Part One

   Somewhere, day has just ended. The last bits of the sun's rays are just barely peeking over the horizon, sprinkling the sky with a few glorious colors. Families are going to bed. Lovers are beginning the pleasures of night. Singles are setting outwards with the hopes of finding the elusive Mr. or Ms. Right or intending to find the comfort of a few short embraces before a lonely dawn. On the other side of the world, the day has just begun. The stars are fading from the sky as the deep blue softens to a lighter shade. Sunlight falls upon everything in summons for all to rejoice in the start of a new day.

    And I wonder…

    Why in the hell does my window have to face east?

    Some of us don’t appreciate morning as much as we could: namely, the ones whose windows happen to be placed so that we’re the first people on this hemisphere to know that it’s dawn.

    I crack open an eye to glare balefully in the direction of the window, squinting against the harsh sunlight. I have been trying to ignore it for a solid ten minutes now, but there’s only so long you can pretend not to notice light falling directly on your eyelids. Irritated, I roll to one side, presenting my back to the window and closing my eye again. We have this fight every morning that I’m actually here, the sun and I. I hold a world record for a losing streak.

    I suppose it would be much simpler to move my bed somewhere else, but that requires physical labor.

    However, I do get some compensation for losing. This is what time Crawford gets up; this is what time the coffee maker has just finished brewing. Waking up ensures a hot mug of it. In this household- God forbid call it a home- hot coffee can mean the difference between life and death. I do not like cold coffee, and I do not like waiting for it to brew. If I go without it, it means I’m going to be cranky. That’s not a good thing, especially nowadays, when Estet is being so twitchy.

    I sigh into my pillow before slowly rolling over again, pushing myself up and sliding from the bed. I pad across the room, taking my sweet time. When one has a life like ours, he has to stop and enjoy the simple pleasures in life: an entertaining death, a mind to screw with, and a carpeted bedroom. After all, few of the rooms in this suite can afford to have carpet. Bloodstains are a pain in the ass to clean up unless it’s on tile, and Farfarello is not the tidiest of people. He has a tendency to leak all over the place, damn Irishman.

    The house is quiet as I make my way to the kitchen, but that’s nothing new. This is one of the quietest times of the day. Crawford’s not the noisiest of people, and I’m not in the mood to do much until after I’ve had some caffeine hit my system. Nagi does not rise until at least eight. Farfarello’s sleeping schedule is too erratic to keep track of, but we don’t let him out before Nagi’s awake. It’s a safety caution, but I think it’s useless.

    I pause just as I’m about to pour my coffee, blinking in mild surprise. The pot is full to the brim. I am the first person here today. I’ve never had the first cup of coffee since I started working with Crawford full time.

    I pour my mug and stand by the counter, sipping at it slowly. When I have finished half of it, I cross the room to look out of the kitchen. There is only silence to greet me. Crawford is a good ten minutes late. I offer a quiet sigh to my drink and it steams at me in return. I suppose I should be happy that he’s not here. It’s not like he’s exciting company. He’s just Crawford, after all.

    …Like I’m just Schuldich.

    The words are mockingly amused and I can see the way my lips have curved into that familiar quirk in my reflection when I glance back at the kitchen window. I take a deep gulp of my coffee, only to be rewarded by the way it burns my throat. I close my eyes, propping myself against the doorframe, feeling the way the heat curls through my chest. I stand there until it’s faded completely before turning back to fully face the coffeepot.

    What is that saying? ”You snooze, you lose.” With a smirk that is a little more satisfied than it should be, I empty the remaining coffee from the pot down the sink and turn the maker off. Crawford will be annoyed, I know, but let him be. I drink all but the last sip from my mug and set it beside the pot, a nice finishing touch to the scene.

    I came, I conquered.

    I have no life.

    I wander from the room, crossing the hall to the den. I want to be here when Crawford finally rouses himself to come find his coffee. I want to see the slight hesitation as he enters the kitchen and notices the surprise I’ve left him. I want to see if he turns to look at me.

