Moonlight filters through the cracks between the blinds, silver light spilling in little strips across the room. A few strands dance across the desk’s surface, allowing the wood to gleam with an ethereal glow. A handful of papers decorate the surface, stacked neatly and set to one side for tomorrow’s consideration. Beautiful paintings that cost a fortune apiece line the wall, both a way of displaying wealth and adding color to the office. Plants rest in little pots on shelves, their green leaves dulled to a dark gray from the lack of adequate light. The carpet, a lush mat of light blue during the daylight hours, has faded as well to a gloomy color. A clock is the only thing to break the silence, its second hand ticking loudly.
It is an ominous sound.
I take in a low breath, my fingertips idly rubbing against each other as my hands hang limply at my sides. I have been here many times before but this is the first time I have been here after the building has been closed for the night. My eyes take in the room, studying the gray theme that fits so appropriately to my dismal thoughts. I find the clock with my gaze and wonder if I should be grateful for any bit of sound in this dead room. The silence would be deafening considering what is to come, but the noise the clock offers is unpleasant.
The door opens as the second hand hits the twelve. It offers a flash of light from the hall, a thick beam temporarily lighting up the room before vanishing again. I watch my shadow as it appears and subsequently fades from the desk in front of me. For a moment, I can see his shadow as well; then it disappears as well and the lock on the door slides into place. The sound of it manages to override the soft chiming announcing midnight.
He’s punctual. He always is. I cannot hear him as he approaches me; the carpet swallows the sound of his shoes. I can feel him drawing near, however, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up under the intense stare he is treating me to. I do not turn to greet him, because his instructions to me were crystal clear. He stops right behind me and I know he is studying me. “Ahhh…” It’s a soft whisper, but full of satisfaction. I keep my eyes fixed on the desk.
A hand touches me. There is no hesitation in the palm that presses against my back. This man has no reason to be tentative with me; he knows that what he asks for is what he will receive. He is arrogant and loves to have control of the situation. In many respects, he is my reflection. That is why he demands and craves this. He sees no need to hesitate because what he wants is going to be handed to him on a silver platter. I know that if I were to turn around I would see the smirk on his face, see the triumph dancing in his eyes. It disgusts me but I say nothing, remaining silent and immobile.
The hand runs along my shoulder blade to my side, fingers curling to rest on my ribcage. His hand lingers there for a moment, a possessive grip. He lets it stay there long enough for me to recognize it for what it is before dropping to my hip. He tugs the hem of my shirt free from my waistband, slipping hot fingers inside. I feel a sick jolt run through me at the feel of fingertips and manicured nails tracing up my side to my ribs before running back down to my hip once more. His second hand takes the other side, settling opposite the first. Fingers dig in tightly, a triumphant squeeze, a touch I have never allowed anyone else. He tugs me backwards and steps forward to meet me so that we collide, a hard body molding against my back. His chest isn’t the only hard thing pressing up against me, and I feel a wash of revulsion curl in my chest.
He is touching me, hands prying at the buttons on my shirt with a sudden fervor, and I do nothing but stand there and let him rip them free. To move is to break the rules, and Rosenkreuz taught me a long time ago what happens when the rules are broken. I cling to my self-control, forcing my hands to dangle limply at my sides instead of clenching into fists. He murmurs something that I miss, something husky and thick with desire. It’s either a promise or a threat; I cannot decipher which. In this situation, under these circumstances, they are the same thing.
I hear a button hit his desk before it bounces to a second, silent landing on the floor. Fingernails rake over my skin, spreading a cold chill through me. It’s a rough raking that I know will leave red marks. He knows it as well; that is why he is digging in so hard. He wants to mark me, to show some sort of control over me. He tilts his head onto my shoulder, his chin resting against my throat so that I can feel his breath washing down my shoulder to my collarbone. He is saying something again, voice low. His tone is dark, tainted with a malicious sort of joy as his fingers claw their way up my rib cage. I wonder if he has drawn blood yet, because his fingers have curled tighter into my skin.
He lifts one hand to tangle his fingers in my hair in a tight, vicious grip, and yanks my head backwards. I am forced to move with him or risk damage to my neck. I catch a brief glimpse of dark hair and darker eyes as he twists my face towards his and a mouth crushes itself against mine.
