5: Einsam

      //Ist schon eine Weile her, seit wir uns das letzte Mal gesehen haben.//

      //Leider nicht lang genug.// Schuldich looked up from the plate that had just been placed in front of him, blue studying red. He and Einsam had been placed at opposite corners of the table on purpose; it made it harder for the other to come at his throat. Of course, since Einsam had already seen almost everything that could possibly happen at this dinner, there was a chance that the younger German had already found a way to get from his spot to Schuldich's with the least amount of trouble along the way. The boy had his elbow on the table and his cheek resting in his palm. He wasn't interested in the food given him; his eyes were fixed solely on Schuldich. Schuldich didn't have to be a telepath to be able to read those eyes; Einsam's eyes were always a little too expressive.

      'Traitor,' they said.

      ~He's really fucked you up good, Einsam…~ Schuldich reflected, reaching out to touch Einsam's mind. It'd been so long since he'd last danced around the Sequencer's thoughts. He wanted to know how the younger Talent was dealing with his power, what toll it was taking on his health. Einsam arched a thin eyebrow at him at the touch but didn't protest the gift that started probing this way and that. He hid a wince at the way the younger man's mind felt against his, trying to keep himself intact under the swirl of sequencing and bitter thoughts.

      "Look, Einsam," Meirth said, turning to the German youth at his side. He rested his arm around the Sequencer's shoulders, hand curving up so fingertips could brush little circles over Einsam's cheek. It got the German's attention immediately; he forgot about Schuldich in favor of turning his unique eyes on his leader. Schuldich moved his hand under the table to hide the way he was trying to gouge new holes in his palm, keeping his expression calm as he watched them. He knew the farce didn't make a lick of difference. Meirth could feel his anger and resentment and that was exactly why he was doing this. The Westerner didn't look his way, however, but tilted his face and Einsam's towards Kudou's. "Here he is in the flesh, the man who killed Rice."

      "Indeed…" Einsam murmured, his lips curving into that vacant, dreamy smile that was so unfamiliar. It was a hollow expression, the look of a sick mind. It made Schuldich's stomach clench and he concentrated on drinking from his glass rather than hurling it across the table at the black haired man sitting across from Kudou. He played with the mental image of it shattering against the man's head, glass shards tearing open his face. Meirth's smile twitched wider and Schuldich knew he was picking up on the hateful venom being sent his way.

      Beside him, Einsam rose from his seat, planting his hands in the middle of the table and leaning across it to study Kudou up close. Jesus, he was so thin. When did he lose so much weight? He was somewhere on the line between slender and too thin; the shirt did nothing to hide his shape and Schuldich knew Meirth had picked the outfit on purpose. His pants fit him snugly, just helping show off what he'd been reduced to in the past five years. His hair, once just past his shoulders, now was an incredible sight. His braid trailed along the table as he moved, his red eyes half lidded as he contemplated Kudou's face. Schuldich couldn’t help but wonder what his hair would look like loose. Beautiful, but Einsam had always been pretty. Beautiful, and sick. Dying.

      Going mad, twisted between his gift and Meirth's touch, and he would die with that dreamy smile on his lips and hatred in his eyes and there wasn't a thing Schuldich could do about it. Funny how it was still such a bitter thought after so long. After everything that had happened five years ago, everything that Einsam had helped to happen, he'd think he would have been able to look at Einsam's ruin with some small bit of satisfaction, however bitter.

      He doubted satisfaction tasted like bile on the back of one's tongue.

      Einsam lifted a hand, touching his fingers to Kudou's cheek. Schuldich took hold of Crawford's elbow, a silent order for the man to lean back slightly so he could see past him. Kudou was studying the face hovering just a few inches from his own with cool green eyes. Schuldich reached towards his mind, bringing his thoughts into focus.

      ~Something wrong with this one,~ Kudou was thinking. ~That smile is too wrong. It's sick. It's broken. Fucking creepy eyes, too, not just the color either. Look what's behind them.~

      There was a hiccup in Kudou's thoughts as he stopped to listen to something- Farfarello must be telling him something. Einsam leaned forward more, tilting his head up to press his lips lightly to Kudou's forehead.

      Balinese hit him.

