It was his business, after all.
One day, perhaps, in Crawford's own mirror—
"The Dies Irae?"
Crawford nodded shortly. The bartender gave him a once-over with his eyes, face impassible.
"You're not dressed for it," he said.
He'd untucked his shirt in the end, left his tie folded in his breast pocket. The jacket stayed because he was carrying concealed; it took no special psi ability to know that discovery would not assure his welcome. At least the suit was dark.
Getting in was still a near thing.
Once inside, though, no one seemed inclined to care how he was dressed. Crawford descended two flights of corrugated-metal stairs into a hell of flashing strobelight and writhing bodies. It was dark, the walls a claustrophobic black interspersed with demonic faces grinning in halftone; the air tasted like sweat and smoke, not all of it cigarettes. The pounding was deafening. It didn't register as music with Crawford, who liked Bach and Shostakovich. Wailing and drums, he thought. Primitives in the night. Barbarities... His vision adjusted with difficulty to make out different areas: raised bar and silver-sprayed tables, battered couches in corners of darkness, gyrating crowd outlined by festoons of wires. He squeezed his way past the drinks line, guided more by flashes of inner vision than anything else.
Schuldich was dancing with a girl, pressed up close with his arms hooked around her waist and her chin on his shoulder. She was a little shorter than him even in heels. Crawford could see through a brief parting of the crowd that her eyes were closed, hot-pink lips half-parted and unsmiling. From a distance they looked like young animals huddled together for warmth – but the club was sweltering with enclosed human movement, and Schuldich had his fingers under the ragged fringe of her cut-offs, caressing the white flesh at the top of her thighs. Her long green hair swung gently as they moved, brushing his wrists - then the strobes shifted and Crawford was no longer certain if her hair was indeed green, or merely bleached out enough that it caught the lighting like a dye.
Schuldich, he thought. Making it a call. Schuldich—
And Schuldich turned his head to gaze into Crawford's eyes, the girl's pale throat complaisant beneath his lips.
Crawford kept himself still as Schuldich made his way over. The girl seemed upset, and inclined to be shrill until Schuldich caught her hand with something crumpled and plastic-wrapped in his own. She quieted then, and did not even glance back at him as she slipped into the darkness beyond the speakers. Halfway across the dancefloor a tall blond in a ripped Edvard Munch t-shirt reached out and caught Schuldich around the waist. Schuldich swayed unfazed into the movement, tilting his head up to be kissed. A few words were exchanged after the liplock, humourous apparently – the other man laughed and released him with a friendly push. And then Schuldich was before him, the same sharp-edged amusement dancing around his lips.
"You wanted to see me?" he mouthed. The words travelled clearly, and Crawford found it difficult to tell if he was using his talent – or if he was simply close enough to hear.
"Flores paid you," he said. "And I'm not even dead."
Wednesday, July 4, 2001 12:37 a.m.
Back from Quebec. It was all right, I guess - not too chill, lots of rain on the road, caught some charming performances by the kids at the competition. Went to the art museum. They had a rather nice exhibit of Hébert sculptures happening there, and there was a Felicien Rops artbook in the giftshop that - alas - was not on rebate. :( But by far the most compelling piece in the permanent collection was a gigantic unfinished panel by an Acadian painter named Napoléon Bourassa, titled "The Apotheosis of Christopher Columbus". This was basically an attempt at an updated version of Raphael's allegorical frescos in the Vatican - "The School of Athens", like that. (What I always call 'Who's Who' paintings.) Except now you have Columbus led by the putti of Navigation, being crowned with laurels by the goddesses Glory and History and seated among the usual eclectic collection of Immortals (Haydn, Aristotle, Dante, St.Theresa...) while his enemies are cast out by the avenging angels of Renown (it appears that Columbus really didn't get along with the governor of Haiti). What I really loved, though, was the long line of Successors behind Columbus awaiting their own crack at Immortality. You had all sorts: Washington and Lafayette, Monseigneur de Laval converting the Injuns, even good ol' sir John A. at the very end of the line, schlepping the British North American Act and looking very patient and Canadian and ineffable. All this painted in a colonial-naif manner that you can tell comes from cobbling together bits of prints and etchings until you have yourself a style that's better than anyone else in your backwater new-world lumber-trading town, and would be strictly good if it weren't... copied. And three centuries behind. But... well. ^_^; They had sheafs of sketches for this painting too - the man had been working on some version of it for nearly his entire professional life, and all he'd managed of the final version before his death was 85% of the greytone base coat. (My da said he was probably trying for the Rembrandt method, layers and layers and layers of transparent glazes stacked over each other. It would have taken him years.) It's enough to bring tears to my eyes.
