Turns out Takatori has been busy. Besides preparing things for his daughter’s funeral, he’s mobilized his own personal army, a faction of the defense forces he once was in charge of, to try and find Weiss. The night I was out with my Athlon he sent them to Asuka military base. They stole equipment and left it in flames, leaving Weiss’s name there to frame them. His thoughts beat hotly around revenge; he wants to destroy the white group for what they’ve done. I listen to his raging thoughts as he meets with the head of his special defense team from where I’m carefully sprawled out on the couch in the den. Farfarello and Aine are on the floor a short distance from me, sitting shoulder to shoulder like they used to. I flick them a glance before reaching towards the coffee table, finding my mug and taking a sip from it.
Takatori’s big plans for Japan are set aside…He cares more about avenging his fluffy headed daughter than he does about his ambitions. I scowl at the thought, putting my coffee mug back in its place, and shove Takatori firmly from my mind. I tuck my arm back against me on the couch, hiding a wince as the movement sends pain lacing down my back. Aine is dozing off, her head resting against Farfarello’s. Farfarello is gazing off into nothing, thoughts wandering down no particular path. Aine told him why she was here; I could see it in her thoughts. She explained her job regarding the Elders, and Farfarello accepted it. I think he would have accepted any reason that brought her back here, especially if she showed up shortly after Hoffmann left him.
She doesn’t know yet that Farfarello has become Hoffmann’s newest toy; the Irishman declined to tell her that. I’m not surprised, and I have no intention of being the one who breaks the news to the girl. It was Farfarello’s decision to make.
‘Girl’. I give a soft snort at the mental reference, green eyes studying the face that’s smooth in sleep. She’s just a year younger than Crawford, but she doesn’t look or act it. Farfarello notices my attention and looks towards me. I obediently shift my gaze from her face to his. We study each other in silence for several moments. None of his thoughts are distinctive, so I can’t see what he thinks of all of this. I turn the last few days over in my mind, sorting through everything that’s happened. I can’t think of anything pleasant that’s happened these last few days. Ouka’s death was nice but it had too many consequences for me to think on with any sort of glee. I can’t even be relieved that Aine’s here for my teammate because of what had to happen for her to be here.
Farfarello tilts his head to one side and something ripples beneath his thoughts. I reach for it, curious, but then Farfarello is falling backwards, sinking through his mind into the bond. I’m a bit surprised that he’s chosen to go there with Aine present. With her sleeping against his side, what reason would he have to retreat there? Curious, I follow after him. The couch reappears in the room and I regard Farfarello from where I’m stretched out on it. Farfarello is sitting closer to the couch in here, and he reaches up after a moment to set something on the cushion beside me.
It’s the clip for my gun, which he removed before giving the weapon back to me. Now I’m dimly grateful that he emptied the gun… If he hadn’t, I probably would have taken it to Takatori when he first hit me. I eye Farfarello’s present to me for several moments in silence before looking back at him. Farfarello returns the stare calmly.
“He told him Weiss did it,” the Irishman informs me.
“Well, he can kiss my ass. They both can.” Fingers curl around the clip and I slide it into my pocket. Even in this room it hurts to move; it irritates me that there’s no break from the pain.
Farfarello tilts his head to one side before resting his fist on the cushion where the clip just was, the back of his hand down. I look from his hand to his face, arching an eyebrow at him. “He was almost bleeding,” he informs me, uncurling his fingers slowly. Half-moon indents line his palm and he displays the marks to me. His yellow eye is hard to read, his thoughts harder still. He means Crawford, and I frown at him, not sure whether or not to appreciate talking about the American, not sure why Farfarello would bring it up. He curls his fingers again and then opens them a second time, this time eyeing the marks himself. “He was unhappy.”
“Does it matter?” I ask him. Scorn lines the words, and I wonder which one of us I’m mocking, me or Crawford. “It still happened.” My younger teammate doesn’t answer, merely regards me with a serene expression. “Why the hell did you do it? What on earth possessed you to shoot her? You knew who she was, you had to know something of what the consequences would be. Don’t you ever-”
“He told me to.”