The second his lips touch me the scenery changes. Light floods my vision and I am falling forward. The snap from precognition to reality throws me off for a second, a moment I need in order to catch my balance once more. Fortunately, Schuldich is in front of me on the stairs and has fast enough reflexes to catch me. His arms are out at either side, his fingers clenched around the railing. I collide with him rather than tumble down the stairwell face first, my own hands flying out belatedly to the railings as I struggle to gain purchase. Schuldich grunts as my weight connects with him but he does not budge, the muscles in his arms and legs keeping him firmly in place.
It just takes me another moment to straighten, pulling myself off of him and regaining my footing on the step right above Schuldich’s. I reach up to push my glasses up where they spilled down my nose, considering myself lucky that they did not fall off in my stumble and break on the stairs. Blue eyes are interested and curious as my younger teammate peers up at me, his hands still locked on the railings. It has been a while since he was witness to the more aggressive side of my precognition; generally I have the fortune to have such visions when no one else is around. He knows what it means when I have a vision that replaces reality in such a way, and now I have his full attention. I fix the cuffs on my jacket, ignoring his expectant gaze as if I cannot feel it boring into me. I almost can’t; the leftover emotions from my vision linger, twisting inside of me: denial, disgust, determination, a dull sort of horror…
I give Schuldich a slight nod, an acknowledgment for him stopping me from breaking my neck on the stairs, and he lowers his arms so I can pass him. Schuldich turns to watch me as I go, waiting until I have descended several steps before following. “Come on, Crawford,” he teases me, not bothering to hide the amusement from his voice. A glance back at him shows the grin on his face and the way he has locked his hands behind his head. “Tell me what terrible fate lies in store for you this time. Is it death by food poisoning? What about paralysis and physical mutilation in a terrible car wreck? Or maybe some old biddy was going to try and cut you off at the cashier’s line? What was it?”
“Suicide in order to escape you aggravating me,” I answer blandly.
Schuldich laughs at that. “Ass.”
He wasn’t really expecting an answer from me, so that drops the conversation between us. We finish our trek to the first floor in silence. Schuldich has worked with me long enough to know what I will and won’t tell him, and he learned a while ago that pushing for answers doesn’t help. He trusts me to take care of it if it’s anything serious- which it always is, when it’s an aggressive vision like that. It isn’t his business to prod into such visions, and my Watcher made that clear a long time ago. Schuldich is still curious but he will never press too much. He accepted that this was off-limits to him, mostly because there are few things that Farfarello is so vehement about and he has seen what happens when the Irishman comes in contact with something that aggravates him. He was there when Farfarello burned a cathedral down during a Confirmation ceremony with sixteen children and eight parishioners present.
Of course, Schuldich can afford to squash his interest because he assumes I’m going to inform Farfarello of what I’ve seen. It is my duty to share aggressive visions with my Watcher so that he, as one not directly involved with whatever horrific fate the vision promises, can analyze it. I have done such a thing countless times in the past, doing what my superiors have taught and ordered me to do by relaying my visions to my teammate.
My training prepared me to tolerate and then share visions that spoke of accidents or my ultimate doom, of being riddled with bullets, disemboweled by knives, and so on. In my line of duty I have had many visions such as those. Most of them were true futures that I had to learn to avoid; others were just regurgitations, twisted scenes from a gift working overtime. It is my Watcher’s job to help me determine which ones are real threats and to help me back down from the visions, to help me open my gift further and find the loopholes to step through. Farfarello does his job well; he always has. He was placed on Schwarz specifically for me. My superiors bypassed the Sensitives in training and went straight to his cell, pulling his file from the drawer of those that are almost too lost to their gifts to be useful to anyone to hand him over to me.
But the visions were never like this one. I can still feel his hands on me, a disgusting, possessive gift. If I close my eyes I can see leaves turned gray through a lack of proper light. I don’t have to be in the throes of the vision to know how many leaves are on each plant. After all, I’ve had this vision every day for a week now. If it doesn’t catch me in daylight hours it haunts me in my sleep. It builds upon itself everyday, adding a few seconds more each time I see it. It’s not the first time an aggressive vision has replayed itself for me, but it is the first time I have watched it multiple times through without Farfarello as a witness.
