Part Nine

    The good thing about the Council coming to Japan instead of us going to see them is that it means they're the ones that are jetlagged, so they'll be asleep until sometime this afternoon. It gives Schwarz the morning to work with to figure out what we're supposed to do. Since Farfarello cannot come to us, we have no choice but to go to him. Well, technically, this could all be done across the city through mental wavelengths, but considering the subject matter, we decide it best to meet at the hospital. It's sort of on the way to Nagi's place, so I have Crawford drop me off there while he goes to pick up Nagi. The rugrat could have taken the trains in but he's reluctant to leave Tot and feels that Crawford's unfailing calm will do a bit to soothe her.

    I don't bother to watch Crawford leave but push my way through the doors into the familiar sight of Ikida's current hospital. It's not that busy today and there's no one to stop me as I cross the room and take the stairs down to his basement office. I wait outside the locked door for him to fetch me for only a moment. He answers my mental summons almost immediately and lets me in.

    "Hey, Ikida, want to hear a joke?" I toss at him over my shoulder as he closes the door behind me. "Estet really knew what they were doing in the end."


    I turn on him, offering him an unpleasant smile. "If I were to walk into Farfarello's room and put a gun to his head, what would happen if I pulled the trigger?" Ikida just gives me an odd look and I wave a hand at him, impatient for an answer. "If I went up to that coffee stand where they sell road kill juices masquerading as coffee and pulled the trigger on that rip-off excuse of a cashier, what would happen?"

    "I imagine he would die," the doctor says mildly.

    "Correct. Funny, right? Ha ha and all that. Crawford and Nagi will be here soon and then Crawford will make you go away. Ta." I spin away from him and head to Farfarello's room, and I feel his measuring stare on the back of my head the whole way there.

    All threads of good humor fade when I step through Farfarello's doorway and I close the door firmly behind me. The real reason for me wanting to have a few moments alone with Farfarello temporarily squishes all thoughts of Nagi and Tot from my mind and I lean against the door to consider him. His eye is closed but he's awake; I can feel it in the way his mind brushes against mine. I wait, content to see who acknowledges who first. A minute ticks by between us, and then two, and at last I shove my hands into my pockets and cross the room towards him.

    "We're going to have a talk." Farfarello doesn't answer that; he's content to ignore me. "We don't have time for your bullshit, Farfarello. Too much is going on right now."

    At last his eye slides open and he offers me a bored look. I lean over his bed to stare him down. My hair slips over my shoulders and into our faces and Farfarello blows on one of the locks to get it away from his mouth. I reach up and tuck my hair into the collar of my jacket, offering my teammate a flat smile.

    "Whatever your issue is with Crawford, fix it," I tell him. "Now."

    "I told him," Farfarello guesses, sounding not at all impressed with my thinly veiled threat. Because he and Crawford had their showdown inside the mental bond, Farfarello doesn't really remember it happened. Only Crawford and I can carry the details of such meetings with us, seeing as how that room is built between our minds.

    "I want to know why," I insist.

    "You always want something."

    I slam a hand into the pillow so close to his face that I leave a red fingernail scratch down his cheek. "I make a habit of getting what I want," I tell him.

    "Mm," he answers, and closes his eye again.

    "I want to know why," I say again. "It was none of your fucking business. What did you get out of shoving that in his face?"

    He smiles, but the expression doesn't last long. My hand is snapping out to grab the bag of ashes off the bedside table and I smack it into his cheek, crushing it between my palm and his cheekbone. His eye snaps open again and there's a threat in there that reads a little too much like death. I curl my lips back over my teeth, refusing to think about the way his power is prickling against my mind in his anger.

    "I want to know why," I say flatly. "You don't see Crawford asking you if *you* liked it when he fucked you."

    Farfarello enters the mental room so hard and fast it burns. Following him is instinctive- and also incredibly stupid considering what I've just said. I've just appeared when his fist connects with my face. For a floor-less, wall-less expanse of nothing, it hurts to go crashing against the ground and my first thought is that it's going to bruise. I shove myself to my feet, ignoring the knife he presses against my throat, and glare at him. There's murder in his stare but I can't be bothered to take it as a warning.

    "You-" he starts, and his knife is shaking a little in his fury.