That shuts me up. I just stare at Farfarello for several moments before pushing myself up to a sitting position. It hurts; I feel every muscle and nerve screaming in protest, and once I’m there I have to lean forward against my knees. I cross my arms over my legs, hunching over as I stare at him. “He what?” My words are cold enough to drop the temperature of the room by several degrees. Farfarello doesn’t answer quick enough. I reach out, tangling my fingers in his hair, and yank him forward. For some reason, he lets me pull him. “He told you to?”
“This is not my conversation,” he informs me.
I shove forward, mind running against his. Farfarello is a pain in the ass to search; he always has been. I move backwards through his mind, searching for what he’s talking about. The past couple days flicker by and we’re back to Takatori’s place. As I start to shove that memory aside, Farfarello grabs at my wrist. We fight, mind against mind. I don’t want to see this. I was there. I know what happened. I scowl at him and he stares back steadily. The memory moves around us; I can hear Crawford and Takatori talking, can hear Crawford telling Takatori that it was Weiss who killed his daughter. In the background, I see myself starting to get to my feet. I only make it halfway there before I collapse, the pain from such a movement knocking me unconscious. Takatori is fuming in the background, snarling curses as he moves about his desk. He has forgotten Schwarz is there, consumed by his utter hatred for Weiss. Nagi starts to take a step towards my fallen form but Crawford moves at the same time, and our youngest teammate stands back as Crawford picks me up. Farfarello rises from his crouched position, carelessly brushing blood from his mouth with the back of his hand, and Schwarz leaves, ignored by the fat man at the desk.
Crawford carries me out.
I pull my hand free from Farfarello’s hair, yanking it from his grasp. I glower at Farfarello. He leans backwards, away from me. “You aren’t his anymore,” he informs me. “But you are Schwarz, and he is Schwarz. So you will talk to him.”
“You sound so sure of that,” I snap at him.
Farfarello lifts one shoulder in a shrug and vanishes, pulling himself out of the room. I am left behind for several minutes, staring at the spot where he just was. It was…a surreal conversation, almost, mostly because I was having it with Farfarello. That’s probably what confuses me the most about it, was who I was talking to. A frown pulls at my lips and I glance to one side, studying the constellations that hover around me. Finally I look down to where my hands are folded across my legs, my fingers curled into tight fists. It was a defensive pose when Farfarello shoved that last memory at me. Now I lift one hand and study it in uneasy silence for a long time. At length I uncurl my fingers to study the marks my fingernails made.
“Bastard,” I mutter.
Farfarello and Aine have vanished to Farfarello’s room to talk by the time Crawford returns. I’m still in the den, nursing a cup of juice the Irish pyrokinetic brought for me before she followed Farfarello away. It’s warm by now but I don’t really notice. Crawford pauses in the doorway to the living room, and I ignore him for a few moments in favor of staring at my juice. I turn over everything that’s happened, everything that Farfarello said to me- which, while it wasn’t much, was more than I expected to hear. In a way, it was more than I wanted to hear. I’m toying with the mental image of Crawford carrying my unconscious form out of Takatori’s building instead of leaving me to Nagi to deal with, toying with the idea of Farfarello seeing fingernail marks on Crawford’s palms when he approached me.
The images bother me, partly because of what they are and partly because they don’t really mean anything, because Hoffmann took his gift to Crawford. I can’t decide whether or not to feel some relief that Crawford didn’t like what was happening; any sort of gratitude towards his displeasure is washed away under the cold fact that he did let it happen.
/You told him to kill her,/ I say at last, finally acknowledging Crawford’s presence.
~Now you want to talk,~ he muses. He enters the room and seats himself in the chair. I look over at him, taking a sip from my drink. He regards me for a few moments in silence before we both slip simultaneously onto the bond. He says nothing, leaving it up to me to start the conversation. I rap my fingernails against my cup, studying him warily. He’s the one who’s been wanting to have the talk, but he’s letting me take it where I want.
I wonder absently if this is what he has always intended to have, if he knew that I would have dozens of accusations and questions for him to answer to. I take a swallow from my drink before breaking the silence between us to repeat, “You told him to kill her.”
