Part Ten

    "Why did you park so far out?" my newest teammate demands as we reach my vehicle. He glares at me over the roof of the car and I keep my expression neutral. Even a neutral expression offers dubious safety: it could come across as disinterested instead of passive. Whichever way this man chooses to take it is beyond my control. "It is hot out today, and I do not appreciate the walk."

    I keep my snide comment about a walk being good for his lazy being to myself. I see his eyes narrow to slits, and I remind myself that he's an empath and must have picked up on my spike of disdain. I will have to watch myself from now on- keeping emotions hidden from someone who is a level 6 will be difficult but not impossible. "The traffic was bad this morning," I tell him. "At the time, it was the closest place I could get."

    He grunts. I unlock my door and slide in, reaching over and unlocking his door before I bother to close mine. I buckle myself up as he climbs in and turn the key in the ignition. When he is properly settled I pull out of my space and join the small line waiting to leave the parking lot.

    "By the looks of your car, you must get paid well."

    I evaluate his words, debating the best way to answer it. "I am paid what is viewed to be a sufficient amount by my superiors for my work," I tell him. "They have so far had no qualms with how I choose to spend what I am given."

    "Your clothes are atrocious."

    I look from him to the outfit I am wearing: khaki slacks and a somewhat formal dress shirt. My hair hangs loose and wild down my back, refusing to be tamed. He makes a snide comment on my clothes and he's in jeans? There's something wrong with this picture. "I was not aware of that."

    "Now you are. I will expect you to change into something more suitable when we arrive at your flat."

    "Perhaps you will tell me what you consider to be suitable?" I ask, fingers tightening ever so slightly on the steering wheel.

    "Until I leave, I will expect you to be dressed in a suit."

    "In my leisure time as well?" I fight to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. I think I'm successful.

    Maybe not completely: he gives me a sideways Look. "Yes."

    What the hell? Why should I wear a suit in my leisure time? Do I even _own_ a suit? I don't think so. "And my teammates?"

    "They must be in appropriate attire as well."

    I try to imagine Farfarello and Nagi in suits. The mental picture doesn't click. Crawford never cared what we wore. He wore his business suits because he preferred professional wear. We wore whatever we wanted to. Nagi generally chose jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. Farfarello and I took whatever was clean out of our closet. I wonder if they'll care about the new restriction on clothing. Farfarello probably will. A restriction over something as inane as clothing is a sign of an attempt for full control. Farfarello will not take that lightly.

    Right...Remove one calm and collected Crawford from the mix. Add in one arrogant and nitpicky _kid_. Stir well and get chaos.

    Farfarello had better remember my warning to him.


    There is hesitation on his part. Apparently he is doing some homework. He finishes up the problem he is on before turning his full attention to me. ~Yes?~

    /Do I own a suit?/

    Confusion riddles his thoughts. ~No, you don't.~

    /Didn't think so. And I know you and Farfarello don't./ I give a small mental sigh. /Our fourth/- I refuse to call him our boss- /requires 'proper attire'. That means we get to dress Crawford style for a few weeks. You should probably call a tailor and have him come over tonight./

    ~We're to wear suits on our job?~

    /Off duty as well./ Some of my disgust seeps across the bond.

    "Something wrong?" the empath inquires quietly.

    I give the driver in the car ahead of me a mental nudge. His car sways and almost hits the one in the lane beside him. The other driver honks and yells. "These people drive like maniacs," I tell the other man. "The traffic is still heavy. It is going to take forever to get to the flat."

    He makes no comment, but his thoughts swirl with distrust for my words.

    ~Off duty,~ Nagi echoes. He is silent. ~I will call the tailor,~ he says at last, ~and inform Farfarello.~ He pauses again and his thoughts scatter briefly while he closes out of his computer programs. He has a small mental debate over our Irishman's location before returning to speak to me. ~Your impression on the newcomer?~ he asks.

    A grim smirk threatens to play on my lips and I force it down. /Crawford had better recover fast./


    Adashi Akira, age twenty-three, is one of the youngest members on the Rosenkreuz staff. How he got the position- how he caught the Council's favor- is beyond me. He is a level 6 empath, two levels beneath the 8 ranking Nagi, Crawford, and I hold. It is not a bad rating; most people are proud to hit 6. While he is beneath us in talent, his inferiority in that field will not be enough to hinder us. The problem with be the nature of his power itself. Our group is used to a clairvoyant. We make our plans around visions of the future. This man is an empath.

    One: I hate all empaths. Two: I do not like Adashi already.

    Granted, I do not like many people. If liking is on the same level of tolerance, than I have my team. No one outside of our unit is worth my notice. But this man...I have been with him for less than an hour, and I have gathered a strong curling of dislike in my stomach.

    Neither of my teammates appreciate him, either. He demanded a tour when he arrived, and then set about laying down the ground rules for our unit and criticizing the upkeep of our flat. When he was through with that list, he began analyzing Nagi and Farfarello. He is still going at it, almost an hour later.