My training never prepared me for a vision like that. Nothing at Rosenkreuz could have told me that my visions would offer up such a fate for me. Death, destruction, pain…These things I am used to. These things I can handle to a greater extent than many of my fellow precognitives. But no one at Rosenkreuz told me that I would witness such a thing, that someone would demand such a thing from me and that I would be forced to give it without protest. If it had not been repeated so many times, I would have allowed myself to consider it as a false vision. As it is, I have to accept it as the truth but it is one that is hard to swallow.
So I have not told Farfarello. One of the reasons is because I want to come to some sort of terms with it first. It isn’t the main reason, though it’s pretty high on the list of things keeping me silent. Both reasons are personal. I therefore consider myself fortunate that I have not been prey to my gift when he has been around.
Farfarello has been with me for two years, long enough that I trust him to be competent. He is the best Sensitive out there for my gift and he has proved his worth time and time again. He is a member of my team, an efficient assassin unlike anyone else. When it comes to our gifts or his murders, he has never failed me. That doesn’t keep me from hating him, however. Farfarello and I harbor a unique dislike for each other. It was my gift that saved him from his imprisonment, that saved him from rotting slowly away in Rosenkreuz’s depth. The necessity of having a Sensitive freed him to the world to unleash his hate and cruelty, but only under my command. I lead him on the field and lay down the boundaries that make it possible for him to be free. Without me and my gift he would have been left to go mad and would be eventually terminated by Rosenkreuz for being useless. Because I freed him, I am his superior and he is to obey my command. But because I am a precognitive, I am inferior to him. My gift is dependent on a Sensitive; I have been trained to rely on a Watcher. When it comes to my visions, his word is final.
It is a bitter game of control between us, taking from each other what we can. He does not like that I have him on a leash and I disapprove of him having control over me. He rarely refuses to exploit his chance at being in charge, and the price for using him as a Watcher is that I have to put up with him. No one can get under my skin quite like he can, and it is aggravating that I allow him to get to me. And considering the nature of this vision…I doubt I want to see what will happen when I finally have no choice but to inform Farfarello of it. The thought is as ugly as the prophecy.
I shove the Irishman from my thoughts forcibly; I do not want to think about him or my vision. Schuldich and I are needed for a briefing right now. My superiors have summoned us to discuss the client we have recently cut ties with. They want to go over the events of the past two months, even though I have filed regular reports and they have read them. After that, they will decide what Schwarz is to do. We will either be granted a brief breather or we will move on to the next job. I would prefer that they hand us more work. Schuldich does not deal well with having nothing to do and he makes his own entertainment by making life hell for the rest of Schwarz and everyone around us between clients.
They are waiting for us when we arrive even though we are on time. Pierre is standing outside of the conference room we have reserved for this meeting and he gestures to the open doorway. We precede him inside, nodding our respects to the three men seated on the opposite side of the table. The center man, Dustin Dreydin, gestures to the seats in front of us. We obediently settle ourselves and Pierre closes the door, remaining in the hall to keep an eye on things. The Schuldich I know has slipped away, replaced by the Schuldich Rosenkreuz created. He managed to maintain his devil may care attitude in spite of the gift that is slowly eating away his sanity, but he can play the part of respectful gifted just as well as anyone else can. There are some people one should never kid around with, especially people that can and will kill you for a minor offense. If only Schuldich was as well behaved the rest of the time, though I suppose Schwarz would be boring in such a case. I should entertain that hope for the next youngest teammate, instead.
I scratch Farfarello from my thoughts once more, folding my hands in my lap and offering my superiors a serene look. We are currently stationed in America, and the three men opposite us are the branch members for the United States arm of Rosenkreuz. They are not as highly ranked as the five-person Cabinet that runs the Austrian school but they are just a step lower, and they have the authority to do what they like with my team unless the Cabinet overrides their orders. They are not men to be trifled with under any circumstances.
They have my reports with them and we go through them one by one. There are eighteen total, eight of them the weekly reports and ten smaller memos about events I believed important to mention. Schuldich sits in silence, letting me do all of the talking. They do not need to ask for the telepath’s insights over the last two months, as I already included his notes with my reports. I could have easily attended this meeting on my own, but the branch is rather fond of him. Everyone on my team has a reputation; the stories started in Rosenkreuz and spanned thirteen countries and three continents. We are highly sought after, one of the most efficient teams on the field. People pay great sums to borrow our power for any length of time, and the American branch is very pleased to be the one lending us out at the moment.
