Part One

    For a team that is supposed to be invincible, we sure see a lot of hospitals. Disregarding the fact that hospitals are associated with sickness and injuries, I actually don't have anything against them. It was ingrained into me far too deeply that hospitals are a safe thing, courtesy of one strange doctor named Ikida. I learned long ago that hospitals were a safe place far away from Hoffmann's power- and that hospitals could free me from Rosenkreuz.

    I know I met Crawford in Germany but I don't remember much of it other than the fact that he and the Council all showed up to fetch me. The year that followed my induction to the Austrian school for psychic unfortunates pretty much shattered a lot of memories from my earlier years. I can't say that I miss them. I make no effort to retrieve them, both because there's no point and because thinking too hard just brings me back to Hoffmann and that missing year. It's safest to just focus on everything after I woke up in the hospital at Rosenkreuz at the end of that whole nightmare. That's when things changed for the better, after all. That's where Crawford found me and offered me Schwarz.

    After spending months here in Japan watching Crawford lay in a bed like a Caucasian vegetable, however, and these two months of sitting on my ass and listening to Ikida's lectures in my few waking hours, my opinion is starting to dim a little. Who could blame me?

    /Ikida, I'm bored as shit and I want to leave,/ I send at the Japanese doctor.

    He steps into the doorway just a moment later, clipboard in hand and looking as old and rumpled as he usually does. Well, the old is a recent change, I guess, or at least something I only started noticing within the last few months. The circles under his eyes are nothing new and neither is the chiding look on his face, but I ignore both in favor of turning a lofty look on him. "Where's my coffee?" I demand.

    "You've already had three cups today," he tells me. "You're never going to get to sleep tonight."

    I arch an eyebrow at him. "Sleep, sleep, sleep. All I've done for the past two months is sleep. I think I've pretty much filled up my quota for the next decade."

    "Sleep is good for healing bodies."

    "Where'd you read that, some cheesy brochure?" I push impatiently at my sheets. "I'm healed."

    "Healed people don't get nauseated and dizzy just from a trip to the bathroom," Ikida points out. "As long as I'm here, do you have to go?"

    I scowl at him. "I'm twenty-two years old. I don't need your help to take a piss."

    He just shrugs at that and makes a note on his clipboard. Idly I wonder if there's a check box for "Can piss on own". I don't bother to ask because I don't care, but all this talk of it makes me have to go. Damn the power of suggestion, anyway. I push at my sheets again and am a little too aware of Ikida's watchful gaze as I ease off of the bed. This room is chilly with this ridiculous hospital gown, but at least I can rest easy at night. If I look stupid in this, at least I don't look as ridiculous as Crawford did- or Farfarello does.

    It takes both hands against the wall to get me to the door and Ikida steps neatly out of my path, holding his tongue against the second offer of help I know he wants to make. Instead he is content to watch as I scoot along towards the bathroom and I am equally content to shut the door loudly behind me and block out the weight of his stare. The doctor has returned to his desk by the time I leave again, but it's more because he has a phone call than any sort of trust in my ability to make it back to my room on my own two feet. I take advantage of his distraction to stumble back the way I came, swallowing against dizziness and deciding I need to trade out my current bladder for a larger size.

    I reach Farfarello's room before I reach mine and opt to take a detour. There's a stool just inside his door and I plunk down on it, sagging back against the wall. Two months of snoring in a hospital bed and I'm still queasy from a one minute walk to the bathroom. I'm frustrated and disgusted, but I know what I'm doing now is nothing compared to what Crawford had to go through with his Guillain-Barre junk. Better him than me, though. Crawford can handle anything. I'm pretty sure I would have gone batshit insane somewhere along the way if I'd been the one in that situation- telepathy or no. At least I have Farfarello and Nagi to harass and I've slept away most of my time here rather than rot awake. So there's that whole "Well, it could be worse" thing, but that doesn't stop me from being annoyed about my current weakness. The Mastermind is *not* weak.