      It was a sharp, upwards slap to the bottom of Einsam's chin, knocking his head up and away. Einsam wasn't at all alarmed by the hit, smile spreading wider as he gazed down at the Japanese assassin. Kudou tilted his head back to eye him, arching an eyebrow at the other man's face. "Do keep in mind that you have food set before you if you're hungry," he informed him.

      Schuldich sent a mental poke at Farfarello and almost winced away from the weight he found in the Irishman's thoughts. There were so many powers close by; the teenager's gift was touching all of them and right now was torn between Einsam's Sequencing and Schuldich's telepathy. The strain was noticeable, as Farfarello wasn't strong enough to play with two gifts at once- especially not two mental gifts like these. //His most likely choice of action was to bite Weiss,// Farfarello sent back, finding his knife and spinning it lazily between his fingers. //Most likely, so he needed to react to it.//

      Schuldich watched as Einsam gathered his braid up and moved backwards, sliding into his seat. Schatten had known that there were five men coming tonight- funny how that was such a loop. Einsam had seen five coming so had reserved eight seats. Schuldich had brought the fifth along because Einsam acted in such a way. It was just one of the hiccups in Einsam's gift, sometimes beneficial, sometimes a pain in the ass. Even though Schatten knew how many were coming, they didn't know what gifts. Einsam hadn't been expecting a Sensitive. It was one thing for Schuldich to be able to read him. It was another for someone to bleed off his gift to find his own most likely actions and react before they'd happened.

      Meirth stretched and crossed his arms behind his head, sending the table a critical look. "I don't know how you ever survived here for a year and a half. The language is atrocious, the food is twice as bad, and the bicycles are insane. I haven't been here but a few days and I'm disgusted with it already."

      "If it's so terrible, you can remove yourself from the country."

      Meirth smiled at Crawford's words, lifting murky yellow eyes to lock with honey ones. "Not until I get what I came here for," he said, and Schuldich knew the empath was finally ready to talk business. He wasn't altogether surprised when those bastard's eyes slid towards his. "You have something that I want. I won't leave until I get it."

      "Guess you should start learning Japanese, Meirth," Schuldich offered, keeping his expression cool even as the thought of being Meirth's again twisted his stomach into ragged little shreds.

      "You let Rice die," Nagi said, fixing his eyes on Einsam. "Why would you let one of Schatten be killed?"

      "Rice was an aggravation for Einsam," Meirth said with a shrug, reaching over to play with the younger Talent's hair. Schuldich eyed his fork, wondering if it made a good projectile. "It's better for us if he's gone and it's all too easy to find another replacement."

      "What makes you think Rosenkreuz is going to give you anything after you've flouted their orders and come here?"

      "What makes you think we're going to Rosenkreuz for it?" Meirth returned easily.

      Schuldich was up from the table so fast he knocked his glass over, turning furious blue eyes on the American at his words. Arrogant fucking bastard, thinking he could waltz all the way over here and ignore Rosenkreuz's orders, come here and make himself comfortable and tell Schwarz to their faces that he'd let Rice die so he could take one of their own away from them! Hatred curled thickly in his stomach, tainting the words he spoke. "Hell no," he snapped.

      Schatten looked amused. "He's been Schwarz's for six years," Meirth said, flicking his fingers towards the stunned Nagi. Kudou was looking between Schatten and Nagi, trying to put two and two together. "I think it's about time he looked for a unit that would better appreciate his talents. Besides, it's a generous offer on our part. There won't be anything left of Schwarz by the end of this. We're offering to let him live, even made room for him so there won't be a big fuss or shuffling or paperwork back at Rosenkreuz. Why send him back there to be fought over when he could be assigned to a unit that he's familiar with?"

      "How kind of you." Crawford's voice was cool.

      Nuboshi tilted his head back, turning a lazy smile on Schuldich. "If we let you live, the two of you can play together. Not sure he'll like you much after we're done with him, though. You seem to have a problem with losing friends."

      Schuldich was only absently aware that he'd started moving; all of a sudden Farfarello was on his feet, one arm out to block Schuldich and the other hand clenched in the back of the German's shirt. Schuldich knocked Farfarello's arm away and the Irishman grabbed his elbow instead. Schuldich chose to forget he was there, hand snapping out as he tried to get hold of the Japanese assassin sitting across from Crawford. Nuboshi dodged it easily, a taunting smirk playing on his lips. Meirth, beside him, was watching Schuldich with lazy amusement, pleased at how riled the telepath was so early into dinner. At the far side of the table, Einsam made a "Keh" noise and turned his red eyes away from the older German with some disgust.

