Crawford ignores my muttered obscenities, disentangling me from him so he can get out of bed. I glare up at him from my new spot on the mattress, squinting through my messy hair to show him how annoyed I am. It was a late night last night, between welcoming Crawford back to Takatori’s place and studying Fujimiya Ran. Now it’s 6:00 in the bloody morning, I’ve had just a couple hours of sleep, I was comfortable, and Crawford wants his coffee.
Crawford’s lips twitch into the barest of smiles at my expression, allowing me to see his amusement. I bury my face in the sheets, lifting a hand to flip him the bird. Inside, the aggravation is melting away. It’s still a tiny bit odd to see Crawford’s little smiles, and it does wonders to make him look younger. Crawford moves to get his robe and I sigh my defeat into an uncaring and quickly cooling mattress before staggering to my feet myself. I follow behind him down the hall, close enough that I can tilt my head forward and rest my forehead against his shoulders as we walk. Crawford stops at the coffee pot and I’m content to remain where I am. I can feel his shoulder blades moving under his skin as he moves to pour two mugs and the feeling is oddly relaxing.
He turns then and I am forced to straighten, lifting both hands to take my mug from him. He studies me for a moment, amusement still lingering in his gaze. “Your hair is always such a mess afterwards,” he informs me.
I know what it must look like; it’s hanging like a wild rat’s nest around me. It’s like my personal announcement: ‘Look! Schuldich got fucked last night!’
“Whose fault is that?” I ask, arching an eyebrow at him. I take a sip of coffee to try and coax life back into tired limbs before reaching past him to put it down. Next is a very painful process of trying to put my hair back in sorts using my fingers as a comb. Crawford sips at his coffee, watching as I wince my way through the procedure. At last he sets his mug aside and moves forward to help. I pause for a moment, fingers going still in my tangles, when I feel him start to pick at the knots.
It’s the little things that throw me about our relationship, the little things he does that make me feel both uneasy and strangely content. There are things about us that I don’t understand, that a part of me is still hesitant to look full in the face. It’s very new, even if most of it is very nice. The sex is good, the body heat at night is good…It’s strange to suddenly have someone to watch for when they leave. It’s strange to wait for someone to come back. I wonder if I’ve always sought him out in a room so often with my gaze, or if it’s something new I’ve picked up. It’s these things, these little details, that make me question what’s going on.
Everything about my life has become a question, and I don’t have enough answers for any of them. Schreient, the Takatoris, Nagi, Farfarello, our samurai and his companions, the future, Crawford and I…
There are so many things that have to get dealt with, and it’s all too convenient to accept this relationship at face value and let it fall to the bottom of my list of things to deal with. From one angle, I suppose that’s where it belongs when we’re gambling with our lives and sanity against the Council. At another… we’ll only live through this if our group is working as well as it used to, but nowadays we’re working together in a different way and the bumps from our changes have to be smoothed out.
I don’t know whether to reflect that it was simpler a year ago or that it’s better but riddled with uncertainties now.
So I say nothing, allowing Crawford to help me pick my way through my hair. Even with four hands it takes a while. I let him finish up the last bit, reaching out to retrieve my coffee as he calmly picks through the last knot. The care I refused to show Farfarello yesterday in tending his wounds is here now; Crawford is careful not to yank as he lightly pulls the orange strands free from each other. I sip at my coffee cup, gazing ahead of me to where Crawford’s mug rests. He finishes and reaches past me to get his own mug, and we stand in silence, him behind me and out of view.
“What does the Fat One want us to accomplish today?” I ask, employing a great tactic that many people use when they don’t want to deal with something difficult or uncomfortable- pretending it doesn’t exist. I am Schuldich, I am the Mastermind. I am supposed to be on top of things; I am supposed to be arrogant and in control.
“He’s winning over the western powers between the combined efforts of Schwarz and Hirofumi’s resort,” Crawford answers easily, and pauses then to take a sip of his drink. “He only needs a handful of the eastern politicians to favor him and he’ll have the upper hand when election time comes. If it weren’t for Masafumi causing such a stir he would have visited them already. He put the levers in place long ago; now he just needs to shove them.”