    There are a few newspapers and magazines on an end table. I seat myself in Crawford’s chair and begin rummaging through the stack, keeping my movements quiet so I can hear the first click of his door. I am greeted with the most boring collection of junk on my search. A few of them are American- there’s a Smithsonian, some science crap, and a Wall Street Journal. The rest are a mix of Japanese economical and political reports. I pause as I consider his poor choice of reading material.

    The newspaper is delivered each morning, and is Crawford’s first stop after he has retrieved a cup of coffee. He will pour his drink and set it down beside his chair, touch his magazines lightly as if they’ve been pushed from their neat stack, and mosey down the hall to fetch the newspaper. He won’t look at it until he’s seated back in this chair. He unties it, unrolls it, and systematically reads it from front to back. Every other page he’ll take a brief break to sip at his coffee and listen to make sure none of us are creating chaos elsewhere in the building.

    I suppose I have a right for knowing his routine…I have been living with him for six years.

    Nagi does not touch the newspaper before Crawford. Farfarello has absolutely no interest in it, and neither do I. I only look at it when Crawford makes me by pointing out an article that is important to a current project.

    I have left off an item on my list of simple pleasures of life: disrupting Crawford’s perfect routine. It takes only moments to retrieve the paper.

    The newspaper is boring before I even finish the first page. I gaze at it listlessly for several minutes before glancing up, gazing through the doorway into the kitchen. The house is quiet enough that I can hear the second hand of the clock. It’s almost seven thirty, and I begin to wonder if Crawford truly is asleep. I wonder if he saw this coming and is sitting in his room, waiting until I get bored of waiting on him, and feel annoyance dampen my amusement. Tossing the newspaper carelessly in the general direction of the couch, I stand and go down the hall.

    I pause just before his door, fingers hovering by the knob. I cannot help but remember the last time I was bold enough to enter his room. Six years, five houses, and I’ve only let myself into his room once. Well, I tried twice, but it was locked one of those times because I’d been going after him with a broom…

    Memories are like thoughts: they are easy to get entangled in. Like any other gift, telepathy comes with plenty of double-edged knives. I may have difficulty at times with separating myself from the minds I work with, but time lost is time I don’t have to spend thinking about the past.

    The knob turns under my hand, and I push it open, half-expecting to see him standing waiting for me.

    He is not.

    He is still in bed, and I study him from my spot in the doorway, tracing his lean form with a curious detachment. Sleep can be deceiving; it can transform even the most cold-blooded of men to mere people. Crawford is no exception. His face is serene in his sleep, startlingly young without his glasses and that know-it-all gleam in his eyes. His sheet has fallen to his waist, giving the impression that he moves in his sleep. It’s a strange thought. I suppose part of me expected him to just lie there like a rock all night- untouchable and unyielding.

    His bare chest rises and falls slowly, drawing my attention to it. It is easy to make out the smooth planes of hard rock muscle just beneath the surface. There is a recreational center and gym just a short trip away, and he travels there a few times a week. I have gone with him only once, probably out of masochistic fascination. I don’t think I will go with him ever again. I only have so much self-control, after all.

    As I’m watching, he shifts slightly, lips thinning briefly and fingers twitching where they lay by his chest. He starts to move, as if to change positions, before resettling himself in the same spot. He turns his head slightly, mouth relaxing again, and his bangs fall across his face.

    I take a step back, exhaling slowly as I pull the door shut. I gaze at his closed door for a moment, raking a hand through my wild orange hair. He looks like he’s going to be there for a while. So much for my fun in the kitchen. I can’t help but feel cheated.

    I turn away from his room to look down the hall towards the front door. I’d leave to make up for my loss of entertainment, but we’re not supposed to be leaving the house for non-business matters. The company Estet is currently interested in and needs is unstable. Power is changing hands on several of the upper levels within its inner hierarchies- including the man we are currently assigned to- leaving everyone associated with it on edge. There are bound to be some disgruntled people who get overlooked who will look for any opening or opportunity to rock the boat in frustration. Some people don’t handle not getting promotions well.

