Part Five

    I am bored.

    We've been here for two days and I'm ready to be gone again. Fuwigama's house is as simple as the man's mind. It's quite a change from Futori's, but a step up from our flat. There is nothing to do here, and Crawford has not given us permission to leave the property. The job would be a little easier if Fuwigama wasn't such a dry read. I wonder if we'll ever get the chance to deal with interesting targets. Nagi doesn't mind it as much as I do. After all, his laptop computer is here to keep him company. Crawford spends his days with Fuwigama. There is nothing left of the illness that was ruining him just a few days ago, nothing left to show that he ever was weak.

    That leaves Farfarello and I to entertain ourselves. Our psycopath is restless and ready to kill again. We can't afford him to screw the job up by letting his hunger for blood take over him. He does not wish to be restrained twenty-four seven, so that means when he's not shackled, he's with me. We've memorized the entire household and the grounds. I've even got some useless facts about the place's history stuck in my brain from where Fuwigama mistook himself for a tour guide on our arrival. Who cares what was renovated when and who originally built the house? I need a brain Q-tip.

    Farfarello retained some information, too, but only what he wanted to know. For instance, he's been fixed on one spot of Fuwigama's land. That is where we are headed now: to the northern border of the property. Fuwigama owns some horses, and Farfarello wants to see them. I would have thought it more appropriate if there were sheep. My Irish teammate wasn't thinking on the same frequency as I when I made that comment earlier: he merely agreed because he thought sheep seemed more pure than horses.

    "Hey," I say, calling Farfarello's attention to me as we reach the fence. I tilt my head towards the right and Farfarello looks. Fuwigama is at the gate with Crawford, reaching out to pet a horse that is standing obediently by him. I eye Crawford, imagining him in the getup from America's old Western movies. I pass the mental image to Farfarello, but he slides right past it as he turns his attention back on the majestic beasts in front of him. I sigh, crossing my arms over my chest. No one appreciates my humor.

    Farfarello leans against the fence and I laze against it beside him. He watches the horses with a rapt look that is a mix of fascination and predatory. His fingers close on the wood slats of the fence as he presses against it, single eye following the herd. I watch them with him for a few minutes, but I suppose he's easier to entertain than I. I'm ready to go before he is. I glance to the right to see Crawford and Fuwigama are still there. Now Fuwigama is on a horse, however, and I can hear his laughter as he says something he deems amusing. I swat his thoughts away from me, not interested in hearing anything to come out of that shriveled brain.

    /Farfarello likes the horses,/ I send to Crawford.

    ~They are competition horses. Don't let him touch them.~

    /Expensive, hm?/ I wouldn't give a nickel for any of them. /Maybe you should buy him one. Don't you think one would look nice in our den? It'd add a little something./

    ~Like piles of waste that you would clean up.~

    Ew. I don't like that mental image. I look back at Farfarello, sighing as if brokenhearted. "You can't have one, Farf. Maybe another day."

    He gestures, and I realize he has taken his knife out. "That one will die, anyway. It is sick."

    I peer at it. "It looks healthy to me."

    "It is sick," he repeats. "It might have to be killed."

    "You want the job, hm?"

    He ignores the question, eye sliding along the rest of the batch. Then he points his knife instead down the fence, in Fuwigama's direction. "He is sick."

    "Fuwigama's horse?"


    I peer at Crawford, tracing the shield's of the American's mind. It is no surprise that I can't get in. The faint weaknesses that had been there while he was ill are gone, and his barrier is as strong as it used to be. "The drugs are working," I tell Farfarello. "He's getting better."

    "Calm before the storm," Farfarello says simply, wetting his lips and sliding the flat of his blade along them. He turns his eye on the sick horse once more, but I know his mind is still on our leader. I gaze in Crawford's direction. Farfarello is known to be able to pick up on strange or subtle things that the rest of us miss out on. That is why he is not on downers all of the time. He'd be handicapped if he were on drugs, since most of the time what he notices is useful to us. This observation of his troubles me. Crawford looks healthy. He acts healthy. He's been sleeping and eating right. He has his wits together.