“I did,” he answers easily. He pauses for just a moment, and I wonder in that moment if I’m going to have to fight him for every detail, but then he elaborates. “Takatori and his daughter were very close. Even though he had sold his soul and career to Estet, his heart belonged to one person only. For a long time now, he has been obeying Estet’s demands and doing what they wanted, knowing that such obedience would profit him as well. But his daughter is more important to him than his work. He did not acknowledge it before, too busy with what he was doing, but her death has emphasized that. He grieves for her. I gave him a target to vent upon, and for now revenge is the sole purpose of his existence.”
I frown at him. “You gave him Weiss.”
He lifts a shoulder in a light shrug. “I gave him a name of a group, not the names of its members. He will not be able to destroy them, but it pushes a confrontation between Takatori and Weiss closer together. It gives him something to obsess upon. He is unstable as a pawn now; he wants his political ambitions recognized just so he will have the power to find Weiss and destroy them for what they’ve done to his daughter. He has pushed Estet and Schwarz to the side as secondary concerns, exacting revenge himself as the father and in some way not trusting us because we allowed his daughter to be killed.”
“The Council’s going to be furious that he’s distracted,” I point out.
“Hoffmann is furious,” Crawford agrees. Calm golden brown eyes study me. “But he is maddest at Takatori.” I blink at him, not quite understanding. He explains, giving a little gesture of his hand. “Takatori was not told what gift you were because Hoffmann did not want him abusing something that wasn’t his. The Elders of Estet want Takatori to be pleased and obeyed as long as it keeps him focused. If he had been told your gift, Schwarz would be required to use your telepathy where he wanted. The Council and Elders fought over this, and Rosenkreuz won. Telepaths are very hard to come by. One of the two still in Austria is dying; he will not live to see the end of the week. The other is weak. You are their strongest, and they trust in your gift even if they don’t trust in you completely.”
Crawford considers this for a moment. “Takatori almost took that gift away from them, almost took that gift away from the world. The Council and the Elders clashed once more in a violent, vicious argument. Takatori could have killed you.”
“He almost did,” I remind him acidly. “You would have let him.”
“The orders of Estet and Rosenkreuz were at odds that night,” Crawford tells me. “I was obeying Estet, as we were assigned to them and their client. They wanted us to give Takatori free reign, to let him do whatever he wished. Their orders to us told us that we came secondary, that whatever he demanded, he would be given. I obeyed Estet that night by refusing to intervene, and it told the Council something very important. It told them both that I would listen to the orders given to me and that the orders given to Schwarz meant that we were expendable. In the Council’s eyes, that is something that you are not. Hoffmann is furious, furious that the Elders are not bothered by what happened that night, furious that a giftless man had the gall to take a golf club to you. You are his; no one else has the right to destroy you. But Takatori would have killed you if no one had stopped him.
“I let him do it.” He lifts one shoulder in a shrug again. I study his gaze, searching them for something, anything. “I knew the consequences of what I was doing but I knew that you would survive. Schwarz is breaking, fracturing along the seams. Farfarello is off kilter and Nagi’s loyalties were questionable. He decided that night who he belonged to. He has no clue that he was drifting; he has been uneasy with the group and uncertain about everything since we first declared that we were going to strike against the Council. But that day, he realized just how important we are to him. He will still seek Tot out; my orders to him have mutated into something else. But in the end, this is where he will stay. This is where he belongs, and he knows it.” He tilts his head to one side, considering me for a few moments. “He will die for you,” he informs me, “because he has nothing else. Schwarz is all he knows. This was your decision to make and even if he hesitated before, he realized that night that he will die for this group if his death is required for freedom.”
I say nothing; I don’t know what to say. I realize I’m staring at my juice and wonder how long ago I looked away from his face. I shift my grip on the glass, rocking it gently to watch the liquid slosh around inside.
“I told Farfarello to kill her, and I told him what it would mean. I told him that he would be the one to take the fall from the Council, because you would be unable to. He listened to that and understood it, and he made the decision to do what I told him to. She had to die that night, but he chose to take the gun from you and do it. He took the blame for Schwarz’s actions that night and Hoffmann’s fury over what Takatori did. The Soul Shaker wanted to kill Takatori for what he’d done; only the warning from the rest of the Council and the contract with Estet keeps him from acting upon his rage. Farfarello was the only one he could vent upon for what had happened. I warned him, and he still did it.”