    That leaves me with little to do. If I’d known Crawford was going to choose today to break his routine for the first time in years I wouldn’t have even gotten up. I scratch my head and wander back towards my room, wondering if I’ll be able to get any sleep with caffeine fresh in my system. I doubt it. I pause in my doorway, gazing in at my bed, and the image of a face smooth in sleep rises once more in my mind.

    I suppose I’ll take a shower instead.


    I can hear the clinking of dishes when I emerge from the bedroom in my clothes and investigate the noise. Nagi is preparing his breakfast and turns when he senses he’s not alone, temporarily setting his dishes aside. His eyes stray from mine to the coffee pot and back again. “Is Crawford out?” he asks, gesturing towards it.

    “Nein.” I lift a shoulder in a careless gesture, offering Nagi an amused smirk. Inside I cannot help but be curious. Is Crawford really still sleeping? The clock says that it’s a quarter after eight. “He was still snoring, last time I checked.”

    Nagi frowns faintly at that and turns back to his meal. “Odd…” is his response.

    As he begins rummaging through the drawers in search of some missing utensil, I hear the click of a door and glance down the hall. There is Crawford, finally emerging from his room. He is still in his bedroom slacks as he slowly picks his way down the hall. He pauses a short distance away to briefly meet my eyes. I cannot help but think that he seems paler than usual. He says nothing but continues on his way, brushing past me to enter the kitchen. He only spares the coffee pot a brief glance, and for some reason I find no satisfaction in it.

    How annoying…I exhale noisily, crossing my arms over my chest.

    Nagi turns away from the counter with his plate in hand to study Crawford’s face. “Good morning,” is his quiet greeting before he heads towards the table to eat.

    “That must have been a wonderful dream you were having,” I drawl, but he ignores me.

    That’s nothing new.

    He sets about making more coffee, and I can see in the lethargic moves he makes that sleep still clings to him. Sleepy and pale…I suppose he is coming down with something. This will be interesting to watch. Crawford rarely gets sick. I’m of the opinion that he wills his body into its healthy state, and that he doesn’t get sick often because he doesn’t wish to. The three or four times he has been ill were the closest I’d ever seen to him getting frayed at the edges. It’s fascinating.

    The phone rings, but neither Nagi nor I move to answer it. It’s not for us; it never is. Crawford waits until the coffee pot has started dripping before turning to lift it from its hook. “Crawford.” He listens in silence for several moments. “Aa.” With that, he hangs up and turns back to wait on the coffee pot. Nagi looks up from his place at the table, eyes on Crawford as he waits to see what the man has to say. A phone call at a time like this means our presence is needed to help make sure all of the higher-ups in TaoCorp don’t off each other.

    Crawford does not speak until he is pouring his drink. “The decisions are set; Tao will be announcing the promotions tomorrow afternoon at a large reception. All bodyguards are required to attend.” He takes a sip of his coffee, gazing over the rim of his mug at nothing in particular. “We will leave here at ten tomorrow to join Futori’s entourage and travel as a group to the headquarters.”

    Nagi accepts it with a quiet sigh: “Politicians…” before turning back to his food.

    I know he is ready to leave this house, though. We are a unit; we are partners. We are not friends or companions. There is only so long the four of us can sit in the same house together with nothing to do. An extended leave with all of us compressed into the same space can be deadly, as our different routines begin to intermesh and collide. The last time we were forced together for several days ended with me in an Estet hospital, Nagi on temporary control, and a shattered wall in the den. I couldn’t help it that time…I was bored.