      "*Fuck* you, Meirth," Schuldich snarled, turning his furious eyes on the empath.

      "Sit down, Schuldich," Farfarello told him, pulling at his elbow and ignoring Schuldich's attempt to pull his arm free.

      "Yes, Schuldich. Sit down." Meirth flicked his fingers towards Schuldich's chair, smile spreading wider on his lips. He was completely unconcerned by the younger man's hatred, confident that he would come out on top if the telepath were to come at him.

      "Sit down," Farfarello said before Schuldich could speak. "You can kill him later."

      "Can he?" Meirth asked, turning his eyes on Farfarello.

      The Irishman was ignoring him, reaching up to catch Schuldich's chin. He forced the German's head to one side to face him and Schuldich turned his glare on his teammate instead. //Sit down,// Farfarello sent at him. //Don't start a fight here.//

      //We can take them here,// Schuldich sent back at him, mental voice angry. //Right now. Let's settle this and kill the fuckers.//

      //We can't,// Farfarello said simply. //Meirth is touching Nagi. I can lessen it but not get rid of it. He won't attack Schatten with his gift. The empath has had a hold of him since we walked in here. If you strike Meirth, it will turn into a mess. Wait until later.//

      //Get Meirth's gift off. You say you can't. Try harder. You can.//

      //Can't,// was Farfarello's answer, and Schuldich caught the thread of frustration in the word. It was that bit of emotion that helped him calm down, that made him take a deep breath and think. Farfarello's gift was strained; he wasn't used to being around so many powers. He was keeping track of three people constantly over the dinner: Schuldich, Einsam, and Kudou. On top of the telepathy and sequencing, he was bleeding Meirth's empathy to guard the team and keep Meirth from weaving anything too deeply into their teammate. Farfarello had never been through Rosenkreuz; he didn't have the training to do so many things at once. Just feeling the teenager's mind hurt. Schuldich couldn't imagine how it felt for his teammate.

      At last Schuldich gave a slight, tight nod and sat down. Farfarello released him and resettled himself in his chair. Nuboshi looked interested, and turned his dark eyes on Farfarello. The Irishman opted to ignore him, sipping at his cup of water. Meirth laughed, helping himself to some of his dinner. He smiled at Schuldich as he cut his meat, an unpleasant curling of his lips.

      "I remember when you used to be so calm," Meirth commented. "It was hard to push enough buttons to get you to show your anger. You'd resort to everything except your temper. But today all it takes is a few words. Something tells me that you're holding a grudge." He chewed idly on some meat, tugging lightly at Einsam's bangs. The other man turned his head back obediently at the summons and Meirth tilted his face forward. Schuldich felt his blood run cold as Meirth kissed the younger German. He was dimly aware of fingers digging into his leg under the table in a warning not to get up again- one hand on each thigh, from two different people. His entire world had narrowed down to those red eyes sliding closed, murky with contentment.

      He was going to be sick.

      Meirth straightened, and Einsam turned back to his meal, chewing idly on something. Meirth had passed him the meat in the kiss. Schuldich took a quiet, long breath, trying to calm the rolling of his stomach. The need to be violently ill somewhere warred with the need to kill that Western bastard, equal in intensity. The American empath looked back towards him, his smile cruel, his eyes pleased. "Does this have anything to do with my precious Einsam here?"

      "What have you done to him?" Schuldich breathed.

      "Only what he begs me for," came the easy response.

      //Crawford, get us the fuck out of here. Get us out of here before I kill him.//

      "Must not be much," Kudou remarked. Schuldich glanced that direction, feeling it safest for everyone if he didn't look at the empath right now. Weiss's eldest had his elbow on the table, his chin resting in his hand. One finger idly traced the rim of his cup and he was studying Meirth. His expression was politely confused, but his words had an edge to them that was pure mockery. "I can't imagine anyone coming begging to you for anything. You're definitely not attractive enough."

      "You're pretty bold for such a low ranked Sensitive," Meirth mused. Einsam turned a flat look on the Balinese.