Silence follows his words as I digest everything he’s said. Schwarz had been falling apart; I’ve been watching it with growing uneasiness and dismay. In one night, Crawford forced it back together again. Farfarello hates Hoffmann more than his God but he obeyed Crawford; he killed Ouka and put himself right in the empath’s path. Crawford let me be beaten because it sharply divided the Council and the Elders, because it left me in no state to take any grief from Hoffmann, because it forced Nagi to choose his fate. And in the end, when it was all done, he carried me out of there and my team followed him.
“You should have told me,” I say at last.
“It happened too fast,” he says. “I saw the opening after you left that night; I made the decision then. It took Farfarello only a few moments to decide and then he left to find you. It had to happen; there was no time to stop and talk about it. I did what had to be done. If I had seen the chance to act sooner, I would have been able to warn you.”
“Feh,” I tell him. “You doing what had to be done still left you unscathed. Farfarello’s been with Hoffmann again and I can’t stand up straight.”
“It’s the way things happened,” is all he has to say for that. I say nothing in response. “The day I told you Aine was coming back to see Farfarello, I placed a phone call to the Council.” I consider that and remember; I missed the phone call because Farfarello was acting up. “I warned them that Takatori was going to start becoming unstable. I asked if we should continue working for them. Hoffmann told me to follow the contract. A few nights ago, he had those words shoved back into his face because I did what he told me to and it almost lost him his most precious Talent. The Council sees my words as true; Takatori is turning uncontrollable. They will help us convince Estet that he isn’t worth it, that he isn’t necessary. They are looking for another way to fulfill Estet’s wishes that won’t involve him.”
I look over at him at that, surprised. “You’ve turned the Council against Estet that much?” I ask, alarmed and disbelieving. He doesn’t answer, and I consider that for a few moments, turning his words over in my head. I laugh, a sharp, mocking sound. “You’ve pointed them down the path to their own destruction…” Takatori’s in the way of our freedom; we’ve been looking for a way to get rid of him since we decided we wanted to tear Estet and Rosenkreuz apart. The Council still follows Estet but they won’t at Schwarz’s expense, and so want to find a different way for the Elders to achieve their immortality. They’re going to help us remove Takatori, and in doing so, will make the way easier for us to rip them apart.
“For now, the Council wants us to continue attending to Takatori and let him do what he wishes. They want to watch him spin out of control. That is all we are to do while they argue with the Elders. All Takatori will be doing for a while is looking for Weiss, and when the Council finds a way without Takatori, our samurai will be there as a convenient way to get rid of him.”
For a minute, I’m amazed at what he’s done, at what Crawford’s managed to figure out. I just sit there, mentally reeling under this news. Crawford’s done it. He’s found a way to get us closer to freedom. It put Farfarello back with Hoffmann but the Irishman knew it would and he accepted it. He made the decision to let himself get punished again. And Nagi…Nagi’s ours. Tot’s still a problem but he’s ours. And I… I was beaten to within a few breaths of serious damage and my life but wounds heal and in the aftermath I can accept that they were necessary, now that I see how much was riding on that one night. Crawford gets to his feet and walks over to me, holding out something in offering. It’s a medicine bottle.
“From Ikida,” he tells me. “It’s a stronger painkiller than what we have already but it’s several steps down from your Athlon so that you’ll still be conscious and able to work. He will be by later to check on your injuries and your arm.”
I take the bottle from him and hesitate, green eyes flicking up to his face. He has to lean over to give me the bottle, because I can’t straighten much further from where I’m leaned over my knees, and our faces are close together. I study him for a few moments. “If Nagi hadn’t acted…?” I ask him, telling myself that it isn’t important even as I wait in expectant silence for an answer.
“I would have shot him,” Crawford informs me easily. It’s the truth; I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. “Estet is our employer but we belong to Rosenkreuz. The Council would have defended my decision to destroy him and save you.”