    Crawford turns to leave the kitchen and I obligingly step out of his path. Before he can start down the hall he notices the newspaper in the den. I missed when I tossed it earlier. I can see past Crawford’s shoulder to see it on the floor, its pages spilling out in all directions. He hesitates for the briefest of moments, probably debating what to do about it, then moves towards it. I watch as he sets his mug aside and calmly pieces the paper back together. When he is finished and seats himself, he finally looks up again to meet my gaze.

    “I am not in the mood for your games, Schuldich,” he says.

    Translation: Don’t fuck with me when I’m getting sick.

    The satisfaction I was lacking earlier has chosen to show up and I arch one brow at him, tilting my head back. “Are you ever, Crawford?” I ask.

    “Entertain yourself elsewhere. You may let Farfarello out of his room.”

    ‘May let’. What a pathetic choice of words. It’s an order, not a suggestion. Usually that task is given to Nagi. I only have to take care of Farfarello in the mornings when Nagi is occupied with business. I gaze at Crawford in silence for a moment, but he has already turned his attention on the newspaper, dismissing me. I’m like a light bulb to him- flicked on when needed, off when not. And if I’m a light bulb, Crawford is careful to conserve electricity.

    Am I so easy to dismiss? Oh, fuck you, Crawford.

    I feel myself lose control of my expression for just a moment, the arrogant smirk slipping briefly into an antagonistic sneer, before I can smooth my face again. He’s not worth the trouble, not worth the anger.

    These words are familiar.

    I turn away, years of practice turning an angry stride into the lazy saunter they all recognize. Perhaps Farfarello will be better company.


    I listen as Nagi closes the door and step out of the den to see him coming down the hall with the boxes of our dinner floating in front of him. Our dinner is brought to us- an expensive catering service of Estet makes us dinner every day and has it delivered when we have to stay within our headquarters. Nagi moves past me to set the boxes on the table that has already been set by him. I leave him there to retrieve Farfarello. We place him back in his room after lunch each day. It's easiest to deal with him on shut-ins when he's not loose in the house the entire time. It's better for everyone if he finds ways to entertain himself alone.

    As I pass Crawford's office, I reach out and rap on the door to signal that it is dinner time. Crawford spends his afternoons in there to organize reports and go over deals. I believe he also uses the time to work on analyzing his most recent visions to decide how everything is falling in together. Useful as his gift is, it doesn't see everything. He is left to tie everything together by himself. I know he received extensive training on that at Rosenkreuz.

    Farfarello is lying on his side when I enter his room, arm outstretched as he lazily spins a knife on the floor. He does not look up at my entrance. He knows why I'm here. I stand in his doorway in silence, waiting for him to get up. At last he stops his knife with a finger and pushes himself up. As he moves, the knife vanishes, easily tucked away into his clothing somewhere. He moves towards the door and I step back to allow him to exit, closing the door when he is on his way down the hall.

    Nagi is serving himself when we enter. Crawford's seat is empty. He is probably still finishing his reports. I begin serving myself what Nagi is done with before passing it in Farfarello's direction. The silence hanging in the room is only punctuated by the soft scrape of utensils. As each finishes serving, we begin to eat. Nagi is halfway done and I have just finished my rice when I turn my attention to Crawford's empty chair. Work aside, dinner is part of the simple routine of Crawford's day. He will not miss it, even if he arrives late. But I have cleared half of my plate and he is still not here.

    What is there for him to be working on? Anything dealing with tomorrow's run should be done by now, since he's had five hours to work on it. I set my fork aside- I bought some real utensils when I was moved to Japan and use them at any meal that is at the headquarters. Farfarello has some that I got him because he has no interest in and no talent with chopsticks. Nagi looks up when I slide my chair back from the table, but he doesn't have to ask where I'm going. He knows. Instead, he pours himself more drink.

    I pad down the hall to Crawford's office once more and rap on it. I wait, but there is no response. I rap again. When it goes unanswered I open the door. My process is tolerated here, so I have no problem entering. What I do have a problem with is the sight that greets my eyes.