    "Your shields dropped," I tell him. "When I took you out killing one night, they fell."

    "Shut up."

    "You don't see any of us holding that against you," I tell him flatly. "You don't see us treating you like a traitor because of it. Guess what, Farfarello: Hoffmann fucked all of us over. Why is it so fucking hard for you to forgive Crawford for it?"

    "You didn't feel them," he warns me.

    "I didn't feel you either," I send back. "But I still trust you and so does he."

    "You didn't feel him," Farfarello insists.

    It takes me a long moment to realize the 'him' isn't Crawford, and the thought that Farfarello could feel Hoffmann is startling. I just stare at him and he presses his knife against my throat again. "He chose that because I reminded him of your Oracle," he tells me through clenched teeth. "I was the closest he could get because Oracle had you. But whose name?" he asks, and it's clear he's struggling to get the question out. "Whose name do you think he-" He doesn't finish it, but he doesn't have to.

    I shove his hand away from my throat and he lets me. "Not yours," I say quietly, and Farfarello doesn't say anything to that. I squish the urge to retch in a nonexistent corner of the room and instead keep my eyes locked on his. For a long time neither of us speaks. We just stand there and stare each other down, tense and angry and sick from memories neither of us wants.

    I think of the year I spent with Hoffmann, a year that's little more than a blur because telepaths had to shut down that part of my mind to save me. A year of nightmares and horror and pain—and I remember next to nothing of it. Crawford and Farfarello have to live with their memories the rest of their lives. I don't pity them those memories. What I got from Farfarello's mind that night his shields fell was enough to make me sick, and now my mind twists Crawford into his place.

    "We killed him," I tell Farfarello. "We killed all of the Council. Crawford's planning, your gift, Nagi's gift, my gun. Whether Schwarz exists now or not doesn't matter. We were a team then and that's what brought us to that point and helped us walk away."

    Farfarello abruptly looks bored with the conversation and for a moment I'm annoyed at his easy façade. He just half-turns away from me with a lazy wave of his knife. "We walked away because the child stole drugs from Estet," he corrects me. "Otherwise you'd have died there that day when he couldn't distract that empath."

    "And those drugs are what we have to deal with today," I say firmly, "but we can't do this if we're fighting each other. Nagi's going back to Rosenkreuz with the Council today."

    That stops Farfarello as he's walking away from me, and he tilts his head back to give me a long look. I think myself up a chair and sit heavily in it, leaning forward to prop my elbows on my knees. My fingers curl over my cheeks as I prop my chin in my hands and I frown up at Farfarello. A tweak of my gift has another chair appearing in front of me but Farfarello doesn't acknowledge it. "Crawford hasn't said why yet. He needed the rest of the night to work on his visions."

    Farfarello gives me a slow, thin smile. "He wants the boy dead."

    "Stop fucking doubting him." I stab a finger at the chair but Farfarello keeps his gaze on me. "How many years ago did we find you, Farfarello? How many years ago did we pull you out of Ireland on his say-so? How many years have you been listening to him, and now, when he's done his greatest and outwitted a school full of Talents and an ancient organization, now, when we all lived to tell the tale of our great triumph over that fat bastard Hoffmann, *now* you're going to doubt him."

    I sit up straight, shifting a little as the chair grows, and pull my legs up onto the seat to sit cross-legged on the hard wood. "Don't have doubts now," I tell him quietly. "Not now, and not because of a sick, twisted, fucking empath. I want to know why. It's not any obsession you felt in Hoffmann. It's not what Hoffmann did to him."

    "It is," Farfarello says, and his quiet voice is still edged and tense. I just stare back at him and at last he crosses the room to sit down across from me. His voice gives the lie to the easy way he sprawls against the chair and is almost an eerie contrast to the calm, detached look on his face.

    "I told him," he says at length, "so you would know." I give him a blank look and he gives an irritated sort of sigh, looking towards the walls that flicker Hoffmann-blue and blood red around us. "He is Oracle, and he bowed to that man. I follow him because he cannot have gods. He is a godless prophet."

    He looks back at me and points his knife my way. "I felt him about Rosenkreuz. I felt that mess. He killed the Council but his path was still muddy. He listens to you. You had to break the cycle."

