Part Ten

    Crawford is already up when I wake up the next day and I gaze down the length of my bed to consider him. He's standing by the window, gazing out at the city that's stacked up around us. The stretch of window I can see around him says it's too early to be up, not even coffee time, and I push myself up to sit cross-legged on my bed. Crawford doesn't look back at the sound of shifting sheets and I decide he's not here mentally. I debate whether or not to go back to sleep, because my head still hurts from Nagi's departure yesterday, and in the end push myself up from bed.

    The coffee pot is clicking on when I come out of the bathroom and I find our mugs where they were left to dry on one of the racks above the sink. It takes a minute for the machine to stop gurgling and I pour half of it into our mugs. The pot's put back to keep the other half warm and I'm drinking my coffee before I'm back in the bedroom to bring Crawford his.

    I come to a stop beside him to eye the city, watching the slow trickle of traffic that will only get stronger as the sun comes up. My gift picks up more activity than my eyes can see and I tuck my shields in closer around my mind.

    At last Crawford comes back to himself. I can feel the change along his mind, even over those shields of his. Ever since I tore my own in half to protect our mental room against Hoffmann's touch it's been easier to sense Crawford through the silence I get from him. I'm holding his mug up even as he looks towards me and he reaches up after a moment to take it. He's back here in the present, but he's still not here completely. I see the distant look in his eyes as he thinks and I arch an eyebrow at him.

    "It's too early," I tell him. "Can't you ever just lounge around like a normal human being?"

    I get what I want, but only for a moment. For one moment he focuses on me, but then he's looking away, looking back at his thoughts. I put my coffee down on the windowsill and eye him. "What?" I want to know. "The Council is out of the country and Nagi can handle himself, so what's wrong now?"

    It takes a minute for him to answer me but at length he remembers the coffee in his hand and lifts his mug to take a swallow. "We're missing something," he tells me.

    I frown at him. "Missing something?" I echo blankly.

    "We've forgotten something," he says, and then he corrects himself. "No, I've forgotten something."

    I feel my eyebrows creep up on my forehead at such an uncharacteristic announcement. I can't see Crawford ever telling Nagi or Farfarello that he knows how to forget anything, but any amusement at the revelation that he does have flaws or satisfaction that he said such words to me dies quickly, because whatever it is, it's enough to keep Crawford distracted. With the Council in and out of the country and Nagi's newest problem, I don't think it's a time to be forgetting anything.

    "Rosenkreuz?" I want to know.

    "Mm," he answers, but that's not a yes or no, and I think my eyebrows have made themselves one with my hairline. Crawford turns away from the window at last and I pluck my mug up from the sill and follow him across the room. He sits at his chair and I perch on the edge of his bed.

    "At least tell me if it's past or future," I say, reaching out to push him with a foot, but Crawford doesn't answer that. He's thinking again, pushing at his mind and gift to figure out what's hanging just outside of his reach. I don't like the fact that he's having trouble and I push him again. "Why can't you see it?" I ask, and in my mind, I can hear Ikida's voice: 'Considering what Crawford has gone through, it's not surprising that his gift has been damaged.'

    Following that is Ricard: 'We watched his gift rise and break and rise again, and everyone in Rosenkreuz knows he earned his eight when he broke his sight some seven or eight years ago.'

    But his sight isn't damaged. It can't be, or he wouldn't have been able to one-up Rosenkreuz and Estet without *someone* in Rosenkreuz seeing something as a warning. He killed the Council and not a single precognitive spoke up in warning.

    Idly I wonder if they saw past those deaths to the realization that Rosenkreuz would still be standing or if their complete and utter faith in Crawford's sight was enough, but that thought is dizzying and opens up too much for me to think about. I'd rather think that no one saw it, because the thought of the eyes of such a school siding silently with my lover weirds me out.

    I think about Ricard's words regarding Crawford's gift and decide to make a guess. "You can't see it," I say, drumming my fingernails on my mug, "because it has nothing to do with me."

    Crawford doesn't answer that immediately, but at last he seems to give up on trying for now. He looks back at me and he's looking at me, and that's much better than seeing him staring off into the distance somewhere where a present-minded telepath can't go. "It will at some point," he says, "or it has at some point. I will remember. I can feel enough about it to put the starting pieces in place, even if I'm not sure yet what they are building towards."

    He sounds sure of it, so I believe him. "Tell me about your gift."

    He arches a thin brow at me over his coffee mug. "Any particular reason?"