I saw one other aesthetically interesting object there, and it was a boy (blond/blue, tanned, lithe) climbing the stone wall of the Plains of Abraham scenic lookout without realizing that the people above can see down the back of his baggy shorts - fool. Not that I'm complaining. He kept on getting to within a few feet of the top and clambering straight back down again. I spent twenty minutes trying to figure out who he looked like, running through all the people I knew at college before realizing it was Zell Dincht from FF8. One of these days they're going to start selling virtual-reality RPGs with 3D hologram characters and I'll *really* be up the creek memory-wise.
It turns out that I can't quite work on my writing in my head as I drive. I hear about people doing this all the time, but either they're talking about different conditions or it's just me. Or my characters. Or possibly both. >_<
[typical result of Sabina trying to work as she drives]
Headspace. The car Sabina drives in her mind is not her parents' current car, which is a silvergrey Honda CR-V sports-ute exactly like the 2,094,415 other silvergrey Honda CR-Vs on the streets of North America, but her parents' *former* car - the silvergrey '85 Oldsmobile hatchback with the blue chenille interior that was sold to the used car lot before she learnt how to drive. Sabina has spent so much time riding sleeping eating singing Beatles' songs tossing up her guts playing Chinese road trip games involving rhymed couplets in this car that it has become her platonic ideal associated with the word 'car'. There can only be one other person in the Headspace Car, despite its size, because more than one confuses and distracts Sabina, causing her to swerve all over the road in RL. She's not quite sure how said person is determined: she suspects a rota. Currently the person is Schuldich. He is leaning over the back of the driver's seat with a look of mild boredom. Needless to say, he is not wearing his seatbelt.
Schuldich: ...'course it's kind of hard to be in the passenger seat once you've had some experience driving. Not as fun anymore, you know? I mean, it's relaxing, right, but you can't let yourself think about it or it becomes this control issue all of a sudden. 'Least I'm not a backseat driver. The way I see it, if someone else is doing the work, you lean back and let them do the work. Like division of labor or whatever. Brad now though - *major* backseat driver. Speed up, slow down, turn this way and that way like he can't just loosen up and... what?
Sabina: What are you talking about?
Sabina: That's what you said the last time too.
Schuldich: [pause] ...Are you going to eat that?
Sabina: Hey! My tortilla chips!
So I had to think about less demanding topics, such as the Immaculate Conception. (If you've ever been driving in the Quebecois countryside, you'd know this is *not* a strange train of thought.) It's not a point of dogma that's ever settled well with me, the Immaculate Conception. After all, if the whole point of the exercise was for Christ to be born of woman, why not just *let* him be born of woman? Let's none of this forced "sterilization" of Mary's flesh and soul. It's almost offensive, like saying God copped out: how is she a human mother if she's 100% Heaven already?... Of course, they settled on the present-day doctrine because the next question in the list is 'how can Jesus be human if he's never sinned', and I don't think I want to touch that one. ^_^; Some gnostic sect or other's probably come up with inventive answers already; they always have, it seems.
...Or I think things like this: isn't Omi really the boy version of Nene Romanova in Bubblegum Crisis? (Especially in 2040, where they even look related.) In fact, when you get down to it, isn't Weiss kind of *very* similar to a boy version of the Knight Sabers in general? (I mean, Priss has eartails. I've always wondered about that.)
And... wouldn't that make Youji *Sylia*? @_@
I did, however, return with several more filled pages in my notebook to my name, mostly because I shared a hotel room with my family and they all went to bed by ten, cutting short my investigation of whether Hesse's theory of the will applies to the video selection in rotation on MusiquePlus. (I got them to play Manu Chao's "Me Gustas Tu", Oliver Haze's version of "Say A Prayer" and David Usher's "Forestfire". I mean, what are the odds?) So with no internet access, there was nothing to do but scritch scritch scritch, which as all you writers know is the best method. We should probably pay a higher authority to keep us in cages à la Bishounen Diaries, or something.
And then I walked down the major artery of Trois-Rivières and into a little flower shop brimful of amphoras and mirrors and beautiful luxuriant arrangements, and after five whole minutes inside I realized all the flowers were false. And then *Youji* stepped up and claimed that little gestalt-moment. Said I owed him for the gofer clause in Schuldich's contract. Um.
Sunday, July 1, 2001 02:42 a.m.