    Calm before the storm, hm? How could he get worse than the state he was in just a few days ago? I give a faint shrug, gazing towards the sky. "We'll keep an eye on him."


    I pour myself a mug of coffee, holding it by my face so I can inhale the steam. While Fuwigama doesn't have the same kind we usually drink, he doesn't have bad taste. I suppose it is his one good quality. I hear footsteps and turn, knowing without having to mentally check who it is. Before the first hour was over upon our arrival, we both knew where the coffee pot and its mugs were kept. Why break tradition just because of a change in location? I am about to sip at my drink again when Crawford enters the room, and my mug doesn't make it to my lips. Crawford is limping. It's faint, mind you, but I pick up on it as soon as he enters the room. He is favoring his right leg. A frown ghosts across my face as Farfarello's words from yesterday come to mind. Then it is hidden by an amused grin as I peer at him over my coffee mug. "Twist an ankle playing cowboy with Fuwigama yesterday?"

    He pauses beside the coffee pot, studying the mugs that hang from hooks beside it. As he reaches to select one, he brushes the mugs against each other. They clank noisily and I take a sip of coffee. His hand movements seem clumsy. Even the way he lifts the mug looks awkward, as if his hands are still asleep. "I slept on it wrong, I suppose," Crawford answers.

    "Your hands, too?" I lift an eyebrow at him. He sets his mug down and waits a moment before reaching for the coffee pot. In that moment, he turns his hands palms up to gaze at them. I am taken back in time to that morning Crawford tipped my mental scales. It began with a taunt on his fascination with his hands. I step towards Crawford, coming up alongside him, and set my mug on the counter. I stretch, peering at Crawford's face. "What did you see that day?" I ask. "What about your hands?"

    He doesn't answer. It's his way of saying it isn't my business. I reach out, running my fingertip along the rim of my mug. Crawford moves to pour his coffee. His hands are still clumsy. He's been up long enough that his hands should be awake more than this. It's like he can't get a good grip on the pot's handle. I watch for a few moments. If Crawford's awkwardness bothers him, he doesn't show it. His face is as serene as it can be, forever patient. I'll treasure that look of frustration he made the day he lowered himself to tell me to shut up. This expression is a far cry from that. "Farfarello has spotted a sick beast in Fuwigama's batch," I inform Crawford. He finally gets the pot and pours his mug. His other hand has to be used to keep the first steady. "There's a chance it could be saved."

    "He will probably just put it down," Crawford says simply. I watch him carefully as he puts the pot back. "If he took it to a vet, there's still the chance it will not recover to its full strength. With the risk and the bills, it is better to kill it and buy a younger beast."

    I turn to fully face Crawford, abandoning my mug to cross my arms loosely across my chest. "Do we follow his example?" Crawford looks towards me. I can't tell anything from his gaze. "Farfarello found two sick animals yesterday. The second was you." I lift my chin slightly. "You are Schwarz's lame horse. Cheers."

    I get the impression he's not surprised. A smirk is on my mouth, curling my lips. It is almost automatic at times like these. Inside I am still sorting things out. Crawford knew even when he started taking the drugs that this spurt of health wasn't going to last long. He knew he was still sick. I thought he was getting better. Nagi thought he was getting better. I almost feel like I've been played the fool. That doesn't happen often. I don't like it.

    Ah, who cares? Let Crawford get sick. He can fetch his own water now if he starts puking all over the place.

    "How long do you have?" I ask. It is almost a demand. "It doesn't interfere with the job, does it?"

    "I do not have a time," he answers, as if it doesn't bother him that he doesn't know how much longer he'll have until he caves in again. His response bothers me because this illness is affecting his gift. He _should_ know the time.