I feel the beginnings of a smirk pull at my lips, a pleased and satisfied expression, and before I know I’m moving I’ve leaned forward to kiss him. When I realize what I’ve done I lean back, glancing down at the medicine bottle before looking back at Crawford. The move surprised him; I can see it in the way his eyes have narrowed slightly. He didn’t see it coming and he didn’t expect it. He knows we were lovers recently but he doesn’t really understand why, so my spontaneous action caught him off guard. We consider each other for a few moments in silence, and I feel my lips curving into a slow smirk.
It may have surprised him…but it didn’t disgust him. Hoffmann didn’t replace whatever was there with disgust. That means it’s not impossible to get it back. It means starting over, but that’s all right, because it isn’t impossible. One year of watching, seven months of waiting. Now the roles have switched and we’re back to waiting. I’ve waited before; I can do it again. I think of the half moon indents on Crawford’s hands, made from clenching his fists as he watched Takatori take a golf club to Farfarello and me.
Crawford studies my expression, studies my eyes. At last he speaks, breaking the silence between us. “Do you trust me?” he wants to know. “Will you trust me?”
I tap the medicine bottle against my chin, feeling quite pleased with the world and willing to forgive Crawford everything. It doesn’t matter that my back hurts like a bitch and that my face hurts when I pull my mouth too wide. Schwarz is a team again and what Hoffmann did isn’t irreversible. The Council is helping us destroy themselves without realizing it. Soon we will be free of Takatori. A while ago I mocked Schwarz for being so arrogant, to think we could bring such powerful organizations down. Now I’m starting to believe again that it’s possible, that we have what it takes.
“Ja, Herr Crawford,” I tell him, and my smirk pulls into more of a grin. “I’m with you.”
I offer Ikida a lazy grin in greeting when he shows up later to tend to me. He gives me a suspicious look in response, confused by my obvious good mood. I’m sprawled out on my stomach on the floor of the living room, watching an action movie that is on television, but I push myself up when he enters. It doesn’t hurt; those drugs that he gave me are fucking wonderful. I brush my hair out of my face, wishing I’d been conscious when he’d first seen my injuries so I could have gotten his first impression. Nagi told me that Ikida was not happy; I managed to get from his thoughts later that he had chewed Crawford out for letting such a thing happen. Crawford had endured the rant in serene silence, thanked Ikida politely for his concern, and showed him the door.
I pick up the medicine bottle and shake it at him. “Lacking a god to pray to or believe in, I’m considering nominating you for the spot,” I inform him.
He snorts at that, coming to sit behind me. His fingers work over the skin and he tells me to turn this way and that. I feel the pressure of his fingers and feel a light strain when I move, but there’s no pain. “How’s life?” I ask him breezily.
“Dangerous, actually,” is his response. I look over my shoulder at him and he gives me a bland expression, coming around where he can see my face better. “I’ve had both Estet and Rosenkreuz contacting me over you, one demanding that I say that your injuries aren’t serious and the other demanding to know just how close you came to getting irretrievably damaged.”
“And?” I want to know.
“I told them both that you were very lucky to have your team looking out for you,” he answers with a small shrug. His fingers trace my cheekbone and temple. “If he’d kept hitting you, he could have broken your skull or spine. It’s still a miracle that he didn’t kill you with one of these hits to the face. You have the devil’s luck.”
“Yes, that’s me,” I agree amiably. “I’m a lucky bastard.” I start laughing, not entirely sure why but still amused as all hell. Maybe it’s the drugs. Maybe it’s the talk I had with Crawford earlier. Who knows? Who cares, even? I haven’t felt this good in days.
“How many drugs did you put him on?” a new voice asks at the door, and I look that way to see Nagi eyeing me. Seems he’s back from the hospital. He’s as surprised as Ikida is over my good mood; Nagi doesn’t see any reason for me to be so pleased with things and Ikida, while he hasn’t seen everything that has happened, doesn’t understand it any better. They’re both a bit suspicious of my good humor, if they are relieved to see it.
“More than enough, apparently,” Ikida answers dryly.
“Whatever.” I give a small shake of my head, smirking at them both. Ikida motions for me to take my shirt off. I do as he bids, knowing he wants to check on my arm. It doesn’t hurt to get it off, but part of it is difficult to do, anyway. The Japanese doctor helps me tug the last bit free and I let him help me without protest. I ignore him as he starts unwinding the bandages from my arm, turning my attention back on the TV because the commercials are over. “Nagi, I want a drink.”