    "Ikida helped us on the beach for both of us because he trusts it. The Council still trusts you because of it, but Ricard is scared to death of it," I tell him. "He said he feared what your mind would do if it wasn't so caught up in what I'm going to do. He didn't like that you brought us to that tower and away just based around me, he said. How does that work?"

    "The same way any other precognitive sees things, I would assume, except that my visions have a recurring theme," he answers with a slight shrug. "Instead of seeing myself, I see you in certain situations or hear you saying things that tell me what we are going to be doing."

    "So you did see us fucking before you ever considered it yourself," I say, but the annoyance I felt yesterday over such a thing is gone today.

    "Shortly after we found Nagi," Crawford says as an answer.

    "Are you serious? That must have pissed you off."

    Crawford wisely doesn't answer that, but his silence is amusing enough. Nagi's induction into the team had been a little off, and now I wonder if some of the tension wasn't just from Nagi adjusting to having older psychos around and us having a kid on our hands but from Crawford finding out his intimate future with his loudest, most aggravating teammate.

    The precognitive sets his empty mug aside and takes off his glasses to wipe a little bit of steam from the glass, and that's enough of a reminder about my other reason for pushing this conversation about sight. "Ikida said your gift was damaged. Ricard said you broke it and that you let Nikolai in your shields to fix it. What did that mean?"

    Crawford considers that for a few moments, not out of any real reluctance to tell me, I think, but debating just how much of an answer will be good enough for me. He tilts his glasses to one side and eyes the lenses, thinking back, and comes up with an answer. "Precognitives go blind as they ascend through the ranks," he tells me. "As our power grows, we sacrifice one sight for the other. I lost my sight at level eight."

    I stare at him, surprised. "What?"

    He sets his glasses neatly on his face again. "That is why I was given the chance to be a precognitive instructor and why I was on hand when you were recruited to Rosenkreuz," he explains. "Blind prescients have no use in the field, so they are brought back to the school to watch the future from there."

    I frown. "How long?" I want to know.

    "Barely over six months," Crawford answers. "When Nikolai died trying to get his deathday from my shields, he broke them apart enough for me to rearrange them. I ascended to an eight too quickly, triggered by Hoffmann when my mind wasn't ready for it. My shields couldn't follow until I put them back together again later."

    "Jesus." I scratch at my arm, trying to figure out what it would be like to be blind for six months. Blind for six months- and then that pseudo-blindness from his GBS illness. Urgh. I rather like my eyesight, especially when Crawford is sitting shirtless across from me. To see nothing at all? I suppose I would be able to get glimpses from others' minds, the same way Crawford saw things with his gift… That line of thought trails off and I stare at him. If Crawford could see nothing but his gift, but his gift sees little outside of me… "Your mind is so fucking weird," I tell him. "I'm glad you have shields; I don't want any part of that mess."

    He went blind and he recovered, even if it meant letting a telepath tear apart those thick and crucial shields of his; he was paralyzed and he recovered, even if Ikida predicts he'll be feeling the aftereffects of such an illness for a while yet; he had Hoffmann tear apart his mind and body on numerous occasions… and Crawford still brought us to the sea and back again, all four of us. Maybe Nagi's a little more "alive and well" than any of us meant him to be, but we're all here. Maybe I can understand a little bit better why so many people in Rosenkreuz idolize him as a true Oracle.

    The "Mine" that follows that is hungry and I push myself up from the bed, closing the two feet between us to help myself to his lap. I catch his glasses from his nose and reach past him to drop them off on his desk, one arm already locking around his neck in case he decides to try and push me off. He skips pushing me off and just gets to his feet. It's an easy way to knock me off his lap but I keep my arm around his neck to help find my footing and I prop myself up against him to smirk up into his face.

    "Schuldich, we need to talk about today," Crawford tells me.

    "We can talk about it later," I tell him.

    "I made a phone call last night," Crawford starts to say, but I don't want to talk anymore, and I swallow anything else he has to say with a kiss. For all that I've interrupted him, he doesn't push me away to finish his sentence. I tangle my fingers in dark hair to tilt his head down and it's been way too long since I last kissed him. But better than kissing him is the weight and heat of Crawford's hands on my hips. I let go of his captured hair in favor of latching onto bare skin, and my fingertips remember the feel of him all too well. For all of his indifferent words and his seeming disinterest in this, he doesn't shirk in his kiss and I'm getting hard just at the feel of his mouth on mine.

    /How are your buffers, Farfarello?/ I flick my teammate.