When they are done, they set aside my papers and set a thick folder in the center of the table. I catch Schuldich’s expression out of the corner of my eye; the smooth line his mouth was fixed in curls into a satisfied smirk. This means we’re going to have another client, and Schuldich is pleased to be presented with more work. Dreyden reaches out, drumming his fingers on the folder.
“Your next client is going to be a man named Jacob Matthews. He is the owner of several real estate corporations. Very few people realize how much he actually controls, but he is in charge of most of the eastern seaboard. He owns sizable chunks of land in seven states under different businesses and established management. He uses the profits to buy himself favors in the political world, tying so many people to him that he has twelve representatives and two senators dependent on his support. He has bound them to him and so is a powerful man. He is willing to use his power however we wish in exchange for gathering him more land in other states. He can control more if he has help in getting other businesses raised. That is what Schwarz will do. You will help his corporation buy out other places.” There’s a significant glance towards Schuldich, who offers a thin smile of acceptance in return. “He submitted a list of what he wishes to own and what corporations will give him a greater fist in Congress. You will help him acquire these powers through any methods necessary.”
Basically we will do the work through a mix of careful killings and Schuldich’s telepathy. It should be relatively easy work, and at least it will keep Schuldich out of trouble. Dreyden looks to me and I nod once, assuring him with the gesture that Schwarz is more than capable of doing what is demanded of us. Dreyden gives the folder a poke.
“This man is very important to us. We want him to stay happy and we want him to stay supportive of our ambitions. You are to do whatever he says unless it is detrimental to Rosenkreuz’s goals. Do you understand? I don’t care if it means he wants you to make him his coffee everyday. You will do it. We will own him, and we will own the men he controls. Do you understand?” We both nod. Dreyden seems satisfied by that and leans back in his chair. I reach out, pulling the folder across the table towards us, and Schuldich and I rise from our seats. “Your plane tickets are inside. You will be flying to Charlotte tomorrow.”
The door opens for us and Schuldich follows me out of the room. We head back down the hall, the folder tucked safely under my arm. My German gives the folder a light tug as we reach the stairwell, reaching out to pull gently at it. It’s a question rather than a demand, and I loosen my hold on our new file so that he can take a look at it. He follows me up the stairs, and I can hear papers turning as he skims over the notes inside.
“Married, three kids,” he announces. “Most likely it’s for the public eye, to give him the appearance of being a family man rather than a solitary businessman. I’d almost prefer to think it was a love marriage, though, considering how ugly his wife is. She looks like a Class A bitch, and only being emotionally involved would help him get past such a crooked nose. The kids definitely got her genes, the poor bastards.”
“I find it almost amusing that you can criticize others on their appearances,” I offer him over my shoulder.
I can feel the offended glare he sends me burning a hole in my back. “Oi,” he protests before flipping through a couple more papers. “Seven states with multiple businesses in each one…He’s big into charity work so the public is fond of him. They haven’t got a clue of what he’s tangled up with. He’s smiling in these pictures and on the next page he’s pressing on his contacts in Washington to pass bills that will help his ambitions and squish the very people that adore him.” He laughs, obviously approving of our contact. “I hope he’s half as intelligent as the branch seems to think he is…He’s got a sharp look about him but clothes don’t make the man.”
“To your favor,” is my dry response.
“Jesus, I can’t win today.” He gives an exaggerated sigh before stuffing the folder back under my arm. I hear his footsteps stop and continue up a few more steps before looking back at him. He’s raking a hand through his hair, peering up at me before stuffing his hands in his pockets. “I’m starving and there isn’t anything in the cabinets upstairs. I’m going to go get us some Thai food or something.”
“Nagi doesn’t like Thai,” I remind him.
“Oh well,” is the breezy response. He flashes me a grin that’s all teeth and turns to head back down the stairwell. “If he goes out and fetches food and pays for it himself, he can decide what we’re going to eat. Otherwise, he’s shit out of luck and you can tell him so. Play nice with Farfarello while I’m gone, ja? Back in fifteen or twenty.”