      "I'm just calling it as I see it, cracker," was Kudou's careless response.

      "Cracker," Meirth repeated slowly.

      Kudou tilted his head towards Einsam then, an unimpressed look on his face. "Have a problem, kid?"

      Einsam tilted his head to one side, studying Kudou a moment. A small smile curved his lips, a thin expression. "Not for long," he answered, words a murmur.

      "I'll make a note to feel threatened." Kudou looked towards Crawford then. "How long are we here for, anyway? We've listened to and subsequently ignored their list of demands. I'm too tired to put up with pissing contests today."

      "Agreed." Crawford turned to Meirth. "Unless you have any further ridiculous requests, we'll be leaving."

      Meirth offered a thin smile. "Until next time, Braddyn."

      Schwarz rose as one. Crawford led the way to the door, Nagi behind him. Schuldich and Farfarello were almost side by side, and Kudou took up the rear. Schuldich touched his mind lightly, listening to the swirling thoughts going on there as Kudou considered the evening. He found his shoes and followed his team towards the front door, letting go of the Japanese assassin to consider his own unpleasant thoughts. He was only dimly aware of Farfarello's arm brushing his as they walked, his mind circling around the short reunion with Schatten.

      They were halfway across the parking lot when a strangled cry stopped them in their tracks.


      Slowly they turned, looking back towards the restaurant. Einsam was standing just a few feet outside of the door, face twisted with pain as he stared at Schuldich. The younger German took a small step forward and Schuldich let his gift sharpen Einsam's mind. Meirth had twisted the hold he had on the Sequencer, lifting everything he'd put into place to briefly free everything that had been crushed underneath. Pain, desperation, and fear curled around Einsam's thoughts and he took another hesitant step forward.

      ~Don't leave me, don't leave me here with them please don't leave me—~

      Schuldich took a step back towards him and was stopped by a hand on his elbow. He looked back to see Crawford there. The American's face was smooth, his expression guarded. He gave just the slightest shake of his head. "We're going," he said.

      Schuldich looked back towards Einsam.

      ~Don't leave me again, please don't leave me behind…~

      "Schuldich," Farfarello said.

      Schuldich took a step back, watching the way Einsam's eyes darkened with pain when he realized the telepath was walking away, feeling the pain that lit the other Talent's thoughts. He took a deep breath, took another step back, and turned away.

      "Erik-" Einsam tried again.

      Schuldich didn't look back. He got into the passenger's seat, waiting as the rest of his team and Kudou got in. Crawford turned the key in the ignition and they drove away. Schuldich kept his gaze pointed down at his lap, where his fingers were laced together tight enough to choke the blood from them. He felt Einsam struggle towards their link, trying desperately one last time to reach him. And then Meirth's gift rose up around the other's mind again and Einsam's touch fell away. Schuldich cursed, a ragged, quiet sound, and reached up to rake his bangs out of his face.

      "Damn him," he murmured. "*Damn* him."

      No one was stupid enough to comment, and the ride was made in silence.


      Yohji was too lost in thoughts to realize he wasn't being taken back to his apartment until the car stopped and he realized they were at a small one story house. He blinked, staring out the window at it, wondering where he was. Schwarz was getting out, and he hesitated before following. He didn't know if now was the best time to demand to know what was going on. The car ride had been tense; Schuldich had not reacted well to the dinner at all and Yohji still wasn't sure what exactly had taken place after they'd left the restaurant. Dinner had been an adventure in itself. Farfarello had been constantly pushing tidbits towards him, little ragged bits of info for Yohji to know and react to. His verbal insults towards Meirth at the end of the meal had had nothing to do with what Farfarello told him and everything to do with the way Schuldich was reacting. He'd never seen Schuldich lose it so quickly.

      Dinner had been a test, a battle of its own. And Schwarz had lost.

      Everything at that table had revolved around Schuldich- and that red-eyed boy across from Nagi. There was something there that tied the two groups together, something old and strong. Yohji didn't know what it was but it had been obvious that the center of all grudges between the two groups lay between those two men. Yohji had wanted out of there before Schuldich lost it and started a fight right in the middle of the restaurant. After what he'd been told about the other group, he was in no hurry to watch Schwarz duke it out with them. He was glad Crawford didn't shrug off his request to leave.