“Considering his weight, I don’t think it’ll take much of a shove,” I comment, fingertips dancing along the rim of my mug in thought. It’s a good thing Takatori is rich…In the land of tiny people, he needs to be able to afford custom clothing. Feh…repulsive pig. I turn my head to one side, not far enough to put Crawford in view. “I find it entertaining that Masafumi went from being the chosen one to the one that’s so out of control enough to be expendable.”
“The man has always been expendable,” Crawford corrects me easily. ‘Everyone is,’ is the unspoken follower. “His work isn’t. The chemicals you retrieved when you were under Aine’s command were for him; he has been using them to aid his studies. His work is needed for when they are finally in place for immortality.”
“Monsters in soul first, then in body,” I retort. I have a headache; it’s a combination between little sleep, my rough treatment of my tangles, and the fact that my trapped chorus of thoughts is always loudest in the morning. I close my eyes briefly, willing the pain away. “Maybe you didn’t notice what happens to the people that take Masafumi’s toxins. Why would Estet crave such a thing?”
“It’s an incomplete formula, and no matter what he does will remain that way. There is a key to it, a required element that he cannot provide. Estet will take his work and let him live until it is complete, and then they will finish it on their own.”
“And I suppose Masafumi doesn’t know that he’s missing something.” The thought amuses me, and I smirk into my cup. “What of Schreient?”
“They are dogs chained to their master’s hand. When their master is gone for good…”
“The dogs will be shot as well,” I finish. I swallow the rest of my coffee in one, hot gulp and set it on the counter. By now it has probably become a routine for Nagi to walk in, put my mug in the dish washer, and help himself to some breakfast. He doesn’t even have to lift a finger to do it…it just takes a stray thought. I contemplate what it would be like to have telekinesis, at the wonderful things it would mean for someone as lazy as me. In the end I decide it’s healthier to have telepathy; I would have turned into a fat slug long ago if I didn’t have to walk around to do things on my own. I can see me now, a 300 pound potato sitting on a couch, changing the channels on the television with barely a thought.
My mug is red…I run my finger along the handle. It’s the perfect shade of red, the color of freshly spilled blood. We keep it out of Farfarello’s way; it’s rather fortunate that he doesn’t drink coffee. If he knew this mug existed he’d probably carry it around all day. Or, considering his new moody self, he would shatter it and use the shards to tear his skin open in ragged lines.
“He’s looking for something…” I say, realizing after I’ve spoken that I’m starting a conversation picking up where my thoughts left off. I don’t bother to clarify myself; Crawford will figure it out. I reach up, presumably to brush my bangs out of my face, instead to run fingers along a throbbing forehead. “He’s looking for answers to questions he doesn’t even know yet. It has to do with pain, but I don’t know what. There’s something there that he’s trying to figure out, but if he doesn’t know where to start he’ll never find the end.” I turn around to face Crawford, my mouth for once a calm line, my eyes serious. “Keep an eye on him, Crawford. He’ll have his answers or I’ll have to twist something to keep him from inadvertently destroying himself.”
I don’t wait for an answer; I slide past Crawford and head down the hall. My towel is lying in a crumpled heap on the floor just a couple feet from where Crawford’s hangs neatly on a hook. I tote it into our private bathroom and close the door behind me, draping my towel from the bar on the door. I prop my hands on the marble counter and stare at my reflection. Green eyes hold a steady gaze; an expressionless face stares back at me. And I let my gift crumble, let the walls shatter as if they were just glass. It breaks apart like a stained glass window, the pieces falling in neat little planes, all different colors and just a mess when not put together to make a design. I let them fall away and give them a push out, a small tidal wave against the waking minds of Tokyo, against the rising of a samurai and the incoherent dreams of a political tyrant, against a madman and his dolls, against a girl who dreams of cornflower blue eyes and wheat colored hair. The wave acknowledges these familiar minds and then ignores them, sliding past until they are on their own and only instincts from years of training will bring them back to me.
Schreient again. Bleh.
We’re watching them again while Crawford hangs out with Takatori at the estate. I don’t see why _he’s_ too good to come out here and stare at these airheads like us. I’m quite capable of scanning them from back there, I don’t see why I have to waste valuable gas to drive out here and watch them pretend like they’re bodyguards.
Have I mentioned that I don’t like them?