I accept this in silence and turn away from him, heading up the next flight to the third floor. We are currently staying in some of the rooms in the branch’s estate. It has been our residence for the past two days as we finished up with our last client and waited for the branch to have time to see us. Farfarello and Nagi are in their rooms, Nagi entertaining himself and Farfarello restrained. Our Sensitive wanders up and down the edge of sanity freely, sometimes deranged and dangerous, other times lucid and even more of a threat. Schuldich helps keep him stable, though no one has quite understood how a telepath could keep anyone sane. Schuldich finds it bitterly amusing that the gift that is wearing away at his own mind helps keep another’s intact. Farfarello bleeds off of the gift and it is generally enough to keep him clear headed. Since my gift requires him to be sane and Schuldich has shown no ill-effects of a shared talent, Schwarz has allowed Farfarello to continue leeching away at the German.
Back to Farfarello again. I offer a mental sigh, aggravated by how frequently the Irish teenager skitters through my thoughts. Granted, considering my current situation, I am going to make a mental reference to him quite often. Even when I don’t have need of him, however, he manages to keep himself in the forefront of my mind. He listens to me on the field, assassin to assassin rather than precognitive to Sensitive, but it’s an obedience that comes with an eerie smile and knowing eyes, and subtle aggravations. He knows he irritates me even though I am good at keeping my annoyance hidden, and the satisfaction he derives from such harassment seems to be worth the time in restraints it buys him.
Schuldich finds it amusing- to a degree. He’s not terribly fond of Farfarello, though he has no real grudge against the younger man. Nagi prefers to avoid the Irishman and in so doing is oblivious to the constant power struggle between the two of us.
I make my way to my room, a simple little place with only the necessities. A desk is against one wall and a bed is against the other. There is no dresser, because no one stays here long enough to bother unpacking from his or her travels. My suitcase rests at the foot of the bed and I pass it on the way to my desk. The folder is set down on the surface and I leave it there for the time being. Schuldich has summarized what he considers to be the main points and I have plenty of time to read it through before it is presented to my teammates. It is just two in the afternoon and we will have a talk over dinner. I have moved away from the desk, intending on finishing today’s newspaper until Schuldich gets back with lunch, when I wonder what time our flight will head out tomorrow.
I return to the desk, flipping the folder open, and find the tickets resting on top. As I lift them a picture of our newest client is revealed, and I am distracted by it before I check the times printed on our plane tickets. Dark hair, darker eyes, and a mouth set into the faintest of smirks as a cold gaze stares up at me.
The tickets flutter free from my fingers as I stare down at the image. I know that man. I’ve seen him many times before. Heat from a tight grip seems to burn into my hips and I can feel fingernails raking over my chest with the intent of breaking the skin.
This is…that man.
He is our client.
I reach out and close the folder, letting it hide his face from view. I stare down at it for several long moments before stooping to retrieve the tickets. I drop them onto my desk and take a deep breath, considering the file before me. Not all futures have to come true…I have learned this from experience. All I have to do is talk to Farfarello and see what my Watcher has to say about it. His gift will tug at mine and we can find a loophole out of this. It’s the talking to Farfarello that I still hesitate over, but if that man is to be our next client and we are flying out to see him tomorrow, the time to come clean with my Watcher is approaching quicker than I thought it would.
Dinner is a relatively quiet affair, all things considered. The four of Schwarz are gathered in the third floor dining room, scattered around a long table with several empty chairs between us. It’s less avoiding each other and more trying to claim personal space before we fly out and are reduced to smaller quarters once more. Farfarello is the furthest from me and has nothing to add to the conversation about our upcoming job. Since Schuldich loves to talk he is the one who explains the job to our teammates. After I finished going through the file I gave it back to him to finish, and he read it all before dinner. Now he is telling the other two what will be expected of us and what we should expect from him in return. He is good at analyzing people with or without his gift, so he tells the younger two assassins what sort of personality we’ll most likely be dealing with. It’s better to go in with some idea than to show up and have to readjust.
I am content to let Schuldich talk, busying myself instead with eating. I do listen to him to make sure he includes everything, but I know he won’t leave anything out. I deal more with our clients than the others do, so Schuldich deals more with the team. I decide what we’re going to do and act as the medium between Schwarz and the job, and Schuldich keeps the other two in line while I’m busy or takes them out to do what I’ve told him to take care of. It works for us, and it keeps Farfarello and me from going for each other’s throats as often as we could.