    I think on that, trying to sort through Farfarello's logic. I think about my fight with Crawford, inevitable after finding out about Hoffmann, and finding out just how deep Crawford's loyalties to Rosenkreuz ran – no, still run. Ikida has always known, and Farfarello figured that out along the way to the ceremony. We were planning and scheming against Rosenkreuz and Estet, but every time Farfarello left the mental room he forgot what we were doing. After his gift woke up, his empathy showed him what Crawford showed to no one but the Council: his unwavering loyalty and ruthless devotion to Rosenkreuz's future. While Nagi and I fought on blindly for any sort of ending, Farfarello was dealing with the truth of Crawford's loyalty and his relationship with Hoffmann.

    I guess I can't blame him for that shattered trust; even I lost faith in Crawford on the path to our ultimate victory.

    I feel my lips quirk into something almost bitter, something a little wry, and I peer through my bangs at my teammate. "Welcome to being a Talent," I tell him. "It's always an uphill road."

    Farfarello gives a quiet snort. "What did he say to you?"


    That earns me a look that's almost impatient. "The Councilman," he says, and I roll my eyes at him at the way he expected me to follow his jump in topics. He's done talking about Crawford and Hoffmann; either he's just tired of dealing with it or I've pushed him enough that he has enough to think on later. Now he wants to talk about last night, starting with the dinner and then jumping to Nagi's problem.

    "Nothing I haven't heard before," I assure Farfarello.

    "You didn't react well."

    "Stupid empath," I tell him, but there's no heat in it. I shrugged Nagi off when he asked for an explanation last night, but I don't feel the same aversion when facing Farfarello. Nagi's a kid, after all- on some levels, at least. Besides, it's always been easier to talk to Farfarello. Maybe it's because he just doesn't give a damn. There's a bit of freedom in talking to someone who doesn't care a whit about your problems outside of how it might affect him.

    For some reason I think of the way Farfarello barricaded Nagi in his room when Hoffmann came to visit us, but I push that aside in favor of explaining. "He just reminded me that my shields are breaking. You drew a lucky straw with your gift, Farfarello. Maybe you'll feel more justified about Crawford if you know that he and I are both going to die of insanity if our job doesn't kill us first." I offer him a slow smile and slouch down low in my chair. The move is ruined when I snag my hair and I spit a curse as I pull my hair over my shoulders. Farfarello is watching me intently, waiting for me to continue. "That's how precogs and telepaths die, you know. The mind gives out. Telepaths almost never make it to thirty, and considering what I've been doing to my shields…"

    "Hm," Farfarello says.

    "Your concern is staggering," I drawl, and he shrugs at me. "It doesn't matter, though. Crawford says we aren't going to die for a long while yet, so at least I'll have many years filled of fucking him before the shields go." Farfarello bares his teeth at me for that remark, but the disgust that was on his face yesterday is gone today. I guess something I said this morning did get through to him. "How are your buffers, anyway? You really should work on that."

    "I can squish your interest faster than I can build buffers," he points out.

    I offer him a smile that's pure warning, not like Farfarello has ever had a reason to be wary of me. "Don't you dare use that gift on me."

    "Don't use yours on mine," he returns flatly.

    "Don't accuse me for things I haven't done yet. Blame me after I've done them."

    "You did it yesterday," he reminds me.

    I remember belatedly that I knocked him out to confront Crawford; I hadn't wanted an empathic audience to what we were going to say. I scowl at him and he returns it and we have a good time just scowling at each other for a few moments. Both expressions fade at the same time and I gaze up towards the ceiling.

    "Still a while longer of this, huh?" I ask him. "By the way, Nagi thinks you're mad at him, so don't make a threatening move his way when he shows up or it'll just confirm his suspicions. Ahh, I guess I don't have to worry that, huh? Vegetable."

    Farfarello ignores that. "Put her ashes back on the table."

    I decide that means this conversation is over, so I fade out of the bond room. Farfarello remains behind a few moments longer, drawing out the illusion that he can move around freely. By the time he pulls free, Aine's ashes are resting neatly on his nightstand and I can feel Crawford and Nagi's minds close by. I judge the distance in between us and decide it's enough of a gap that I can go down the street and buy coffee.