    ~Just do it,~ is his sour response, and I smirk against Crawford's neck as I thread my power down the line and knock Farfarello out. He doesn't want to sit in on this anymore than I want him to, and I feel him drop away even as I do my best to leave imprints of my teeth in Crawford's throat.

    "Fuck me," I say, but it doesn't sound so much like an order when I'm breathing heavily against his skin.

    "No," he answers. "Later."

    I snarl something that's lost against his lips as I clench my hands in his hair again. He doesn't fight my hard kiss and fingertips run up my sides and back like spiders. Fingernails hiss over skin and I catch hold of his shoulders to pull him with me down to his bed. I have to twist as we drop so he doesn't land on me and his hand snaps out from my side to brace himself against the mattress. I don't give him time to argue but twist, reaching around him to catch at the sheets. His hands are hot and heavy on my sides and arms and I use my grip on the sheets to shove him down.

    Hands on his hands, pushing them into the sheets, wondering if he can feel the mattress springs on his knuckles. Mouths slanting against each other in need and want and who cares what else as long as it doesn't stop. It's only mildly uncomfortable to be leaning over like this from my perch on his hips and I press my ankles into his thighs harder, wishing I could bruise his perfect fucking skin.

    "Why not?" I demand, nipping at his lower lip as I shift on top of him. I hear his breath hiss through his teeth and feel his heartbeat pounding against my lips where they're buried in his throat and rock again, choking back a groan at the perfect heat, the perfect friction. "If you try and say that it's because you don't like this, I'll bite your goddamned nose off first and your cock second. If you didn't want this you'd be fighting me right now. You're stronger than me."

    "The door, Schuldich," Crawford warns me, but his hands are in my hair and pulling my head up.

    "What about the door?" I demand, following his tug to crush his mouth. I want his lips to bruise and bleed so that when we leave the apartment today, everyone will see the dried blood there. They won't know that I put it there but they don't have to; it's still a mark I'll leave on his skin.

    That's when the doorbell rings.

    For one moment we both go perfectly still and then I spit curses against Crawford's cheek. "Fuck them," I tell him. "We're busy."

    "We need to answer that," Crawford tells me. I can feel his chest moving against mine as we breathe against each other and I decide I don't care what we need to do because I'm not getting up.

    "No," I tell him. "We need to have sex."

    I don't even see him move. In one neat motion he manages to topple me off of him and onto the sheets at his side, but the bed is so narrow that I end up hitting the wall. I roll onto my stomach on the mattress, face buried in the sheets and fingers knotted in my hair. I nearly burn the sheets with my acid curses, not so much for the knock to my head but for the interruption that Crawford refuses to ignore. I'm so hard it hurts and he's worried about the stupid fucking door.

    The doorbell rings again and I shove myself up to level a glare at him where he's already gotten up from the bed. He's standing in the bedroom doorway by the callbox, hand lingering on the speaker button even though he isn't answering it yet. For a moment I feel viciously satisfied that he's waiting until he has his breath back before answering. That small sign of success is swallowed up almost immediately by my annoyance and I swing my legs off the bed and get to my feet. He moves aside as I stalk past him down the hall and I kick the bathroom door open to splash cold water on my face. It doesn't help, not as much as a hand down my pants would, but it's a start.

    "Apartment 5A," Crawford says at last into the speakerphone. When he lets go of the button, I hear car horns echoing in the lobby where our unwelcome guest is waiting. The speaker crackles a little and then a familiar voice comes through. My hand is already on the bathroom door to slam it shut when I hear it and it's enough that I go still.

    "I'm looking for Crawford."

    Crawford doesn't answer, but I hear the ding that means he's opening the door to the elevator. I step out of the bathroom into the hall, discomfort and hate temporarily forgotten, and just stare at him.

    "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

    Crawford reaches up with a hand to fix his hair and I feel like kicking him for the calm look he turns on me. "It's necessary," he tells me. "It's one of the things I can see, is that this has to happen."

    "Necessary?" I echo incredulously, and I decide that he's stupider than I ever thought he was for starting towards me when I'm so pissed at him. "You invited one of them to our apartment? No, wait. It's better than that. First you contact him, then you invite him *here*, and then you decide you'd rather entertain him than fuck me. The world gets better by the day, Crawford. Go jump off the fucking balcony."

    "You wouldn't listen to me," Crawford says. "I did try to warn you."