    Every word he speaks is laced with scorn and disapproval. Nagi's face is smooth and clear as he appears to take in all that Adashi is saying, but his thoughts are roiling with unease and dislike. Farfarello is watching Adashi, his full lips twisted into the faintest of frowns, as he silently takes in Adashi's manner. It is obvious that Adashi has no interest in Farfarello at all. Farfarello is not a Talent, and therefore not worth more than a disgusted look from time to time. Because of this, all of his comments are directed at Nagi. He's ranting about everything from Nagi's hair to his clothes to his impassive mask of a face and the color of his eyes.

    I stand behind Adashi, mouth set in a hard line, erecting a shield around my mind so that Adashi will not be able to pick up on my emotions. I know Nagi is going to do the same when the empath is done ranting.

    "Now then," Adashi says, finally done complaining. He turns sharply on his heel to face me. I forget for a moment to smooth my expression, and he glares at me. I relax my face. "You will show me where I will be staying."

    I think he would do just fine sleeping on the floor.

    I slide past him, moving down the hall. He follows me. Where he will be staying...We only have one empty bedroom, and that is Crawford's. I open the door and step aside. Adashi enters and heads straight towards the bed. Something in me flinches when I see him seat himself on Crawford's mattress. It looks wrong, to see such a person as he on that bed.

    Adashi scowls and flops onto his back. "This bed is as hard as a rock." He hits the mattress as if to prove his point. "Whoever last rested here- that clairvoyant, wasn't it?- had no taste. He was American, though, wasn't he? If he was, then I'm not surprised. Some clairvoyant." His lips curl into a sneer. "He should have seen this coming and left a more comfortable bed for me to sleep in."

    I do not realize I have moved until I am at the bed. I take him by his elbow and practically yank him off of the mattress. His eyes are narrowed with indignation and he is sputtering something, outraged that I have dared to treat him in such a rough manner. I ignore his words, bringing him out of the room with me. I hear Nagi mentally protesting my actions, reminding me of my warning not to annoy the fourth- but I cannot make my feet stop. I push open my bedroom door and lead Adashi inside, giving him a push that sends him stumbling onto the mattress.

    "Is that enough to satisfy you?" I ask, voice icy.

    His glare is a bit wary and a lot irritated as he feels the mattress he is on. Some of his annoyance fades when he feels how comfortable it is. "It will do," he says. "What will _not_ do is how you just treated me. This will be your first and last warning, telepath. The next time, I will report you."

    I remain silent, my mind divided. One part of me is berating me for doing such a rash thing- and risking having Hoffmann show up on my doorstep. I need to think before I act. Just because I don't like the thought of Adashi on Crawford's bed doesn't mean I should have reacted in such a way. The other part of me, a smaller part, declares that Adashi doesn't deserve to sleep in Crawford's room.

    Deserve? Interesting word choice.

    "It will not happen again," I reply at length. The last of my anger melts away, and that smaller part is squished into oblivion by the larger part. I cannot deny the feeling of relief that Adashi will not report me for this.

    "For your sake," Adashi says, though his smirk is amused and mocking, "I hope not."

    What an empty sentiment.

    Damn. That jerk is going to be sleeping in my bed. When he's gone, I'm going to get new sheets. Perhaps I should get a new mattress, too. I turn away, dismissing myself from his presence, and head towards the door. I am halfway there when pain laces up in my bad ankle. It has been healing well since I have been keeping off of it, but now the pain is sharp and severe. I stumble, not expecting the pain, and grab at the doorway for balance. My breath hisses between my clenched teeth as I try and figure out why my ankle has chosen to act up.

    "That," Adashi says behind me, "will do as your warning."

    I close my eyes, counting to ten. My fingers are attempting to break through the wood of my doorframe. I. Hate. Empaths.

    The pain begins to fade, leaving a dull throbbing behind. My fingers slowly unclench and I look back at Adashi. He is smirking at me. A cold smirk of my own worms its way to my lips out of habit. "I understand," I say smoothly, and limp out of the room.

    Nagi is where Adashi left him. His thoughts are whirling with annoyance and disgust, but they fade when he sees the look on my face. ~Schuldich, don't do anything stupid.~

    /Define stupid./

    ~That look is usually reserved for someone you're going to kill. Don't you dare go against the orders the Council gave us, Schuldich. Don't you dare.~ He looks away. ~I could tell that Hoffmann man is dangerous,~ he adds, quieter. ~If you cross him...I don't want to be left picking up the pieces.~

    I lightly touch my shoulder, fingers feeling the spot where the burns used to be through the material. Now they are faded white spots. I let the memory of that encounter, of that pain, wash through my mind. I need to remember it, to help calm myself down. The burns were probably the mildest thing Hoffmann's ever done to me. I will _not_ get on his bad side. /Adashi's off-limits,/ I tell Nagi. /And I learned long ago what happens when you color outside the lines./


    The colors and lines have finally come into focus, revealing the identity of the face I have been seeking. I find myself staring back at Crawford's face. I blink, tilting my head to one side. This face could have belonged to anyone, but it is Crawford's? Has it been his all along, or is this influenced by Adashi's presence in our household? Look, look. The voices sound smug. I _am_ looking. As I watch, the rest of Crawford's body fades into view. He is dressed in his slacks and dress shirt, his house wear, and he gazes back at me. We float among the swirling colors, not speaking, letting the other voices fade into a gnarled hum in the background. Okay...So it is Crawford. Why is his image here, in my dreamscape?