    I collect my coffee mug. We leave tomorrow night. If Crawford can hold out until then...good. If he crumbles on a job, that will not be good publicity. Not to mention the Council will be royally ticked that Crawford couldn't time things better. "I suggest you get your gift in order," I tell Crawford as I down the rest of my coffee. It has cooled considerably since Crawford entered. I put the empty mug in the sink for one of Fuwigama's servants to clean up. "When it comes to push and pull, it's not the sick horse that gets to pick whether it's shot or hospitalized. Will you still be useful or will it be easier to just replace you?"

    Crawford does not bother to look at me, so I can't be one hundred percent positive that he even heard me. Prick. I make a face at his back before stepping out of the kitchen. A short walk brings me to the den, where Nagi is glued to the couch. His notebook computer is open on his lap and his fingers are dancing over the keys. He looks up at my entrance long enough to identify me before he returns his gaze to the screen. He rarely uses this computer, saving it for extended trips away from our headquarters, as he prefers the desktop. When he does have it with him, however, he's not often seen without it. It keeps him out of trouble, and that's good.

    Nagi, trouble? Hm. I'll come back to that thought.

    I decide to let him in on Crawford's situation. The rest of us know, anyway. /We have to keep a close eye on Crawford,/ I tell him, crossing the room to drop myself on the chair. It is a very comfortable piece of furniture. I have decided I want one just like it. I drape myself across it, letting my legs dangle over one arm and propping my elbow on the other. Nagi continues to type, but his speed has lessened as he listens.

    ~He isn't well?~

    /Farfarello refers to this as the calm before the storm. Be prepared for anything./

    ~How long?~

    /You think I bothered enough to find out?/ I ask Nagi, raising an eyebrow at him when he lifts his eyes to mine once more.

    ~I was hoping you had enough sense to,~ is Nagi's quiet counter.

    /Do you really think Crawford would have come on this mission if he saw something was going to happen to him?/ I ask Nagi, and I watch his face as he considers this. He accepts it and turns back to his work. I mull over my question and give a mental sigh.

    Never gamble with such high stakes when you don't know if you'll win, Crawford.


    So far, so good. I lean lazily against one wall, eyes on Fuwigama. He received the disk just a few hours ago, and so far there haven't been any disturbances. He is busy at the computer, fingers moving over the computer. His fingers are not as skilled as Nagi's: his fingers plod where Nagi's dance. I wonder if it bothers Nagi to see such a lamebrain at a keyboard. I glance towards him where he is standing impassively just a few feet away, and my gaze continues along the room to find my other teammates. Farfarello is by the door, tracing the edge of a blade. His fingertips slide across it, caressing its surface almost reverently. His eyes follow his progress, his lips parting slightly as he breathes. He wants someone to come and challenge the disk Fuwigama has been given. He is ready to kill.

    Crawford is closest to the computer, towering over the seated man. The shine from the computer screen gives his glasses an intimidating glare. He gives the impression of someone not to be messed with. Impressions aren't always correct, however. My eyes slide down his form to his legs. His limp hasn't gone away. If anything, it seems to have gotten worse. The others have picked up on it. It caused a small problem with Farfarello. He has a predator's instincts. He spotted Crawford's sickness and his first impulse was to strike, to take out the injured and sick. Crawford saw him coming and had a gun waiting for him. It took the barrel pressed against Farfarello's throat for the teenager to snap out of it. Luckily, he recognized Crawford's superiority and acknowledged that the American could not be taken down so easily by dropping back to play with his knife.

    I find myself hoping that someone comes for the disk. Farfarello is too tightly wound, too restless. He's been thirsty for blood for days. Multiple homicides would calm him down considerably.

    Crawford turns, a possible smooth movement marred by the way his right leg doesn't seem to cooperate right. "Twelve are coming. Seven are going to take the kitchen entrance in and kill all of those there. Five will come in the back entrance by the gardener's shed."

    "Yes," Farfarello breathes, a soft hiss between his teeth. This is Farfarello's ecstasy: the build up of desire before a fight and the pure adrenaline rush and pleasure during one.