    At last I manage to blink away the black fog in front of my eyes and I turn my attention on Farfarello. This is only the second time in the last two months that I've stopped by his room to see him, in part because of the aforementioned sleeping and in part because I can harass him from the relative comfort of my own bed. He seems to be in pretty much the same state now as he was then, both visually and mentally. Mentally, he's bored out of his skull. Visually, he's still a walking hospital ad. Well, horizontal hospital ad, given that he won't be walking any time soon.

    Seeing him again just reminds me of the third reason of why I never came by to see him: it is highly disturbing to see Schwarz's Berserker in such a state. It's about the same level of "What the hell?!" that dealing with Crawford's veggie-ness was, in that both Crawford and Farfarello were never meant to be knocked down like this. Farfarello is covered from his shoulders down in bandages and casts, a mummy just waiting for a tomb.

    "You realize you're going to look like a raisin when Ikida finally cuts you free of those casts," I tell him, finally confident that I can speak without choking on my nausea.

    "I can kill you from here," Farfarello reminds me, sounding quite conversational about it. It's nothing I haven't heard before.

    "Raisin," I tell him again.

    Smart people wouldn't taunt Farfarello, even when he's in such a state. Farfarello is a master at holding grudges and he tends to hold them for anything from his family's vicious slaughter to me telling him what channels he can and cannot watch on the TV. It's just plain retarded to taunt him about something that I know, as his teammate and a telepath, is constantly on his mind. It's twice as stupid when one takes into consideration that Farfarello is a somewhat-recently awakened empath who outranks even that bastard Hoffmann in power. Farfarello has a knack for slaughter and torture, and handing someone like him an empathic gift is probably the most suicidal thing fate has done.

    Seeing as how I've been unconscious for most of these last sixty days, Farfarello's main source of entertainment has been honing that power of his. I do my best to distract him when we're awake at the same time because I hate the feel of his gift crawling across our mental bond, but every time I wake up, it's sharper and bigger than the last time I felt it. Farfarello has always been a quick learner- for everything except Japanese, that is. And common courtesy, not like Schwarz needs that. And mercy. Well, I guess he's a quick learner at everything, but he's smart enough to know which things he can throw away.

    Knowing all this, and knowing what he's doing with that very much hated power, I technically should know better than to taunt Farfarello. But more than these things, I know what Farfarello went through with Hoffmann. His shields fell when I took him killing once, as they were too rarely used for him to be able to hold onto them when he was so lost in his hatred. I saw what the Soul Shaker did to him when he kidnapped Schwarz's resident madman. Farfarello remembers those days very well, even if Hoffmann only managed to breed hatred instead of fear in the Irishman with his twisted games. But he also remembers the truth I told him- that the former empath of Rosenkreuz's Council was my uncle and that I'd spent a year being destroyed by his gift.

    As much as I hate Farfarello's gift- both the fact that he has it and the fact that it's constantly rubbing up against my mind- I know I never have to fear it. Farfarello will never turn it on me. Not after what we've both been through. But then, he doesn't need empathy to be dangerous. I guess it's a good thing I can run faster than he can, then.

    "Nagi stopped by today," I tell him.

    "And the girl," he says, sending me a cool look across the room.

    "And her," I agree, offering him a grin in return to his annoyance. The rest of Schwarz decided not to tell Farfarello when Nagi pulled off that little miracle resurrection. It was better for all of us if he just didn't know that Nagi had managed to bring Tot back to life, but it's not like we could keep it from him after that whole showdown with Rosenkreuz's Council. Not only did Nagi manage to heal up from a hole through his middle, but I woke Tot up last month from the coma I'd put her in.

    Farfarello was, needless to say, less than amused. He has despised Tot from day one and he was quite happy to hear that we were going to let Schreient die. Maybe some level of him thinks it would be fair for Tot to still be dead. After all, he had to trade Aine for Schwarz.