We’re out here because of Nagi. Well, more specifically, we’re here because of Tater Tot. I don’t understand. For that matter, Crawford doesn’t understand fully either, but he’s going to follow this through so that he can figure it out. There’s something about the Tot that Crawford wants, but he’s not sure what. He just sees that Nagi’s capable of getting it, that he’s capable of getting through what my gift can’t. I don’t see how a telekinetic is supposed to excel where a telepath fails, but feh, what does it matter? Crawford brought Nagi into the bond before we left and told him that he needs Nagi to check Tot out for himself; he wants the boy to talk to her. Nagi didn’t see what good it would do, but he agreed to try and get close.
Of course, he doesn’t remember those instructions now. He just feels the need to go talk to her. It’s amusing; he’s confused by the interest he has in her presence. This could earn me hours of entertainment… It wouldn’t be so bothering for Nagi if he knew that he was being sent there by Crawford, but I suppose Crawford kept it to the bond only so Nagi’s interactions will be more honest and less of an act. Personally, I think Tot is too much of a fluff to think Nagi’s attentions are false, but no one ever asks _my_ opinion…
Speaking of Nagi…He’s wandered off. I pull my mind back from Schoen, my target for the day, and look over my shoulder to see that the youth has vanished. Farfarello is sprawled out on his side a short distance away. He doesn’t know where Nagi went; if he knew what the boy was going to go do he might have stopped him. Farfarello holds nothing but distaste for the girl; he is set on killing her.
Nagi’s found Tot; he’s watching her now. A grin curls my lips and I beckon to Farfarello. “Come on… Let’s catch the show, mm?”
Farfarello doesn’t know what I’m talking about, but he doesn’t care, either. He’s bored here, so he pushes himself up and follows behind me as I slip into the forest that borders Masafumi’s mansion. I make my way steadily towards my teammate, careful to move silently as we reach them. Nagi’s alone, sitting on the grass with his knees to his chest. His arms are wrapped around them and he rests his chin on one knee, studying the oblivious girl in silence. Farfarello looks to see what Nagi is staring at and gives a soft snort of disdain.
/We still need her,/ I tell Farfarello. /You can’t kill her yet./
He doesn’t like it, but he’ll accept it. I turn my attention back on Nagi, sifting through his confused thoughts. He doesn’t know what drew him here today. I grin, biting my lip to keep from laughing at him. He won’t appreciate this when he’s back inside the bond, but there’s nothing he can do about it. I cross my arms over my chest and lean against a nearby tree, making myself comfortable.
Finally Nagi rises, dusting himself off, and beckons in Tot’s direction. He uses his gift to influence the wind; I’ve never seen him do it before. It’s a strong enough gust that it yanks Tot’s umbrella from her hands, carrying it towards my teammate. She cries out in despair as it soars away from her, giving chase. Nagi, of course, has no trouble in snagging it from the air. It’s then that I notice its heart shaped handle, and I make a small gagging noise.
Tot comes up to Nagi, and he, like the perfect gentlemen, offers her umbrella. Tot beams, thrilled to death that he’s helped her and fascinated by running into a boy around her age on her ‘papa’s resort. “Who are you?” she asks.
“Nagi,” he answers. “Naoe Nagi.”
She blinks, and I can see recognition set in. A flick of her hand has a blade sliding out of the end of her umbrella and she leaps backwards, aiming her weapon at him. I try not to choke over the thought of that being a real weapon. Schreient…Dear God, you ladies have issues. “I remember!” she says, glaring over her umbrella at a not-so-threatened Nagi. “You came with Papa’s father. Tot won’t forgive anyone who makes fun of her Papa!”
Nagi ignores the blade that’s just inches from him. She would never be able to land a blow on him, and he knows it. She may be clueless, but Nagi fears very few people. He doesn’t even fear Hoffmann- he is wary of the Empath’s gifts but he does not fear him. “Can you see me like that?” he asks simply.
Tot considers this, and her umbrella droops. “No…” she decides.
Nagi waits as she folds her umbrella once more before saying, “I came to see you.”
“Eh?” Blank look; that expression really fits her. Goes right with that blank mind. I run a mental hand lightly over her consciousness. Only the top of her divided mind is reacting to Nagi- just the barest of her thoughts are actually responding to his presence and words. The images that her mind creates of him are stronger than the broken memories of before, which I suppose is some progress, but the lower regions of her mind have nothing to do with this conversation. It’s almost freaky.