Ach, forget it
Brutal slog tonight - brutal. That's even with a whole Manhattan-and-tonic, and a bagful of tortilla chips. :( The problem is Crawford of course: he forces me to think three steps ahead for every line of dialogue I write him, as much because he's a superspy as because he's precognitive. I only need another session to complete something coherently postable, if not quite smooth at the corners, but it's not going to be tonight. I have to drive tomorrow (see last post as to why), and Sabina + lack of sleep + automobile = potential for terrible disaster. You'll never get the rest of the fic if I run myself off the 40 into the St. Lawrence River. I did clean up the ending to tBD1, though (that's in the stylistic sense not in the rating sense), so I might as well post that. As if it matters what order you read it in, she mutters in a fit of despondence. If, um, you have issues with R-rated yaoi, don't read the font+1 part. ^^;
I forgot to mention, not that anyone cares, that I had a sizeable few inches chopped off my hair. So now, even though I still wear it braided à la Callo Merlose, it's shaped more like... *thinks*... Yuffie's. (I find from experience that Merlose's braids - even if they look decorative - are close to the perfect hairstyle for a woman on the go. Never snags, never gets in your eyes, never falls apart, doesn't pull on your scalp or require you to undo anything before bed. Makes me wonder what it is about Ashley's feeler-thingums I'm not seeing.)
Perhaps it was the unaccustomed effort of the mental shielding, but he had one of those rare moments when the Knowledge simply came. He held back the unbidden smile and bent his head, bringing his lips to within an inch of Schuldich's. The boy was quiet at this, watchful; Crawford could feel his respiration stir evenly against his skin. He thought if he listened hard enough, he could hear Schuldich's heartbeat.
"Do I?" he whispered, the words melding into the moist warmth of Schuldich's breath. "I don't believe I've ever been told that." And before Schuldich could answer, he lowered his head a little further and completed the incipient caress.
Schuldich's green eyes slid closed; the subtle watchfulness in his body lasted only a moment longer before it, too, was let go. His lips parted under Crawford's in perfectedly timed willingness, with a shy flicker of tongue against the invasion. The calculated artlessness of it all sparked amusement and sent heat shivering down Crawford's spine. He deepened the kiss aggressively; one of his hands slid upward and down, trailing across Schuldich's collarbone and throat before catching at the button at his collar.
There was, for those mindful of detail, a satisfaction to be derived from navigating small intricacies sans flaw or hesitation: unhooking a brassière without looking, or undoing a shirt one-handed. Crawford was nothing if not a meticulous man.
Schuldich murmured something indistinguishable as Crawford's hands travelled over his skin, the tone of his voice lazy and warm. He shifted under Crawford accomodatingly, winding an arm about the other man to draw him closer. Lust flared fully in Crawford as their bodies molded to each other, his hips urging despite himself against the denim-clad warmth of Schuldich's inner thigh, and he almost closed his eyes. Skillful. So skillful. Such a delicate balance to strike...
Permission, he told himself, and thought of nothing but desire, and let his wards fall.
Schuldich inhaled sharply.
Crawford cut off the incipient moan with another lip-bruising kiss, tasting the unspoken satisfaction – my game now and you want me - his hand trailing down Schuldich's belly to dip beneath the waist of his low-slung jeans. A question of buttons, a zipper. Schuldich shivered, pressing against his touch. Crawford stroked his erection roughly under the denim, broke the kiss at Schuldich's gasp to nip hard at his throat. My game. He thought he wanted to see Schuldich plead. But Knowledge had taken the place of instinct, the next vision flaring behind his eyes—
--the smoke-and-alcohol flavor of the boy a mere foretaste of danger—
He caught Schuldich's wrist before the barrel of the gun quite touched his temple, in a trained grip that numbed nerves.
For a moment they stared into each other's eyes. Crawford sensed the impending struggle and reacted absently, pinning Schuldich's other arm to the mattress with all his weight behind it. It should have been painful. Schuldich evinced no sign. He was flushed and breathing hard, a tiny smile fixed on his lips; the gaze he turned up toward the older man was not quite focussed.
"All right," Crawford said softly, "I'll try again. Who sent you? Because if it was Flores, you must have impressed him. I'd always heard the man was straight."
Schuldich laughed. The sound was drunken, and oddly mirthless.
"Fuck you," he said, slurring slightly.