    Feh. There's so much to think about, and not enough conscious hours to sort through everything. The Elders of Estet and Estet itself are all gone and the Council of Rosenkreuz is dead, courtesy of one four-man group named Schwarz. Namely, yours truly and the deranged company I keep.

    "Crawford came by," I tell Farfarello.

    "I know."

    "You're an empath, not a know it all," I remind him.

    He twitches against the sheet, the start of a shrug he can't actually do. My lips curve into a wide smirk that shows my teeth and I listen to the spike of frustration in his thoughts. "Shut up," he says.

    "I'm not laughing," I point out. Not that I have to. Farfarello can *feel* my amusement. He can let my laughter bounce off, but he can't ignore what his gift is shoving at him. "Anyway, Crawford came by. He says Rosenkreuz has been talking to him, trying to figure things out." He doesn't answer, feigning apathy. Maybe it's not a farce; who knows. "Apparently they wanted us to be the Council," I tell him.

    He glances towards me at that, studying me across the distance between us. A few months ago, any mention of the Council would have brought out murderous intent and hatred in my teammate. Now that those fuckers are dead, there's nothing but indifference. They were a threat and they're gone now; it's as simple as that in his mind. That's familiar, and I find some relief in it.

    Readjusting to Farfarello's mind these last few months has been… interesting. Besides that gift, there's the patchwork it left his mind in. Farfarello and Tot were in the same boat a few months ago- their minds were broken under the weight of their gifts. While Schwarz still has no clue what Tot's gift is, Nagi managed to help her piece her mind back together. She went from the equivalent of a drooling rock to a semi-intelligent and tolerable girl. Farfarello has also been waking up again in the wake of his repaired gift. Sometimes the changes are subtle; at others it throws me completely off. Farfarello has always been smart, but he's downright scarily intelligent these days- and with a much keener sense of sadism. Listening to his thoughts these days is always a chilling wake up call.

    Must go with the gift, I guess. Damn.

    "The Council," I say again, trying to elicit some sort of response from him. He gives me nothing, not even an "Oh?". At last I sigh and continue. "Crawford told them to go away. He thinks the Five are going to become the next Council."

    "What's left of them," Farfarello says.

    There's not really anything I can say to that, but I'm not sure Farfarello wants an answer, anyway. The Five are the most trusted Talents to the four Councilmen that rule Rosenkreuz. I don't really know that much about them except that they're very important and very respected in the Rosenkreuz ranks. Crawford was one of the Five. I don't know if he still is in the wake of our treachery, but he's been a Five for as long as I've known him. Aine also held that rank, but she's dead now. Oops.

    "Look, Farf…" I start.

    "It doesn't matter," he answers, looking up towards the ceiling.

    A tactful person would stop here, but I've never really understood the concept of tact. "You still have her ashes," I point out, but he refuses to acknowledge the words.

    Strange, isn't it? Hoffmann tore me to pieces, Mosuli broke Farfarello, Ahmed hurt Crawford, and Nagi resurrected from the dead. And yet in all of that blood and mess and fun stuff, someone remembered to pick up the little packet Farfarello had put Aine's ashes in when she burnt herself out. I know it couldn't have stayed in his pocket throughout the fight against the Council, but someone remembered to pick it up. It sure as hell wasn't me, because I was carried away from that last battle, and it couldn't have been Farfarello, considering he'd been reduced to a limp noodle. Nagi, I guess. He's the only one of us with a shred of sentimentality in his bones. Stupid Tot. Way to ruin a good telekinetic.

    "You still planning to go to Ireland with them?" I want to know.

    I feel a warning sizzle across my thoughts- not an intentional brush from his mind to mine, but more caught somewhere between his empathy, my telepathy, and the thick mental bond that holds Schwarz together. Either way, it's enough to shut me up immediately and I'm flinching back against the wall before I even realize I'm moving. Farfarello takes note of the reaction, not a bit repentant, and turns a bored look on me. The expression doesn't match the coldness in his thoughts for me pushing the reminder of Aine's death in his face.