“Because…” Nagi inclines himself slightly to her, recognizing that she doesn’t get it. “You’re such a different person.”
/That’s an understatement,/ I tell Farfarello.
~Hn,~ is his response.
“Aren’t you lonely by yourself?” Nagi wants to know.
Tot brightens. “But I have Papa, Hel, Schoen, and Neu!” My eyes narrow- did she just say “I”? “Papa’s not my real father. My real father is a bad person. I _hate_ him.”
Her whole tone changed; it abandoned the little girl trill to sound more like a girl her age…older and darker, edged with discontent and bitter memories. Her mind flickers; for the barest of moments two layers of her mind link together but it happens and breaks again so quickly that I can’t do anything about it. I study her, a frown curving my lips, eyeing the way she’s suddenly changed. But it doesn’t last long- suddenly the sakura petals are dancing around them, courtesy of Nagi.
Abruptly, the changes are gone, and the little girl is back. She gasps and laughs, watching the petals fly. “So pretty~!” she declares.
“Eh?” Tot and Nagi both glance in that direction. It’s another flighty girl, come to fetch the youngest. “It’s time to eat! Tot’s coming~!” Tot races off down the hill without another glance or word to her temporary companion. Nagi watches her go, and I tuck aside my observations to delight myself with teasing my confused teammate.
He’s wondering about the need to talk to her as he watches her run away, discontent about her sudden absence and just confused in general. The confusion is because Nagi’s higher consciousness doesn’t know what the meeting with her was supposed to do; he doesn’t know why he had to come see her. A part of him recognizes that nothing was established, and it wonders what was supposed to happen. The reasons behind the confusion don’t reach Nagi’s working mind, and so he watches her go and feels slightly put out about the abrupt ending to their conversation.
/Oh, how precious…/ I drawl.
~Go away,~ Nagi answers.
I slip through the trees to where Nagi can see me; he flicks me a dark look that I was spying on him. Farfarello joins me, gazing off into the direction Tot ran. His knife is out; he’s playing with it in anticipation of death. He has a while to wait. “Does Nagi have a crush on that girl?” I tease him.
Nagi isn’t amused. “What do you want?”
“We’ll eventually kill them,” I remind him.
“If the order is given,” he corrects me, looking over at us. If he was hoping for agreement, he doesn’t find it here. I offer him a wide smirk and Farfarello lifts his knife to taste the edge, as if blood already decorates the blade.
Nagi looks away.
Crawford comes home late. I’m already in bed when he shows up. I look up from where I am sprawled across the comforter, greeting him with a glance before letting my head fall back to the mattress. My lover closes the door behind him and moves to get undressed. He went to Takatori’s offices this evening; Takatori walked a circuit through his employees’ offices to check on things and to remind people that he was in charge. Apparently they got held up, and I wait with the assurance that Crawford will explain himself if anything important happened.
I have enough to chew on already, though. Tot has been the on and off focus of my disgruntled thoughts for several hours as I turn the slip-up in her mental programming over in my mind. I stare up at the ceiling as Crawford gets ready for bed, hands laced together underneath my head. My feet rest on my pillow and my hair dangles off Crawford’s side of the bed. Finally I sigh, closing my eyes and wiping Tot’s face from my mind. I don’t want to see her any more, I don’t want to think about her anymore, and I want to pretend for just a few moments that people with that low of intelligence just don’t exist.
Dropping her from my own thoughts doesn’t mean I don’t have to hear about her. Nagi has thought back on her off and on during the day as well, turning over the meeting and wondering about it. He’s thinking about her now and I groan, lifting my hands to cover my face. “Go talk to that boy,” I tell Crawford, “and then I’m blanking Tot from his thoughts the rest of the night. I’m sick of her.”
Crawford flicks me a bemused look and flickers onto the bond. Despite the fact that he is almost completely changed for bed, he appears in our room dressed impeccably in the suit he was wearing today. I reach out and nudge Nagi into the bond, leaving them to talk Tot while I busy myself with other things. I sit up in bed, brushing my hair over my shoulders and looking around the room. Crawford is beside his dresser, body still as he focuses so much on his conversation with Nagi. He looks like some sort of mannequin. I slide from bed, crossing the room, and study him. He doesn’t acknowledge me; he doesn’t notice me. I grin, looping my arms around his waist and offering his shoulder blade a light bite.