“What’s your point?” he asks, but a bottle of juice sets itself down by my side a short time later. I prop it between my legs and unscrew the lid with my free hand, glancing towards my arm as the last of the bandages come free. It still looks disgusting, so many days later. It’s healing, but it’s still not pretty. Ikida was right…It’s going to scar. I can see the faint discoloration that means a scar is coming in some places, and I give a disgusted sigh over that before turning back to my movie. Nagi seats himself in the chair, joining me in watching it. Ikida works in silence.
I sift through their thoughts when the commercials come again. Chizuru of Schreient is the only one who still has a ways left to go before she’ll be back to full working order. Schwarz needs to figure out something for them to do. Masafumi is still alive, but only alive because of the machines that keep him breathing. If he dies, Hoffmann twisted Schreient enough that they would take their lives and follow him. Soon we’ll need to find a new purpose for them. We still have to figure out what’s wrong with Tot. But these problems don’t seem so serious anymore.
I seek out my teammates. Crawford is out, visiting the workers the Council brought in to work on the Elders’ ceremony grounds. Ouka’s funeral is today, so his presence isn’t required near Takatori. There are a dozen Talents out there; I can feel their powers curling against my mind. The Council isn’t far from them. The Elders are still overseas, trusting Rosenkreuz to be able to handle things even if there is now a sore spot between the two organizations. The thought brings a wide smirk to my face as I consider how everything is starting to fall into place for us.
I seek out Farfarello next. He and Aine are still together; they’re both asleep, resting against each other as they nap. I shrug and pull back, taking a swallow from my juice. Ikida is rewrapping my arm. When he finishes, he pushes himself to his feet. I watch him as he rises, studying the way he moves. I slant a glance up at him.
“I think you’re getting old,” I declare.
“I’m only fifty-one,” is his easy answer. “I suppose I should feel lucky to have made it this far… Every meeting with you takes years off my life.”
I smirk. “I feel special,” I drawl.
“You should.” He snorts and takes a step back, considering me for several moments in silence. The amusement fades from his eyes; the expression he turns on me is solemn. ~Take better care of yourself,~ he tells me. ~I’ve been watching you for almost seven years now. I’ve seen you get knocked down and I’ve seen you get back up, but I always fear that one day you won’t be able to pull yourself together again.~
/So nice to know I’ll have someone miss me when I’m gone,/ I taunt him.
He shrugs and bids me farewell. With a good-bye to Nagi, he’s gone. I study the doorway after he’s disappeared through it, turning his words over in my head before looking back towards the movie. After a while, I grab the remote and turn the set off. Nagi doesn’t protest, instead watching me as I slowly lay down, sprawling out on my back. It doesn’t hurt, but I have a feeling I’ll need help getting back up again. I turn Ikida’s visit over in my head, watching again the careful way he picked himself to his feet. Fifty-one is still young, but it’s old when someone works for Rosenkreuz. Ikida still has many years left, but I don’t know how many years he will still be useful to Rosenkreuz. Once his sharp mind starts dimming and his careful hand starts to slow, they’ll find a replacement. It’s strange to think of him as being old. My memories of the time I had before Rosenkreuz are splintered, so most of what I remember is the school. Ikida was a very prominent figure there, a constant ally in the background. I toy with the idea of a Schwarz and Rosenkreuz without him, and it seems odd.
Absently, I wonder if he would take our side or theirs if he knew what was going on.
But I know the answer. He listens to the Council’s orders, but I am his special patient. He’s been dealing with me for so long. He’s seen everything that’s happened to me, has seen more than even Crawford has. Crawford was allowed to watch a few sessions with Hoffmann the year that bastard had me, so he would see what trouble I was. Ikida was there for all of them, standing silent in the background as he waited to put me back together. He’s seen it happen and he’s dealt with the aftermath, nursing me back to health. For seven years he’s been trying to keep me sane as Hoffmann tears me apart. He’d side with me. He always has.
For some reason, it makes my thoughts easier.
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