    "Go away," he tells me.

    "I'm bored," I return.

    "Then call Crawford back."

    I wave that off. He wouldn't come back here just because I was bored. He'd just tell me to entertain myself. Since I'm out of ideas, Farfarello can entertain me- whether he wants to or not. "He's only been gone for an hour or so. Besides, he wouldn't be able to hear me. He's out of range from here."

    "For you," Farfarello tells me.

    That's enough to catch my interest again. "You can still feel him?" He doesn't answer, seeing it to be a rather redundant question, and just fixes his gaze on the ceiling. I consider the way the world has gone still around me and decide it's safe to try standing. My steps are mostly in a straight line over to his bed and I prop myself between the machinery and his headboard, sprawling against the wall. I'm quite proud of myself for not feeling dizzy from the trek, but it's a fleeting pleasure. "Can you tell where he is?"

    Farfarello doesn't answer. I wave a hand over his face to direct his attention away from the ceiling to more important matters, namely me, and he just slants a look my way and closes his eye. "Yes."

    "My," I drawl, considering him through hooded eyes. "I've forgotten just how much fun it was having conversations with you." He says nothing to that and I heave an irritated sigh at him. "Whatever. I don't suppose you've managed to put some shields in place, have you?"

    "It doesn't matter."

    I arch an eyebrow at him. "You're going to have to at least figure something out before I manage to undo Hoffmann's twist," I point out sensibly. "When I finally manage to remind Crawford that sex is a necessary part of life, I would appreciate it if you're not an audience to it."

    He curls his lip up at me in something halfway between annoyance and scorn. I'm not really sure which it is but I'm surprised to see it just the same. Nagi was the one who rotated between curiosity and unease regarding mine and Crawford's relationship; Farfarello never expressed anything more than indifferent acceptance. From that to this, and I don't know what caused it.

    "You think I can't?" I ask him, because I'm not sure what else to say.

    "It isn't something you 'undo'," he points out.

    "I didn't mean it literally," I tell him, waving a hand in dismissal. "But it doesn't matter. He still said he'd try."

    It feels weird to be letting Farfarello in on this, not that I guess it matters. As an empath ranked at Hoffmann's level or higher, Farfarello knows more about what's going on than either of us does. That's a bit of a creepy crawly thought, but there's nothing to be done about it, and I guess it's better to have Farfarello than Hoffmann listening in. Granted, I'd prefer neither, but… Either way, Farfarello's an empath. Like it or not, he can now fully understand just what Hoffmann did- and if he knows a way to fix it, then that's all the better. After all, it was Hoffmann's empathy that tore Crawford and me apart.

    I don't know exactly what Hoffmann did to the emotional wiring in my precog's brain. I don't really understand how empathy works, really- I've never had an interest in finding out. The least technical way of considering it is just that Hoffmann flattened any bit of interest in me that had existed there previously and replaced it all with some level of indifference- not enough to disrupt the harmony of the team, but enough to make sure Crawford kicked me out of his bed. I guess Hoffmann just killed his sex drive, or something. The damage is done and has been done for months, and it's not something I can flip a switch and fix again. But not even two hours ago Crawford came to see me and he said he'd try. Not in so many words, because Crawford doesn't really talk about those sorts of things, but I knew what he meant.

    I have a feeling it's going to take a lot of work to go from words to actions, however. Even if Crawford can talk himself into considering it, I can barely make it from my bed to the bathroom to piss. How the hell am I supposed to have sex like this? Stupid fucking Hoffmann.

    "Stop thinking about him." It's a quiet warning.

    "What, don't want to feel your frustrated roommate?" I taunt him, but the smirk on my face isn't real as I consider again just what Farfarello is given access to.

    "Not the Oracle."

    "Hoffmann," I guess. "Come on, Farfarello. We should have a party when we get out of here. He's dead and gone."