      But where had they left to?

      "Come on," Nagi called without looking back.

      "But where…?" Yohji wanted to know, the question trailing off as Crawford unlocked the door and let them in. He followed behind them uneasily, shutting the door behind him and automatically locking it. He felt a chill run down his spine. Was he really standing in Schwarz's house? Jesus, it gave him the willies.

      "Go," Nagi said, pointing at a doorway and looking back at Yohji. "Sit there until we figure out what to do with you."

      "Going home sounds like a good idea," Yohji said.

      "Not possible right now," was the telekinetic's answer, "not after you just made Einsam mad. He's going to be watching you. Sit down and be quiet." With that, he went a little further down the hall and vanished into another room. Yohji hesitated a moment longer, debating whether or not to just leave by himself. At length he started forward towards the room Nagi had indicated. If the other assassin was watching him, going home would put his friends in danger.

      The room turned out to be a kitchen, and Yohji sat down at the table, lacing his fingers together on the tabletop. He tried to distract himself from his location by considering the evening, turning everything over in his head. He could hear voices as Schwarz talked, but he couldn't understand the words themselves. Schuldich's voice was sharp with anger, a contrast to the three calmer voices talking to him. The German started taking over the conversation; as time passed the other three voices died out. Schuldich's voice was just growing angrier, even without the input, and Yohji decided they were letting him get it all out of his system. Then there was a crash and the sound of shattering glass, and dead silence.

      ~Yes, I would really, really like to wake up now.~

      Several minutes passed in silence before he heard footsteps moving away from him in the hall, and a door shut. About a minute later, Crawford appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. He didn't acknowledge Yohji immediately, instead pouring himself a glass of water from a water pitcher in the fridge. He brought his cup towards the table, pulling out the chair opposite of Weiss's Balinese, and Yohji straightened as the other assassin seated himself. They studied each other in silence for a while and Yohji wondered what more Schwarz could possibly want from him. He wondered how long they were going to make him pretend like this, and if they were going to kill him afterwards because he knew too much. It seemed the most likely thing for them to do.

      When Crawford didn't say anything, Yohji finally spoke up. "Nagi says I'm not going home."

      "Not tonight, no," was the response. "Not after Einsam threatened you. We are not sure as yet how useful it will be to string Schatten along with you, but until we know how much difference you can make we will keep you alive."

      "I guess I'll know when my usefulness runs out when I turn around and find one of them standing there to kill me," Yohji mused.

      Crawford didn't deny it or agree with it, not like Yohji expected him to respond. "You did well enough at dinner," the American said at last.

      "I'm flattered," was the dry response, and Yohji reached up to tuck his hair behind his ears. He knew Crawford's words weren't intended as a compliment; they were just his assessment of the evening and Yohji was supposed to take his response to it in mind if he and Schatten crossed paths again. He was a little relieved by the foreigner's words. He hadn't known where the line was that he shouldn't cross in talking to Schatten. Insulting both Meirth and Einsam to their faces was rather stupid for his health but at least he didn't have to deal with their new grudge against him on top of Schwarz's disapproval. On any other day he wouldn't care what Schwarz thought about him. Staying on their good side was important right now if he wanted to stay alive, as Crawford had just told him they would protect him until they deemed him useless.

      ~Mental note: stay useful.~

      "Since you're going to get me killed after this is all done anyway, perhaps you'd be generous enough to explain what the hell went on at dinner," he said, feeling a bit bold with this new revelation that Schwarz still needed him in some way. The words came out a bit edged, however, giving away how stressed he was about this whole situation.

      Crawford didn't seem particularly interested in him, taking his sweet time to answer. He didn't respond until his glass was half empty, honey brown eyes studying Yohji's face. "You will be told more when it is better for you to know," he said at last. "You'll be told when it is beneficial, not when it eases your curiosity to know. It's not necessary for you to understand everything. It is only necessary that you behave appropriately."

      "And if I choose not to?"