    "The cooks are preparing dinner in there," Fuwigama says worriedly, turning in his chair. "They're good people...Can't we warn them?" He looks towards me and I gaze back coolly. I'm not volunteering to hand out mental warnings to people that don't need to live. "Can't we?" he pleads again, and I allow myself to feel disgust- yet again- for this pathetic man.

    Crawford gives a slight wave of his hand, a command for Fuwigama to return to his work. He doesn't see the point of saving useless idiots, either. "When they strike, they will leave an opening," he says simply. Not that Farfarello needs an opening...He could drop into the middle of a highly alert group of mercenaries and come out on top. It sounds convincing, though. Fuwigama doesn't like the answer. I can see it on his face just as I can read it in his mind. He is feeling depressed over the imminent loss of his workers and friends. Friends? They are servants and extras. How did this guy manage to become a strong contact for Estet? Is it because he's so worthless that no one suspects him? I make a quiet sound of disdain, looking away from him. "Your work, Fuwigama-san," Crawford reminds our client firmly.

    "Yes," Fuwigama says after a pause. I hear the chair creak as he turns back to the computer. There is another hesitation before the sound of typing begins.

    Crawford turns his attention on Farfarello and me, letting his gaze linger on each of us for just a moment. A smirk curls my lips as I step away from the wall. Farfarello is already out of the room, ghosting down the hall. I don't need to be a telepath to know which entrance he's going to take. He wants the kitchen, where there are more people. And if the seven haven't shown up yet to attack the staff or not all of the staff is killed, well...Bonus for the Farf. I make my way down the staircase, taking my time. One hand fetches my gun from my pocket and I tap the barrel absently against my empty palm. While Nagi would be able to crush the intruders quicker, his presence is required upstairs with the computer in case Fuwigama doesn't know what he's doing.

    I reach out with my mind as I arrive at the bottom floor, doing a mental sweep along the house and shoving aside the useless minds. I am almost at the door when five minds that aren't supposed to be here register. I wait outside of the door, watching the doorknob and waiting for it to turn. I ease out of my body as they approach, sliding inside the minds of the five. I can see through their eyes as they draw near. One stumbles in the dark and swears. I snicker in his mind and he mutters that it isn't funny.

    Another glances his direction to ask him what he said. The first repeats it, annoyed. "I said it isn't funny. I can't see for shit out here."

    "What isn't funny?"

    /I thought it was funny,/ I offer up pleasantly.

    "You think it's funny?" The first turns to glare at the man behind him, who stares at him blankly.

    The man in front reaches the door and turns to fix the others with a chilling look. "Shut up."

    "Bang," I whisper aloud, aiming at the door and firing. There is a flurry of startled thoughts rushing against mine from the five I am leeching as one of their numbers staggers back from the door. I slip out of his mind and fire again, my aim perfect with the help of the extra sets of eyes. I step aside as they begin firing at the door, watching as the bullets shoot past me. They leave holes in the wall opposite the door and a vase bursts under the hail of ammunition. Water, glass, and flowers explode everywhere. It looks like a fireworks show. I reach out and calmly push over a small wooden stand next to me. The gardeners use it to hold their muddied shoes when they come in from working. It thunks loud enough against the floor that it might be a body. I put the suspicion of that in their minds and they slowly convince themselves that the shooter is killed and stop firing. Silence hangs over us for a long moment. The doorknob begins to turn when gunfire explodes on another part of the house, along with screams. Through their minds I catch snippets as alarms are yelled in the headsets connecting the groups. I tilt my head away from the door, focusing on the kitchen.

    These men have never been so terrified as they are now, faced with a pale demon. Farfarello is making pudding out of them. As much as I enjoy their mental and vocal screams, the noise in my mind is a bit much. I can barely hear my own thoughts over it. I set about detangling myself from them when gunfire rains down around me, crashing like thunder against my ears. Spitting curses at being caught unawares, I yank myself from everyone's minds, flitting backwards as fast as I can. Bullets follow and my jade eyes snap up, spotting a third group of intruders at the end of the hall. Fire erupts in my body and I realize I've been hit. Fuck!