He notices that; I feel his concentration on the bond waver. He glances over his shoulder in both rooms, abandoning Nagi long enough to note that it is me behind him. I offer him an innocent look when he gives a small shake of his head. With that, he turns back to Nagi. I slide my arms up his sides, feeling the warmth of his body. Fingernails slide across soft skin and I lay a nip to his neck. Crawford attempts to ignore me, focusing on Nagi. I linger halfway between the bond and reality, watching as he beckons for Nagi to continue his story.
I grin against his shoulder, listening for Nagi to finish just because I know that his observations could be important. As soon as Nagi finishes I run my palms down Crawford’s abdomen, sliding my fingers under the hem of his pants.
Crawford excuses himself from Nagi and vanishes from the bond, taking hold of my wrists and turning his head to look over my shoulder. “This is important,” he reminds me.
“He’s finished,” I answer, reaching towards Nagi.
/You’re done, kid,/ I tell him, and he falls out of the bond.
Crawford pulls my hands free and turns to face me. I cross the room to the bed and perch on the end of it, tilting my head to one side as I consider him. With a sigh I decide that business comes first. Might as well give him my side of the Tot ordeal. “She isn’t broken,” I inform him. “She wasn’t broken…she was twisted. Nagi managed to connect with her enough that she recognized herself as a person rather than as a Tot.”
Crawford’s lips twitch into a thoughtful frown. I rake a hand through my hair, catching the ends between my fingers and studying them. “She is almost two people…One part of her is the part that thinks, the other reacts and relays those needs and wants to the world. Tot is the person inside, and when she talks she is telling us what she realizes that inner person wants. Sometimes, such as today, the two sides connect and she’s a real person again. Hoffmann needed her to stay as one person; she was assigned to Masafumi because he needs her somehow. She’s in a stasis of sorts until they choose to use her.” I lift a shoulder in a shrug. “If he needs her for anything, though, then putting her in the position to be a bodyguard seems rather foolish.”
“That was Masafumi’s decision,” Crawford tells me, coming to join me on the bed. He lowers himself to the mattress beside me and pulls his shoes and socks off. He thinks for a long moment, leaning backwards until he’s lying down on the bed. I turn, propping an arm to either side of him. Orange hair curtains his face and I study him as he thinks. He’s not looking at me; his eyes are staring at something I cannot see. I wonder what he’s seen, but decide not to ask. Finally he focuses on me. “Takatori has decided Masafumi is expendable. He wishes to be rid of him once and for all. I spoke to the Council, and they don’t see a reason to save him unless I view it to be better if he lives.”
“And your verdict?” I ask.
“Takatori will be rid of him soon,” he answers, “but we may find a new use for him yet.”
“I’d rather that he was worthless,” I return with a snort.
“Indeed…” Crawford lifts a hand, weaving his fingers through my hair so he can rub at his forehead. He gives a soft sigh, letting his eyes fall closed. “His time is running out…Schreient will cross paths with our swordsman soon, and his fate will be decided then.”
“Should be entertaining. Are we allowed to watch?”
“You probably should. Take Nagi and Farfarello with you. Tomorrow I want you to send Nagi after Tot again. Somehow he’s connecting with her; we need a connection there to be able to fill the rest of the blanks in. She is important to what’s going on and just as important a piece to plan around as our swordsman.”
“Fujimiya,” I inform him. “Fujimiya Ran, of Weiß.”
He cracks open his eyes to study me. “Weiß,” he repeats.
I grin back, knowing he finds the amusing irony in such a name. Time for talking is over; I want to put this day behind me. Tomorrow will be another day to baby-sit the kids, the stack of people we must orchestrate for our freedom will shift soon, and in a handful of months our efforts could all be flushed down the toilets in our deaths or we could be walking away from Rosenkreuz and Estet forever. Not even Crawford can see that far. Let him strain his eyes towards a dark horizon…I’ll focus on today. Enjoying life is what got me this far, and I’m not going to bite my fingernails in anticipation of an end that may never come. Whether I die in a few months or many years down the road, a day gone is a day lost and I don’t plan on wasting them.