      "You don't have any other choice," the American reminded him. "You've piqued Schatten's interest both by your attitude and your gift. Meirth does not deal well with being insulted about his looks and Einsam is going to feel threatened by our having a Sensitive. We could not have passed you off as anything else with Farfarello here, but it means that they are going to be keeping a close eye on you. It will take Einsam a while to pin you down enough to Sequence you properly; until that time we will need to take certain precautions. A Sequencer is part precognition, part intuition. Most of what they can determine is based off of who the person is that they are tracing. They know the most likely ways that person is going to respond. It is generally easy for Einsam to track Schuldich and myself, as we have known each other for so long. Nagi he is still getting a hold of. He will try you next, and Farfarello last. We are going to make him expect things of you, give him things to work with that are not really a part of your normal behavior and activity. While that is being set in place, you will remain here." He gestured towards the table, indicating the house itself.

      "I can't stay here," Yohji said, frowning at him. "You're Schwarz. I'm Weiss. I have two jobs and a team that expects me to be around."

      "Take leave of them," Crawford said simply, as if it was as easy as that. "Your concept of Schwarz and Weiss is pointless right now. Things have shifted too much and you have gotten yourself dragged into this too far for your preconceived misconceptions to hold much weight."

      "How do you expect me to react?" Yohji demanded. "I didn't *drag* myself into this. I had a mission. I killed that man because he was there, not because I knew who and what he was. I figured he was just some random ally of Hasagawa's. I found Schuldich, yes, and I brought him home. I brought him home because I still have a conscience," and he sounded the word out, as if Crawford was unfamiliar with the term, "because I couldn't have just *left* him there like that. It was your idea to drag me into this mess and now you expect me to just smile and nod and do whatever the fuck you say. You command Schwarz. They follow your orders. But I'm not yours, and I'll only listen to you to keep my friends safe. I won't respect you and I won't fear you."

      "It doesn't matter to me what you think of my team or myself," Crawford informed him. "All that matters is that you said you'll listen. If you do cause trouble for us, your team will die. Whether it's Schwarz or Schatten that gets to them first has yet to be seen."

      Yohji considered him in silence for a long moment, turning those words over in his head. "You're threatening me," he said at last, words quiet.

      "Perceptive," Crawford answered. "You will be sleeping in Farfarello's room tonight."

      "I'll *what*?"

      "While you're awake, Meirth will try less to get a hold of you with his power. He is more likely to poke around while he thinks you're asleep. Farfarello will be up tonight to watch over you and Nagi with his gift."

      Yohji shook his head, but before he could get an answer out, Farfarello appeared in the doorway. The Irishman's yellow eye was hooded as he studied Yohji. After a moment of cool scrutiny he tilted his head towards Crawford. Crawford turned his own head to the side slightly, not enough to see over his shoulder but in some sort of acknowledgement of his younger teammate. Yohji looked from one to the other, uneasy green eyes lingering on Farfarello. Did Schwarz really expect him to sleep in that psycho's room? If he got up the nerves to even go near that cretin's room, there was no way in hell he'd be able to relax enough to get sleep.

      At least Farfarello didn't look particularly thrilled by the arrangement, either.

      "Get up," he said.

      "I'm comfortable," Yohji returned.

      Farfarello tilted his head to one side, considering Yohji for a long moment. Suddenly the chair was knocked out from under Yohji and he found himself flat on the back, staring up at the ceiling- and then at Farfarello's face when the man leaned over him just a breath later. Farfarello had his hands resting right above his knees as he stared down at Yohji. Yohji wanted to touch the back of his head and make sure it wasn't bleeding; he'd cracked it on the linoleum floor in the fall. Somehow he didn't think moving with this monster standing over him was the best idea in the world, however, so he remained still.

      "Not anymore," Farfarello said at last.

      Yohji considered this, decided it was true, and accepted that he'd rather listen than start a fight. Farfarello's mouth was pulled into a thin, hard line, and his yellow eye was cold. Yohji could read the tension in the line of his shoulders and decided that Farfarello was either uptight or ready to spring. He was willing to bet it was the latter, so he pushed himself up. Farfarello vanished out of the room on silent footsteps. Yohji opted not to look towards Crawford but sullenly followed after the white-haired freak, trailing behind him down the hall. Farfarello stopped before a door, twisted the knob with an almost savage force, and shoved it open. He made no move to enter, instead looking towards Yohji. Yohji realized that meant he was supposed to enter first and with one last thought about how unwise it was to put that man at his back and how much he didn't want to step into Farfarello's bedroom, he moved through the doorway.