The assassin in question is staring at me. I can feel his heavy gaze on me as I eat, and I am content to ignore him for the time being. He won’t get bored of it; I know that from experience. It’s a gaze that gets heavier with every second that it lingers and I concentrate on Schuldich and the meal to ignore it. Nagi says something back to Schuldich, making a quiet comment on some of the businesses Matthews wants us to acquire for him. There aren’t enough details in the file about the infrastructure of some of the corporations to satisfy Nagi, and he wonders whether to investigate them now or after we have arrived in Charlotte.
“Wait,” I tell him, answering his musing. “It is evening already and our flight leaves at seven in the morning. We will have plenty of time to investigate after we have arrived and settled in.” He accepts this with a slight nod, his dark blue eyes holding mine for just a moment before he refills his drink. “Tomorrow will mostly be made up of conferences to meet Matthews and the staff working under him. The larger names in his corporations will be present so we may get acquainted with all of them. Those present will be the ones that know most or all of what’s going on behind the scenes, so they will all know what we are there for. You can get information from them as easily as from technical research.”
“True enough,” Nagi answers, giving a slight nod before sipping at his water.
“Just don’t let them underestimate you.” Schuldich offers the youngest a wide grin, holding his hand out in a demand. The tea pitcher obediently slides down the four feet to where Schuldich is sitting and our resident telepath pours himself a drink. I watch him because my plate is uninteresting and shifting my gaze to the right will have me returning Farfarello’s insolent stare. Schuldich fills his cup to the brim and has to lean down to take the first sip. Pushing the pitcher aside, he swallows half of his glass before continuing. Nagi is serving himself more food from the dishes; he did not eat much of lunch because Schuldich brought back food he didn’t like, so he is making up for the loss now. “Their first impression of you is going to be that you’re a kid, regardless of what they hear about you. What they see is going to contradict what they’ve heard, so you’ll have to figure out who’s going to give you the answers you need. Even if Matthews were to order them to cooperate, behind his back they’re not going to want to give you anything.” He looks towards me, waggling his eyebrows. “Maybe we could schedule a demonstration.”
“Only if it’s necessary,” I respond. Nagi nods again. As much as he does not like being underestimated because of his youth, he views displays of power just for respect to be unnecessary. He is the least willing of the four of us to use his gift, in part because of what wielding such a power did to him in his early years of life. He has problems at every station we have been assigned to because our clients look at him and see a sixteen year old boy rather than a telekinetic assassin, but he makes do in his quiet way.
Schuldich just sighs. He uses his powers more freely than we do, so he does not understand Nagi’s reluctance. Even knowing the reasons behind such restraint, he thinks it’s silly to have so much power and keep it hidden. It’s a common debate between them; it gives them something to argue about to pass the time.
I rise from my place, gathering up my dishes, and as I do, my eyes meet with Farfarello’s. We hold the stare for the barest of moments, but it feels like forever. Even missing an eye, his stare is strong enough. We challenge each other with the look, weighing the power between us. For now, I am still in charge. When I give in and relay my vision to him, the balance will shift between us.
His mouth pulls into a faint sneer and he runs his knife along his lips. I can see the disdain he holds for me clear in his gaze and I keep my own stare cool in return. Satisfied that I am still in control here, for the time being at least, I carry my dishes to the sink. Nagi misses the silent exchange, as he is thinking about the upcoming job. Schuldich picks up on it, however, and makes an amused comment against the shields around my mind. I ignore him, setting my dishes down. A servant will come by later and will take everything away.
I send the table a final look, looking towards Schuldich rather than my Watcher. “Set the alarms for 5:30,” I say, and leave the room to his nod of acknowledgment. It’s late now, for Schwarz eats dinner late in the evening, so I can retire for the night after showering. I peel my tie from my neck as I enter my room, setting it on top of my suitcase as I gather my things. As I turn to go my eyes fall on the folder resting on my bed. Schuldich returned it to my room when he was finished with it. My gaze lingers on the file for a moment longer.
I know what I will be dreaming about tonight, and I offer a soft sigh to the room before leaving.
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