And I know just how I want to end this one.
Explosions rock Masafumi’s mansion. I have found my teammates and me a ledge to rest on where we can watch it all, and we stand there and study the house from our perch. My arms are folded over my chest to help ward off the night breeze and I almost wish I had found a closer spot so we would get some warmth from the fire. Weiß made their move just a while ago, breaking into the mansion to see Masafumi out. Schreient has managed to hold them off so far by sending some of the Takatori’s creatures against them, but the monsters are almost all dead and the ladies will be the last line of defense. A smirk curves my lips as I offer the mansion to a mental scan. We’ll see how well Schreient’s training pays off. I wonder how long they’ll manage to hold under the white group’s attack…
I filter through what I hear, offering clips of it to my teammates. They’re not overly interested. Farfarello’s more intent on the fire that’s eating its way slowly through the expensive estate’s walls and Nagi is thinking his own thoughts about this group we’ll have to face and the consequences of this battle for Schreient- Tot in particular.
He knows that Ouka’s heart throb is part of this group; I told him on the way over here and it offered him some amusement. Takatori’s precious little daughter is fond of a young man who hunts the Takatori bloodline. Oh, if any of them only knew. I could have so much fun with these two, really. It’d be a nice stress reliever. On the one hand, Ouka should be off limits because she’s Takatori’s little fluff. On the other, she’s available because I have the telepathy to wipe any games from her mind. I’ll go with door number two, then, because it’s the one that appeals to me the most.
I’m brought from my entertained musings when Chizuru’s thought processes stutter to a stop. It seems Masafumi has just turned on her and attacked her, and she has no clue what to make of it. I laugh for a long time, because the bitch has had it coming and it’s exactly what she deserves. Estet might not be so happy, however, to see that things have come so far undone. Likely it’ll be Schwarz that plays clean-up, and if they ask us to, that could be a lot of fun, too.
Neither of my teammates regret the news of Chizuru’s wound, though Farfarello contemplates what it would be like to have a tentacle rammed through your middle and Nagi just offers a small snort at my message. I reach up, flicking my hair out of my face, and turn to go. It’ll all be over soon, and we need to be down where we can get to the mansion before the fires consume it all. Masafumi’s formulas are inside, after all, and they happen to be the only place they exist. Crawford told the Council that Masafumi’s time was drawing near, but he didn’t tell them how the man would go. The Council will be relieved to see that we saved Estet’s precious formula, and a move will help reinforce the image that we are loyal and working towards Estet’s visions.
I have barely taken a step, however, when one ragged thought goes through Masafumi’s mind. He’s almost impossible to hear when he’s mutated, but this one comes loud and clear- he shuts down everything else to speak it.
Mamoru? I turn back around, heading towards the edge once more and staring down at the mansion. My teammates had turned to follow me but now they turn back, knowing my attention is caught on something. I have to use the remaining minds to wind together a picture of what is happening. Masafumi has Ouka’s boy in his grasp and is staring at him.
Who is Mamoru?
His hesitation costs him- Masafumi loses the battle and soon the mansion is collapsing around him. Weiß flees, getting out before they get crushed in the falling fiery rubble. I allow a smirk to curve my lips, content with things. I would have been sorely disappointed if Schreient had come out on top of Weiß. It would have given me quite a bit of uncertainty as to how useful the group would be in aiding us in our quest for freedom.
“Weiß is pretty good,” I offer to my teammates. /For powerless people, anyway,/ I add, turning to go. The delay over ‘Mamoru’ cost both Masafumi and us. We have to get down there before the fire takes everything out. /Maybe one day we can play with them./
The idea appeals to Farfarello, of course. “I’m looking forward to it,” is his response.
/Look lively,/ I say, blurring away. With my gift, I might have a chance to get to his formulas before the building comes down. I’ll let Farfarello and Nagi tend to Schreient and their fallen master. Schreient is alive, if unconscious and injured. /Nagi, retrieve the bodies. We still need them. Don’t worry, your precious Tot still breathes./
His response is a tangle of irritated thoughts, and I laugh to myself as I slip through the crumbling doorway of Masafumi’s estate.
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