      He was two feet in when the door slammed behind him, and he jumped as if he'd been shot, whirling around. Farfarello had not followed him in. Yohji glanced around the room, taking in its generally tidy appearance, a little surprised by the lack of chains and mess. After a few moments of surveying the place, he settled himself between the bed and the dresser, lowering himself to sit in the gap between them. With his back against the wall he felt more protected, and he tucked his legs up to his chest, folding his arms over them as he looked around the room.

      It was going to be a seriously long night.


      Crawford watched as Farfarello returned to the kitchen, taking the last few sips from his glass. The Irishman was moving restlessly around the room, looking for something without really knowing what he needed. He opened shelves and shut them again, tugged open drawers and slammed them back into place. Finally Crawford rose from his spot, depositing his glass in the sink for the moment to set up the coffee pot. Farfarello moved around him, eyeing the contents of the fridge. As he was pushing the door back into place he coughed, a hard enough hack that he stopped in what he was doing, his body unconsciously curling forward and his hand flying up to catch the blood that flew from his mouth. He remained as he was for a few breaths, studying the warm crimson puddle in his palm, before straightening and moving towards the sink. Crawford reached out and pushed the refrigerator door back into place as his younger teammate rinsed his hand off and wiped at the back of his mouth.

      "When this finishes, drink it," he said, flipping the switch for the coffee pot now that everything was set up. Farfarello glanced towards him and then the coffee maker. "It's set for two cup. Drink all of it; it will help with that."

      Farfarello didn't bother to answer, moving away from the sink. He snagged Kudou's fallen chair with his foot and kicked it back upright, one hand catching it and straightening it. He seated himself in it, folding his arms together on the table, and Crawford glanced over his shoulder at the teenager before setting his glass in the dishwasher. The Irishman was uptight, his gift rubbed raw from being around so many Talents tonight. Schwarz had never had a chance to expose him to so many to train him; they'd never expected that they would need him to be able to handle such powers. Now the Irishman's gift was bruised and it left the man himself feeling queasy and tense. Farfarello wasn't used to overstretching his gift like that, and Crawford knew from the set of the man's face that it left the Irishman in a black mood.

      "And Schuldich?" he asked.

      Farfarello just gave a sharp shake of his head. Crawford accepted this in silence, watching the coffee brew. When it was done he poured it into a mug and brought it over to the table, leaving it at the Sensitive's elbow. Farfarello made no move to take it immediately, studying the table top and staring through it into his own thoughts. Crawford stood beside him for a moment, studying the jagged white hair. Farfarello had brought to this team specifically for Schuldich. Schuldich had known what it meant to have a Sensitive around, and he'd done it anyway. He'd brought the man straight here and Farfarello was more Schuldich's than Schwarz's. The two of them interacted much more with each other than with the rest of the team. Farfarello's gift let him understand Schuldich, and even though the German sometimes reacted negatively to the invasion of his own personal privacy, it had been his decision to accept Farfarello in the first place.

      But working with Schuldich for three years didn't give Farfarello all the answers he needed for this, didn't give him everything he needed to watch his older teammate start to unravel at the seams. So Crawford left him there with his coffee and his thoughts, leaving to give the Irishman time to fix his gift and consider the evening. Crawford returned to the den to find Nagi hadn't moved. The telekinetic was curled up sideways in Schuldich's chair, staring off into space. Crawford seated himself in his own chair, lacing his fingers together in his lap and waiting.

      Nagi's fingers twitched tighter on his legs, eyes dark and determined, mouth pressed into a hard line. "I won't let them have me," he said at last, barely audible. "They can't have me. I'm Schwarz's."

      "They won't get you," Crawford told him.

      "Did you see that coming?" Nagi asked, voice soft, humorless.

      Crawford chose not to answer.

My eternal thanks to Katja-san, who translated the German for me. Like before, I've quoted her words out of my e-mail.
"Ist [schon] eine Weile her, seit wir uns das letzte Mal gesehen haben. It's [already] been a while, since we've last seen each other. Use the "schon" if it's really a longer time." I figured five years was enough to merit the "schon."

Schuldich's response to that was "Unfortunately, not long enough."

Part 6
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