    I make it back just as Crawford pulls into the parking lot and I wait out front for him and Nagi to catch up. I've brought two cups back with me but Crawford, coming up behind Nagi, gestures to the boy before I can offer him his cup. I look down at Nagi as the telekinetic steps onto the curb and I see what Crawford meant. Nagi has his stony little mask in place but it's been too long since he wore it around us. He gave it away several months ago in favor of something a little more revealing, and the cracks in it now show that he hasn't slept.

    I hold the cup out to him and he just looks at it. "I don't drink coffee," he tells me.

    "You're going to need it," I tell him.

    "Drink," Crawford adds when Nagi looks like he's going to argue again.

    Wonder of wonders, Nagi takes it. Granted, he doesn't drink it, but he takes it. Crawford steps past him onto the curb and leads the way to the door. I follow after him and let Nagi trail behind us. My eyes face forward but my thoughts are pointed at the mind behind me, sorting through the remnants of a long night of thinking. Nagi's not stupid. We told him last night that Aya and Sakura roused soon after their own deaths and he knows he had a miraculous sort of waking at the beach himself. This has gone from being worry about Tot to a confused, stressed worrying about both of them.

    /I would think a sixteen year old would love the idea of suddenly being immortal,/ I send at Crawford. /He's practically a god./

    ~Perhaps if he entertained himself as easily as you do, he wouldn't have a problem with it,~ Crawford answers calmly. ~As of right now, Nagi has a grand total of three interests: Schwarz, Tot, and school.~

    /In that order?/ I ask, just to rile him. Unfortunately for me, Crawford doesn't know how to get riled, and he just ignores that comment. I stop to think about Nagi living long past we're dead with just a fluff ball and an advanced degree to keep him happy. It sounds like a horrible fate, though I'm not sure if the schooling or the permanent Tottage. /Man. We need to fix this./

    Crawford knows the code for Ikida's basement and enters it easily, not into the whole "Come Fetch" game I play with the doctor. Ikida looks up at our entrance and starts clearing his things away. "I suppose I'll take a midmorning break," he offers before Crawford has to ask, and he's gone before we reach Farfarello's room.

    Nagi pulls chairs in from the office with a mental tug and I push mine close enough to Farfarello's bed that I can prop my feet on his mattress. Nagi takes a spot off to my right, further from the bed, and Crawford sits where he can see all of us. He waits until we're all settled, considering each of us, and then focuses on Nagi.

    "We're going to keep this conversation outside the bond," he says. "Nagi needs this on a higher level than his subconscious." Nagi nods to show he understands and Crawford reaches up to push his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "You're going to be returning with the Council to Rosenkreuz," he tells Nagi, and I think the telekinetic stops breathing. "We are going to enroll you as a conditional student there."

    It takes Nagi a minute to figure out a response. "*You* want *me* to go to Rosenkreuz."

    "Tot will be going with you," Crawford continues. Nagi seems to decide this is a good time to convert to the wonders of coffee and caffeine, because he upends his cup and starts drinking. "Estet was behind the drugs that were used in the ceremony, but Chizuru- Hel of Schreient- was part of Rosenkreuz originally. It is questionable how much of her work with Estet was transferred back to Rosenkreuz but it's enough of a place to start. Rosenkreuz has been gutting Estet strongholds and bringing back everything they could, so somewhere there you'll find an answer. It is perhaps about time that you received formal training for your gift, as well. You're a rank eight based on potential and strength, not on talent."

    I think Nagi has left fingerprints in the Styrofoam. "And Tot?"

    "It makes sense for her to go to Rosenkreuz," Crawford answers. "She is a newly unleashed Talent and still unidentified. Besides, Rosenkreuz would probably like to see her."

    I offer him a thumbs-down gesture. "Ugh. Her Talent is that she remembers to inhale and exhale without being reminded."

    "She was the final key in the ingredient to immortality," Crawford says. "Her gift and Fujimiya Aya's blood were the two main ingredients of that elixir. We let her gift slide because it has not manifested itself and because we previously had no interest in figuring out the loopholes of eternal life. Hoffmann himself had no real knowledge about her other than the fact that a precognitive had warned him to look out for her broken mind."