    Crawford is at his desk, all right, but his head is down. He has his arms folded on the desk in front of him and his head is resting on them. I can see his back rising and falling evenly. sleeping.

    I just stare at him for a long moment. I have never seen Crawford take a nap in the late afternoon, not even when he was sick those other times. I am at a loss for what to do. Do I wake him? He won't appreciate it- not that I care- but it'll put him back on his routine. He might not be happy later that he lost so much of his day napping. And napping like this will keep him up late tonight and throw off his schedule. We need him fully rested tomorrow morning.

    I cross the room to stand by him, pausing with one hand hovering over one of his shoulders. I study his face that is so smooth in sleep. He loses the iron to his features when asleep. I like to take advantage of the very, very few times I get to see him when he is sleeping. When I finally touch him, it is because I realize that my dinner is getting cold without me. I grip his shoulder and give him a shake. His mouth thins briefly in his sleep and his eyebrows twitch as he frowns, resisting the pull back to reality. He must really be out and under, for it takes three more shakes before his eyes finally slide open.

    He turns tired eyes on me as he struggles to gather his wits, and in these brief moments his shield wavers. Across the bond so often and so long denied to me I can sense his exhaustion and confusion as to his whereabouts. Then it is back up and he is running a hand across his eyes.

    "Rise and shine," I sing to him, my words and eyes laughing at him and the state he is in. He reaches for his glasses and slides them onto the bridge of his nose, then looks in the direction of the clock. I watch his face as he sees what time it is, enjoying the way his mouth tightens when he realizes how long he's slept. I can't help but be curious as to what time he fell asleep. "Someone hasn't been getting their required hours of sleep each night."

    He ignores me and rises from his chair, starting towards the door. I follow him to the kitchen. Nagi is done and Farfarello is almost there. Both of them study Crawford as he enters the room.

    "And the great one decides to join us," I announce as I slide into my chair. I poke at my food with a finger. It is cool, but not too cold to eat. I set about finishing it off while Crawford serves himself.

    ~He is sick,~ Nagi says quietly across our bond, as if it isn't obvious. He stands and begins clearing his dishes. We've learned from experience that Farfarello will not clean up after himself, so once Farfarello has finished, his dishes float towards Nagi. The boy turns on the sink and begins rinsing them off. ~Will it affect our mission tomorrow, do you think?~

    That's Nagi for you. One can never decide if he is being compassionate, as we are the only real people he knows, or if he is more concerned with business. Even I, with my access to his mind, can't always figure it out.

    I consider this, turning a critical eye on Crawford. He has served very little and is eating it slowly, without interest. His expression is blank, the look he wears when around our clients, even if it is paler than I've seen it. I wonder if he wears it now to keep his dignity intact. I wonder if he's sick enough to be miserable and debate the pros and cons of stepping on his nerves to find out. /It shouldn't. He seems to be in the beginning stages. Right now he's just tired. He was napping./

    Nagi digests this in silence. ~I will find him some antibiotics, then, that will help him to sleep tonight.~ He knows as well as I do how important it is to have him at top working order on missions.

    I contemplate the mental image of Crawford taking some of Farfarello's stronger medicine, laughing mentally at the dopey look on the imaginary Crawford's face. Nagi snorts quietly at the image. Farfarello is still watching Crawford from his seat at the table. He would not be interested in such an image, so I don't slide it over to his mind. He is content, instead, to gaze at Crawford's face. Crawford must be out of it indeed if he doesn't notice the blatant staring. Nagi glances over his shoulder at Crawford before crossing the room to the cabinet. The doors open for him to reveal several shelves. One is completely dedicated to health care. As much as I sometimes refer to Farfarello as being a druggy, only a fifth of the bottles in there are his, and that's not many. The ones that are in there are mainly antibiotics, since he is forever getting new injuries. There are a couple of downers that range in strength. We don't want Farfarello high all the time. He is useless to us if he is. They'll disrupt his deadly fighting and knock out his senses. Farfarello isn't completely with us at times, but sometimes he can just pick up on things that we don't.