    He catches the fist I swing at him before I even know I'm trying to smash his front teeth in, and his other hand comes up into my throat to slam me back against the bathroom door. My mouth is open to choke for air when he crushes it with his own mouth. I'm not going to be won over by a stupid kiss and I hook a hand around his arm to drag my fingernails down his back, biting in hard enough that I know I'll leave red lines behind. Crawford's hand goes from my neck to my hair, pushing my head back further against the translucent glass. It's the knee that pushes my legs apart that gets my attention and I let a socked foot slide against the slick floor. Fingers hook in his hair and pants and I decide I don't need oxygen to survive, anyway.

    A knocking sounds out from the door and Crawford pulls away. I let him go, watching as he neatly picks up a shirt from a stack of drying laundry, and he pulls it on to hide the brilliant red lines that look so nice against his skin. I stalk back into our bedroom to sit heavily on Crawford's bed. I miss the sound of the door opening and the reserved greetings exchanged there because I'm too busy arranging the comforter across my lap. The morning newspaper is on Crawford's desk and I snag it, slouching against the wall and staring at the front page. I'm supposedly absorbed in today's news when Crawford comes into the room again, but my thoughts carry more murder than the morning obituaries.

    "Weiss," I greet. "Long time no see." I lower the newspaper to offer our guest a sharp smile that he doesn't return. The blue eyes that stare at me are guarded and wary and the set to his mouth is tense. "I didn't think you'd be dumb enough to come here."

    More than that, I can't believe Crawford invited Weiss's Bombay into our apartment. If he wanted to meet with the brat, he could have met with him in a public place. I tell him so in a mental aside and he offers me a tolerant look.

    ~After he leaves,~ he says, and that promise is enough that I decide I can be civil through this meeting. ~If you had just listened to me when I tried to talk to you about this, you would understand that it had to happen here and we could have waited.~

    /Your 'I told you so' routine gets old fast, Crawford./

    "We appreciate you coming today," Crawford says, but he says it with all the respect and enthusiasm owed a lukewarm mug of coffee. The brat doesn't miss his bored tone but he doesn't take offense; he's too busy wondering why he agreed to come. That thought brings me up short, because the wording is off.

    He came here from Kyoto. What is Weiss doing in Kyoto? When the hell did Crawford call him? Strike that; how did Crawford know what number to call? Ugh. This man drives me nuts.

    "We felt Weiss would be interested in our latest discoveries, you in particular, as you are lined up to inherit Kritiker."

    Tsukiyono offers him a guarded look. "As I told you on the phone, I don't know what Weiss would ever want from Schwarz."

    Crawford reaches over and presses the door button on the callbox again. I don't miss the gesture and throw my gift downwards, wondering if we're about to be overrun with little Weisses. We haven't seen them since the battle at the sea. I don't know how long they were there after the fight, since I passed out just seconds after Hoffmann's death. It's actually a miracle they lived and that none of the Talents or the Council spared a thought to kill the half-drowned dead mind audience we'd brought with us. When we left them in the water to start our round of the fight, I'd thought it would be amusing to look back in on them later and see what they thought of everything that happened there, but I'd forgotten to check after I finally woke up.

    It's not Weiss downstairs, but Ikida- and Tomoe Sakura. I have a feeling I know where this meeting is going and I eye Crawford. He doesn't return the look but moves past Tsukiyono to sit as his desk. He doesn't offer Tsukiyono a chair, and since the only other places to sit happen to be our two beds, Tsukiyono is fine with standing. He's tense in the doorway but I give him props for coming. It makes me wonder just how much Crawford told him to get him to come here alone. "This is something that affects both of our units and something you will only have a chance to fix through our help. We will come calling on you in the future as the pieces start to fall into place."

    "Weiss isn't at Schwarz's beck and call," Tsukiyono says flatly.

    "Yet you still got on the train and came here," Crawford points out, and I see a muscle in Tsukiyono's cheek twitch. "To convince you, we've brought along a companion of yours as a volunteer. Get the door. Tomoe is waiting on you."

    "Sakura?" Tsukiyono asks, startled, and there's a knock. He looks over his shoulder, looks at Crawford, and then goes to get the door. "Sakura?!"

    "Omi!" She sounds as surprised as he does, but she's missing the dismay so audible in his voice.

    "Sakura, you have to go home," Tsukiyono warns her. "You shouldn't be here."

    "Excuse us," Ikida says, that polite tone of his that's all an obvious façade. "We would like to come in."

    "Long time no see," I call, lifting my voice in greeting.