"Thank you, but no." He watched Schuldich's eyes; the colour of them had deepened, he noted. The pupils were dilated too. Some sort of coated pill... he'd wanted to be clear-minded for the job. Crawford wondered briefly if Schuldich had caught the flash of precognition in his mind, and if so, whether he'd understood what it was. "You know a man named Hans Ritter, Schuldich?"
"So I hear. I hear he had a pretty extensive business too, here in Amsterdam, and by a puzzling coincidence most of the top people in it are dead too." People in Amsterdam, London, Sofia... He tightened his fingers on Schuldich's wrist. "Tell me. Is Juan Saavedra Flores a smart man?"
Schuldich was silent.
"I think he must be. I think he must have known there were important, higher interests that would be perturbed by the disintegration of Ritter's organization. People who don't care which middleman they deal with per se, but who don't like it when things don't go their way. People who take measures." He twisted his grip, trying to make Schuldich drop the gun, and met more resistance than should have been possible under the influence. "I think that if he's rocking the boat after so long, it's because someone out there convinced him he was safe. I'd very much like to know who that someone was. Do you understand what I'm saying, Schuldich, or is it all becoming a blur?"
Schuldich's eyes narrowed, and then he smiled. Crawford only had the barest sliver of warning before the psychic attack slammed into his shields. It was enough – there was no finesse to that screaming red power – but the raw strength of it made the room spin. He fought it back and heard Schuldich give a short scream of frustration. He was clenching Schuldich's wrist hard enough to bruise but the boy would not give.
Beautiful, something in him whispered, beautiful—
"Our current—" he said, and had to pause for breath. "Our current situation is not beyond negotiation, Schuldich. I would double Flores' terms for your information—"
"I don't have any fucking information—"
"—but quality merchandise isn't my forte. Though I suppose any central nervous system depressant would take the edge off." Drink would, if he drank enough. Nembutal, or heroin... "Does the noise keeps you awake otherwise? You can't block it out, can you?"
Schuldich made a sound that was half hiss and half snarl. Crawford felt the sudden desperate tension in his arm and threw his weight against it, swinging the gun's muzzle up just as it went off with a deafening bang. The recoil jolted it out of Schuldich's hand; there was a crash, and the room was plunged into sudden darkness.
Schuldich was fighting him, rolling and kicking out. Crawford tangled his legs in his own, using gravity again to his advantage. Before Schuldich could try for another swing he twisted his arms around and behind his back. A judicious wrench, and Schuldich let his head fall back against the mattress, panting hard.
Electricity arced fitfully in the broken fluorescent tube somewhere behind Crawford's back, casting blue shadows. He thought he heard glass tinkling still – the ringing in his ears? He bent until his lips were hovering by Schuldich's ear, and he could scent the boy's skin again. He smelled of cinnamon and almonds, and some deep part of Crawford's mind whispered that it had not changed from years before.
"Would you like to learn how?" he murmured.
Schuldich went still.
A flash of forward vision assured Crawford the immediate danger was past. He gave it a second or two more, then relaxed his grip, sitting up and retrieving Schuldich's Saturday night special in the same motion. It was a small-gauge Sig-Sauer, surprisingly well-balanced in the hand. He wondered how well the boy could shoot when not at point blank range. But then, so many skills necessitated only training and discipline. From the Organization's point of view, it was the talent requirements that made difficulties...
A small sound made him turn as he was smoothing his shirt and jacket. Schuldich had rolled over and was sprawled bonelessly supine on the mattress, watching him.
"There's a cleanup team outside," he said finally. Crawford raised an eyebrow.
Schuldich's gaze went distant, and remained there. "Three." Crawford nodded, dropping the clip out of the Sig-Sauer briefly to check the number of remaining rounds. He could see the first one in his mind, a target unaware as he would step around the corner, raise his arm—
"It won't be a problem," he said.
Schuldich gave the same odd little laugh. Crawford felt his gaze on his back, but paid it no attention. The Sig-Sauer went in the shoulder holster and his own Walther P5 stayed out. He reached for the door handle.
"You're SS, aren't you." The words made him pause and turn, but Schuldich didn't seem inclined to follow up with further accusations. He had propped himself up into a sitting position, the dark shirt pooled at his elbows. He was staring at the broken lighting fixture as if calculating how much it would cost to have it replaced. Crawford felt a smile catch at the corners of his lips.
"Does it matter?"
Schuldich turned his head slowly, and deep inside Crawford went still. There was drugged heat in Schuldich's leaf-shadowed eyes, and something beneath that as well; something feral. Crawford thought of starved wild creatures, and of food left in obvious traps.