    Right now Nagi is examining the different bottles, searching for their strength and mentally calculating how long they'll last.

    I stand and cross the room, reaching past Nagi to pluck up one that he would have never considered. He blinks and watches me as I carry it across the room, watching as I pop open the lid and dump a pill out. ~Which one is that?~ Nagi asks, a wary edge in his voice. He suspects me of playing a trick on our leader, it seems.

    Me? Never.

    I can't help but laugh at his suspicions. /It's just the Athlon,/ I tell him.

    Some of the bottles that are floating to aid his search fall, dropped from his telekinetic hold in his surprise. Farfarello's head pops in that direction at the sound of them hitting the floor, listening to the clattering of the pills inside them. Nagi is staring at me. ~The Athlon?~ he answers.

    I don't look back as I deposit both the pill and the bottle beside Crawford's plate. He very rarely accepts pills from my hands. He's used to the flavor of jokes I play. Now he can compare the pill with what's in the bottle, which is the only way he'll take it from me. He glances at the pill, then picks up the bottle. He recognizes the pill, but he wants to double check. Athlon is my drug, the only drug that is specifically mine in that cabinet. It is for when my power is getting to be too much and I need to be knocked to oblivion. It can kick me on my ass for fourteen straight hours, so I have to be careful what times I take it. I am very possessive of the drug, and I believe I have right to be. Everyone in my unit and in Estet knows I have the power with the greatest strain. Half of the telepaths officially collected have given in to their minds. I was picked for Schwarz because of my strength in dealing with this power. I was the strongest telepath when Schwarz was formed. Being the strongest, however, doesn't mean I can always deal with my gift. Because of that, Crawford acquired some Athlon for me. It's expensive and hard to get.

    Now I am offering this precious drug to Crawford. I hope the bastard appreciates it.

    I can just see him going over the details of the drug in his mind as he debates whether or not to take it. His cup is low, so I reach out and deftly refill it with the pitcher. It is a pointed command to take what he is offered. Either he decides it is the best choice or he doesn't have the energy to argue with me, but he swallows the pill with a sip from his cup.

    Farfarello reaches out and easily picks up the bottle, gazing at it as if he could read it. His Japanese isn't that great. I let him mull over the symbols, my eyes on Crawford. The American eats the remainder of his meal before rising, carrying his own dishes to the sink and rinsing them. Nagi excuses himself, most likely going towards his computer. Without a real life, that boy lost his soul to the computer.

    Farfarello returns to his room. I watch him to make sure he actually goes there. My guess is that I interrupted some valuble knife-spinning time. Who knows? I do not follow or close the door. Farfarello's lockdown isn't for another three hours, so until then he will be allowed full access to the house. We are careful not to impose too many restrictions on him. That will only make him defiant and scornful of us.

    Crawford retires to the den, and I am not far behind. There is nothing else to do, so I will sometimes spend some time in front of the television set. I drape myself across the couch, armed with the remote, and begin channel flipping. Crawford is going through the newspaper- or attempting to. I can tell when the medicine starts kicking in by the way he suddenly seems to have trouble reading. I watch him from the corner of my eye as he lightly touches his eyes and squints faintly at the paper, subtly adjusting the distance between him and its surface. He does not resist the drug for long before setting aside the newspaper and rising.

    "Do not cause havoc," he says before leaving the room. That is his goodnight.

    "No promises," I answer. Then he is gone.

    I look towards the clock sitting on top of our television cabinet. It is seven forty-eight and Crawford is turning in for the night. The house feels emptier already. I am used to having him around for another couple of hours. I give a quiet sigh and shrug to myself, returning to my channel surfing. As I find what might be an interesting program and further bury myself on the couch cushions to watch, I realize that this means Crawford will not be joining me for coffee tomorrow morning.

Part 2