    "Sakura—" I hear Tsukiyono say, but then there are feet slapping down our hallway and Sakura appears in the bedroom to stare. That girl has more guts than all of Weiss combined, I swear. They're reluctant to face us even with their weapons, but she spent just a few days with us before the confrontation at the tower and doesn't feel any fear. Maybe it's because she saw how tense we were; maybe it's because we didn't hurt her. Or maybe it's because of whatever stupid words I said to her. I don't really know, but I'm not interested enough to dig around and find out. I waggle my fingers at her in a greeting.

    "Yo. Long time no see. I see you made it out of the tower on time."

    "I guess I believed in happy endings enough," she sends back, and I feel Crawford's gaze flick towards me. If he doesn't ask, I'm not going to tell him. I probably won't tell him anyway. Tsukiyono appears behind Sakura, catching at her arm in an attempt to pull her back, but then Ikida is behind them both. Sakura only pays the florist half a mind. "You made it out," she observes.

    "None the worse for the wear," I answer.

    "Sakura, why are you here?" Tsukiyono wants to know, not liking how easily she's accepted our presence. "These people are-"

    "Schwarz, yes," she answers, and I can see her in mind that Kritiker sat down and talked to her about us when they thought she would be psychologically traumatized from her kidnapping. "But why *am* I here?" she wants to know, looking back at Tsukiyono and Ikida, and then her gaze settles on the youth again. "And why are you here?"

    "You were in the hospital all night long," Crawford answers.

    "Throwing up blood last night," I tell her. "Maybe you remember."

    Tsukiyono is all concern. "Sakura, are you all right?"

    "She's more than fine," Crawford answers. "If she will come here for a moment, I will tell you exactly what is wrong."

    Sakura glances back at Ikida again. From flipping through their minds, I see Sakura was checked in last night for an overnight stay after her bloody adventures. Crawford called Tsukiyono last night and then Ikida this morning, asking him to check her out and bring her here. I wonder how exactly the doctor managed to convince her to go with him across the city without telling her where she was going. Maybe Crawford asked Farfarello to build trust in her towards Ikida? I don't know. She really is a little dumb, isn't she? But that's okay, I guess. She amuses me.

    "Sakura, don't," Tsukiyono warns her. "These men are dangerous."

    "We're not as scary as what's going on," I assure him with a slow smirk, and Sakura looks towards me. Somehow, my words are enough, and she crosses the room to Crawford. He gets to his feet as she approaches and reaches out, taking her by the shoulders to turn her around, and she looks from me to Tsukiyono.

    ~If you dare hurt her,~ Tsukiyono sends at me, but he doesn't get to finish that warning.

    Crawford's hands close on her neck, and with one easy jerk, I hear bones snap and give way. Her eyes are frozen open in shock and she crumples to the floor when he lets go. Tsukiyono is frozen in place for one long moment before he utters a pained cry and dives for her body. "You bastards-" he yells, but Crawford's gun in his face stops him before he can get his darts out.

    "I want you to confirm that she is dead," Crawford tells him.

    "I'm going to kill you," Tsukiyono promises him, eyes bright with hatred and pain.

    Crawford cocks his gun. "I want you to confirm that she is dead. Do it now."

    The Weiss doesn't budge for another long moment, but at last he reaches down and checks her pulse with shaking fingers. "She's dead," he says hoarsely.

    "Not for long," Crawford answers. "Give it a minute."

    "You assholes," Tsukiyono starts.

    "Such language," I drawl. "Didn't your mother teach you better? Oh, wait."

    He turns a foul look on me that vanishes the moment Sakura starts coughing. I hear him gasp as he whirls back around, and indeed, Sakura is already pushing herself up onto her knees. She looks confused and a little pained as she rubs at her neck and Crawford sets his gun down. "We appreciate your cooperation, Tomoe." She looks a little lost and flicks a bewildered look between Tsukiyono and me, not really sure what's just happened but alarmed by the white look on Bombay's face. "Ikida will take you back to the hospital and you are free to go home. I assure you that your illness last night will not be repeated."

    "What…?" she starts.

    "Don't worry about it," I tell her, and she falls quiet.

    Ikida goes to help her to her feet, since Tsukiyono is too stunned to think about it, and Tsukiyono grabs at her hand to stare up into her face. Her uneasiness grows at the look in his eyes but then Ikida is escorting her away and Tsukiyono lets her go. We wait until the door clicks shut behind them before Crawford speaks again.

    "Perhaps I have your undivided attention now, Tsukiyono."

    The kid doesn't get back to his feet. "Yes," he says at length. "I think you do."

Part Eleven
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