    ~Schuldich?~ It is Nagi's voice, edged with what might be bewildered concern. Apparently my alarm made it onto the bond connecting Schwarz.

    I aim my gun at the end of the hall and fire. One handgun- no matter how nice it is- is no match for seven heavily armed men, however. I manage to take out one but that's still six against one. I reach the end of the hall, getting my wits together enough to shove my consciousness at them. It is enough to stun them momentarily, but it leaves me dizzy as well. I shoot forward, feet flying over the ground as I charge them. I will not be cornered here by the likes of them. Damn it, if only I hadn't been distracted by Farfarello's actions...Why didn't Crawford warn me of a third group?!

    I slam into the first guy full on, my speed enough to break his ribs and send us both sprawling to the ground. He's going to have serious difficulties getting back up.

    I'm on my feet quickly, but once up I have trouble staying there. Pain is flaring up in my side and leg and the five remaining men are recovering from the mental blow. I aim, squeezing off bullets in rapid fire as I flit backwards. Two are taken out and I shoot the one already down to make sure he stays there, but then the others are turning and aiming at me again. Behind them, I see the door open as the group I was sent to take out files into the hall. Lovely.

    The whole floor seems to shake and all six still standing are crushed against the floor. The pressure snaps their necks- clean deaths- and they lie lifelessly where they fell. I look up at the staircase. Nagi is at the top, leaning over the railing with one arm extended. I step towards him and stumble, off-balance. He heads down the stairs towards me, moving swiftly. I try to remember how to stay upright. Finally I decide it's too much trouble and sink down to sit on the bottom stair. Nagi crouches in front of me, fingers brushing over the two bleeding areas. He tugs at my shirt and I let him, putting my thoughts back in order. He pulls at his own sleeve when my shirt is out of the way, yanking the end of it over his hand. He uses it as a rag and brushes at my bloody skin, trying to find the wound.

    Farfarello comes up behind him, drenched with blood and bits of unidentifyable gore. His amber eye trails over me before moving to the bodies all over the floor. He experiences a moment of annoyance that there turned out to be more men on this side before it is brushed away. Even he knows what's more important here...He can do math, and seven from the kitchen and twelve here make a bit more than what Crawford told us. "More than five," he states.

    "No shit," I mutter.

    "Your ankle is swelling. I think you sprained it," Nagi says, fingering the injured joint, "and your shin is grazed." I'm going to guess I sprained my ankle in the initial retreat. His hand moves to my abdomen. "Two grazes here, more serious than your shin but not deep enough to cause serious damage. You also have several holes where bullets went straight through your clothes while you moved." He fingers one of the holes. "You have the devil's speed."

    "The devil's luck," I retort, watching as fresh blood wells up from the wounds he just cleaned. "There was too much noise to hear them coming. Where the hell is Crawford?"

    Nagi's lips thin and he looks up the stairs in the direction of the computer room. "Why didn't he see the third group?" he asks quietly.

    I gaze in that direction and feel a bit of bitter anger- even if it is foolish- that he didn't even show up to see the rest of us when his visions fell through. He could at least show up and look down the railing at us. I got injured because he didn't see the extra people. Talk about luck...It would not have been any trouble for those men to have killed me. I acknowledge and brush aside the fact that my distraction with Farfarello's work kept me from picking up on the third group's entrance. Crawford and I are going to have some words.

    At that moment Crawford appears at the railing. His eyes trail over us, meeting and holding my gaze. I narrow my eyes slightly, the glare enough to show him that I am not happy with him at the moment. He begins making his way down the stairs. Fuwigama follows and halts halfway down the stairs with a choked "Oh my," at the sign of so much destruction. He reaches towards me without moving. "Are you all right?"

    I'm peachy.

    Crawford reaches us, standing beside me. Our eyes are still locked together. His gaze is unreadable but passive. He breaks the contact to study my wounds. Nagi stands in a lithe movement. "Two wounds to the abdomen, one to the leg, and a sprained ankle," he tells Crawford.