    "It doesn't change anything. His mark is still there."

    I frown down at him. "That doesn't sound like you."

    "Stop thinking about him."

    "What, you want me to just forget his existence? I would be happy to oblige, but maybe you forgot just how much of my life he trashed. I can't just turn thoughts of him on and off like that. I've earned the right to enjoy his death."

    His lip quirks into the faintest of smirks and he closes his eye again. "If you knew," he says.

    "If I knew what?" He doesn't answer and I scowl down at him, reaching out to poke him in the face. Again a warning flares across my nerves, but outwardly, Farfarello feigns not to notice the gesture. I feign not to notice the way my fingernails have torn paint off the wall in the wake of his empathic brush. "Farfarello, you can't just say things like that without explaining yourself. If I knew- what?"

    "Go away," Farfarello tells me. "I'm bored of you."

    "Screw off," I send back, pushing away from the wall and starting towards the door. Physical separation won't do either of us any good in ignoring each other, but at least I can dislike him from the comfortable embrace of my hospital bed. "I'm bored of everything about you, you unsociable little mick. Even Crawford is better company."

    "He won't be back for a while," Farfarello tells me, and I glance back at him.

    "You're an empath, not a prescient."

    Farfarello smiles. I think it's a smile, anyway, but it looks rather cold as it curls on his lips. I come to a stop, staring back at him, and wonder if I've ever seen that look on his face. I don't think I have- I used to think him incapable of such expressions. I don't know whether to be wary or fascinated. He went from raving about churches and lame horses and unicorns to this, so dangerously calm. Well, dangerous in a stretch of the word, because he's still going to be a raisin when Ikida takes those casts off.

    "He only comes when I'm asleep," Farfarello tells me.

    "That's nothing special," I tell him, heading towards the door and resting against the doorframe. "He only comes when I'm sleeping, too. He probably has better things to do, like trim his toenails and argue with Rosenkreuz."

    "He only comes when I'm asleep," Farfarello says again, opening his eye and considering the ceiling. "Do you know why?"

    "You're probably going to tell me," I return.

    "Because I am an empath," Farfarello answers. "You're blind."

    "Says the Cyclops," I return.

    He tilts his head to one side, turning his gaze on the little bag of ashes. "You told me that I couldn't keep her," he reminds me, tone conversational even though I can hear the darkness in his thoughts. "You said that she was the Five. She could not pick Schwarz. Why did he?"

    "Crawford?" I ask. "I told you the decision was mine."

    "He gave the choice to you. One of the Five. Why?"

    "Because I'm good in bed," I guess.

    "Get out," Farfarello tells me.

    "Take a hike," I return, and I hobble out of his room into mine. I can hear Aine's laughter in my mind but I don't know if it's my memory or his. I shove it down as far as it can go, heaving myself onto the bed and almost collapsing against the pillows. Dark curses accompany my struggle to sit upright and I sag back against the mattress to stare up at the ceiling.

    Farfarello's words twist through my mind the rest of the day, but I don't know what to make of them. I'd been the one to warn Farfarello that he as going to lose Aine. After all, she was one of the Five, one of the most trusted and loyal to the Council. She proved me both right and wrong in that last showdown- she faced us because she couldn't side with us. Instead she killed herself to take herself out of the equation, unable to pick sides. It was the most she could do and the fact that she did that speaks volumes for what she felt for our resident madman.

    Then Crawford…? Crawford had the same rank. But Crawford was the one to tell me that we had a chance to take the Council out forever.

    "It doesn't mean anything," I tell my ceiling. "He had that coma whatsit and the Council wanted to terminate him for being useless. He saw what Hoffmann did to me. Crawford's just smarter than Aine. He's a precog. He did what his gift told him he could do."

    But a prescient, trained for most of his life to serve four people and the future of an Austrian school…

    "It doesn't mean anything," I say again, but I know that's a lie. It means something- but what?

Part 2
Back to Mami's Fics