    "You latent Talent types are a pain the ass," I send at Farfarello.

    "So," Nagi starts, but he trails off as he thinks. "I'm to go to school there and investigate from the inside? How am I to get around a school full of Talents? I don't think Rosenkreuz would appreciate me digging through such things, and I don't want them of all people to know that Tot and I can't die."

    "They'd use you for training targets," I offer helpfully.

    "They would know the elixir was real," Nagi sends back.

    "That too."

    "Fortunately, your teammate is one of only two living telepaths," Crawford tells him. "The empaths will sense no sort of subterfuge in you since you are there for your own sake and not scheming against them. They will be probing you, but they will only see your reluctance to be there. The precognitives of the Prophets' Hall will be the largest challenge, but again, their visions have been trained to look at Rosenkreuz. There are no current SIS precognitives above a level two stationed at Rosenkreuz, so if the Council was to call on one and ask why you were at Rosenkreuz or if you had mutiny planned, they would most likely latch on your training for the former. If they take it a step further to the fact that you are looking for something, a low-level SIS would only be able to say 'Estet' and you could come up with an explanation for it."

    "What did you do, pull a recon mission when you went back there?" I ask, arching an eyebrow at him.

    "Partly," Crawford answers. "For the most part, I have been well-informed about the school's status because of my position as a Five." He looks towards Nagi. "The telekinetic teaching staff has shuffled out a bit after the war with Estet, but the newer teachers instated are all for basic classes. There are three teachers in specific I want you to find and stay in good graces with: Maloudi, Falcon, and DeVitt. Maloudi, in particular, is important for the growth of your gift to its final stages. Go to him before you see any of the others. He will only give you a chance if he thinks you're sincere in wanting his help specifically."

    "Does your vision tell me what to do if something interferes with that?" Nagi asks.

    "My visions have shown me nothing of him," Crawford answers, and when Nagi gives him a blank look, he explains. "I know him and that is enough."

    "Old friend?" I taunt him.

    "He is one of the few teachers I kept," Crawford corrects me. "I served as headmaster of Rosenkreuz for a few years and I switched out most of the teaching staff early on. He was worth keeping. All of the veteran teachers are," he says, and he directs that at Nagi as a mild warning of sorts.

    "Jesus, Crawford," I say, grimacing at him. Headmaster of Rosenkreuz? I guess Crawford wasn't kidding when he said he's had power for too long to give it up now. I'm starting to wonder if Crawford was ever a grunt. "The Five, the Oracle, Schwarz, a precog instructor, a headmaster… Is there anything you *can't* do?"

    "Get it up for you," Nagi mutters into his drink.

    I can just gape at him for having the gall to say such a thing, but then Farfarello makes a sound that's almost a laugh, except that I don't know when's the last time I ever heard such a sound from him. I don't know which one of them to stare at and at last settle for staring at Crawford. He offers me the barest of smirks, apparently more amused by my shock than he is offended by Nagi's easy retort. I decide that pod people have infected my teammates. I give up on looking at any of them and instead empty the rest of my coffee, muttering into the empty Styrofoam bottom that things would be much saner around here if there was just me.

    There isn't much to say after that, and it isn't long before we leave Farfarello there. Crawford drops me off at the apartment and goes back to Nagi's place to talk to him and Tot in further detail about Rosenkreuz. I'm not supposed to go to the airport to see the kids off because the Council doesn't like or trust me, so instead I make a mess of Crawford's tidy dresser and poke at Nagi mentally while he waits for the flight.

    ~It's time to board,~ he tells me, mental voice faded and almost blurry from the distance between us. It won't be long before he's out of reach completely, and none of us know when he'll be coming back.

    /Break a leg, kid,/ I tell him. /Preferably not your own./

    ~I'll try,~ he offers.

    I know when the plane takes off when his mind vanishes, but long before Crawford makes it back to our place, the bond has actually snapped, unable to hold onto Nagi's piece of it when he's on a plane that's headed overseas. I'm sprawled out on Crawford's bed with an ice pack to my forehead when the precognitive comes in and we consider each other in silence for a minute.

    "Huh," I offer up at last, because what else can I say?

    "Hm," he agrees, and he goes to start a pot of coffee.

Part 10
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