    Crawford has the disk in one hand, and he lifts it. It is time for us to go. "Can you stand?" he asks me.

    I give a wave of my hand and Nagi backs away. I'm not stupid enough to try and stand on my own: I grab the railing with one hand before attempting to get to my feet. I can't put weight on one leg. It burns white hot and feels thick and heavy. My abdomen has stopped hurting and is now numb. My clothes are ruined. My team watches as I take a step forward. It is an awkward hop skip thing and it hurts. I throw a dark smirk Crawford's direction. "Now I walk like you," I tell him, the condescending amusement in my voice tainted with anger. He tilts his head slightly, startling me. It is an acknowledgement of my well-directed anger; it is an acknowledgement that he slipped up.

    The edge of my anger slips away and I start to grab at it before deciding it's not worth the effort. I feel a pressure on my injured side, helping to lift it, and glance in Nagi's direction. He is using his gift as a crutch for me. When I step forward, he helps swing the injured leg along. Crawford says a formal farewell to Fuwigama and heads towards the front door. The rest of us follow, leaving Fuwigama a slaughtered kitchen staff, a bullet-ridden kitchen and hall, and plenty of dead bodies to clean up.

    All in a day's work, really.


    Dinner seems to be quieter than usual that night. We haven't spoken to each other since we arrived at our place. We stopped at an Estet-owned clinic on the way home to get me cleaned up, and now I scratch idly at the bandages across my middle. My free hand uses my fork to shove the food around on my plate. I'm not all that hungry...Pain killers can do wonders to stub my appetite. Crawford does not seem to be hungry, either. He stands, finished, and a glance at his plate shows it to be mostly full. He limps in the direction of the sink, rinsing his meal down the garbage disposal and flicking it on. His plate is set neatly in the dishwasher and he leaves the room without a backward glance. I wait a few moments before rising, hobbling towards the garbage can and chucking my food in it. I want answers.

    I set my plate on the counter, ignoring the dishwasher as I set out after Crawford. His office door is closing when I reach it and I stick out my hand, pushing it back open. Crawford glances at me before limping towards his desk. We are going to be visited in a little bit by a contact who will bring the disk to where it needs to be. Right now it is secured in the bottom drawer of Crawford's desk, the drawer that has a lock. Two drawers above it is one that holds a nice handgun. I don't know why Crawford has it there. It's always been there.

    "You went to school, didn't you?" I ask him, sitting on the edge of Crawford's desk to take the weight off of my injured ankle. He doesn't answer. "I mean, you seem the type that would go to a private university and graduate number one. Going off this impression, I'd like to think that you know how to count."

    "I was fourth," Crawford corrects me.

    "I want to know how you got twelve from nineteen." He doesn't answer immediately, and in the pause I feel it's safe to assume that his lapse in power bothers him as well. "You shouldn't have come with us to Fuwigama's," I say flatly, crossing my arms gingerly over my chest. "You need to talk to the physicians again. I want to know what the hell is wrong with you. The Council is going to go up one side of you and down the other when they receive the report from the clinic we stopped at."

    His eyes flicker and his mouth twitches, but the distracted light to his eyes tells me this isn't a reaction to my words. I frown. Is he ignoring me? His lips part enough for a quiet, strangled breath and I blink, eyes narrowing slightly in confusion. He lifts a hand to his chest, pressing his fingers against the skin lightly. Suddenly he clenches his hand tightly on his shirt, doubling over and making thin gasps for air. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. "Crawford?" I ask.

    His shield splinters as his concentration shatters and I feel the full rush of his mind against mine. His thoughts seal against mine and I can feel his pain. He can't breathe. His chest is too tight for him to breathe. I reach for him, grabbing at his wrist. His pulse is beating way too rapidly to be normal. Is he having a heart attack?? I grab his shoulder with my other hand, giving him a small shake. "Crawford!"


Part 6