    "You can't always get what you wish for," he says, moving towards me.

    What I wish for...

    "I can," I tell him, "and I will."

    "Can you?" he asks. Blood trickles from his lips as he speaks, and he begins to fall forward. I reach out instinctively, arms wrapping around him to catch him. He is a dead weight banging into my chest and I fall backwards through the hazy colors around us, bringing him with me. Blood streams from his mouth, staining my clothes and running down me. It is hot and sticky against my flesh as it seeps through the light cloth of my clothes, and it burns me. A chill goes up my spine, and I can feel his rapid heart rate pulsing against my chest.

    "Will you?"

    My eyes snap open to be met with darkness. The only sound in the room is my ragged breathing. One hand comes up to touch the front of my pajama shirt, checking to see if it is wet with blood. I feel only dry cotton, much to my relief. I push myself up on the mattress, one hand blindly searching for the bedside table. I find it and tug the chain of the lamp that sits on it, and dim light fills the room. I flop back down onto the mattress, gazing at unfamiliar walls. The shock of the dream begins to fade and my breathing calms down.

    Of course I would be inclined to have a dream about Crawford...I'm sleeping in his bed, after all. I sigh huffily, folding my arms over my chest and closing my eyes. I let reality tug away the remaining tendrils of the dream.

    Crawford has a mattress that is twice as hard as mine. While it's not a brick, it could use some improvement. I roll onto my side, burying my cheek further into his pillow. At least his pillow is soft. It is scented, too. His entire bed has a faint but not unpleasant lingering smell that is distinctly Crawford. I inhale deeply, wondering distantly if I will pick up his smell because I am sleeping in his bed.

    Hm. I am sleeping in his bed but sleeping alone.

    What I wish for...I can see a bared chest, lightly streaked with sweat. The muscles ripple with every move he makes. I can feel him falling against me, hands closing convulsively on me as he struggles to regain his balance. I can feel his hand on my elbow and his breath on my face. I can hear our words to each other.

    "Yeah, fuck you."


    Despite his expression, the softly drawled question contained no mockery. It was a simple question.

    "Wirklich?" I repeat to myself, eyes sliding open. My gaze lands on the window. I can see the beginning rays of sunlight coloring the sky, but none of the rays are shining directly in. Crawford definitely got the better bedroom. My eyes slide to the clock and I lock away my thoughts for later. Right now, it is coffee time.

    I pad down the hall, tugging absently at the elastic waistband of my pajama pants. I have only been getting up to turn the pot off since Crawford was admitted to the hospital on a permanent basis. I do not like drinking it alone. This morning, however, I am willing to make an exception. I think this entire household will profit if I get some caffeine in my system. I will need it, to deal with Adashi.


    I peer at myself in my mirror, expression impassive as I study my reflection. I am not sure whether to be annoyed or appreciate the way I look in the suit. I look over my shoulder at Nagi. He shifts, tugging lightly at his cuffs. He does not like the way such formal wear feels on him. He has never had to wear a suit before. I wore one once, a rented one, when I was first assigned to Schwarz and had to attend a formal ceremony with the Council.

    My problems with the suit are simply that it is hot and it is white. Why white? If I had to pick such a boring color, I would have taken black. If I had my way, I would pick an outlandish color that would stand out, a loud color. Something that would make a statement. Green, maybe.

    But white...?

    It's not that I think white doesn't look good on me. It looks very good. But to be clothed from head to toe in it is a bit much. I brush my bangs out of my face, turning away from the mirror. One day I need to find something to keep them out of my way. Farfarello slips into the room then, mouth set in a thin line. For my sake, it is good that we have a job so soon after taking Adashi in. The empath has been under this roof for only sixteen hours and he has earned a healthy dislike from each of us. Luckily, Farfarello has been behaving so far.

    I hope I have not just jinxed myself.

    He plucks at the white material of his jacket, amber eye meeting my gaze. I tried to tell Adashi that white was not a good choice for Farfarello, since he tends to get messy. Adashi's response was that Farfarello should keep his appearance up since he is in such a prestigious group. I reminded Adashi that Farfarello is our hand-to-hand man, and Adashi dared me to contradict him one more time.

    It will not be my fault when Farfarello gets his brand new suit stained.

    Adashi enters the room in his own suit. He eyes each of us, his disgusted look sliding past Farfarello as if he doesn't exist. He said at dinner last night that he does not think Farfarello deserves a spot on the team, since he is Talentless. He suggested termination. I reminded him- quite calmly, I am glad to say- that Farfarello is an essential part of our team and was approved by the Council.

    I did not miss the look Farfarello turned on Adashi then- that assessing look he uses when sizing up his next victim.

    His gaze follows Adashi now. There is a patient look in his gaze- that "Just wait, just a little longer..." look.

    This is not going to be a fun job.

Part 11