PIECES OF A DREAM
------------four : When I grew up, I called him mine
News of Seraphim's death hit the school hard. Outside of the Council and the Five, only three knew the particulars of her sudden deterioration. Without a good reason for the loss, the precogs were in mourning and the top tiers were shaken. Jonas knew all eyes in the Prophet Hall had turned on Crawford, but for all they knew, they were simply watching for signs of a similar decline.
Jonas did not attend meetings with the Five for over a month. He knew exactly what his colleagues thought of the matter, and he had no patience for their mocking I-told-you-so's. Avoiding them maybe proved them right, but it was the lesser evil. He knew what he was likely to do if he had to look at their smirking faces. Being a Five gave him a lot of leeway, but not the permission to shred his peers. The Council would have his skin for it and they'd lose what faith in him they might have. He needed their trust and his authority if he was going to swing things the way he needed them to go.
He did not see the Council, either. Ahmed made it clear he was not welcome at the Council's weekly meetings with their Five. Because the dinners were always held in secluded corridors, no one but the Council and Five knew Jonas was being shunned. That didn't stop him from feeling humiliated and resentful. He was one of the Five; he was their best. He was Nikolai's successor. For the Council to give him the cold shoulder was unthinkable. Arguing about the matter would get him nowhere, however, and showing up uninvited would only mean getting punished in front of the Five. That, Jonas would never allow.
He had little choice but to keep his head down and his mouth shut. He hated every second of it, but he thought about Asia's future and suffered in silence. He kept himself as busy as humanly possible, stretching himself so thin he made himself sick. He didn't leave his office at all in those first two weeks. He lived off of his coffee stash and sometimes remembered to have someone bring him food. Other than that, he was buried elbow deep in contracts, paperwork, and his teams. Exhaustion and stress kept him from staying angry; communications with his subordinates kept him from contracting cabin fever. He filed his reports with the Five and Council the old-fashioned way, on lined forms in sealed manila envelopes. They responded in kind.
Ikida was the one who got him out of his office after those two weeks, showing up unannounced at Jonas' door. He was leery of interrupting Jonas' solitude, but he refused to take no for an answer and wouldn't leave unless Jonas went with him. Jonas would have ignored him, but tossing the Council's favorite doctor out on his ass wasn't an option at this point. Instead he made Ikida wait an hour while he finished up one of his lengthier reports. Ikida waited patiently for him to be through. As soon as Jonas flipped his folder shut, he came around the desk.
Jonas waved him off irritably and got to his feet, only to sway as he stood too fast. Darkness ate away at the edges of his vision and he blinked to clear his sight. When that wasn't enough, he rubbed at his face. He'd been running nonstop for two weeks now. What sleep he'd gotten had been in fits and bursts, few and far between. Now that he'd been interrupted, he could finally feel what he'd done to himself. He wasn't entirely surprised when his legs gave out from under him, and he sank back into his chair.
Ikida gave a quiet sigh at his side. "There is such a thing as going too far, Five Hoffmann."
"I did not ask for your opinion," Jonas said.
Jonas could feel the doctor's reproach, but Ikida didn't push it. Jonas lifted an arm in command. Ikida caught hold of it and helped pull the Soul Shaker back to his feet. They stood there for a full minute, perhaps longer, making sure Jonas had his sense of balance about him. Ikida took advantage of the wait to check his pulse and temperature. He didn't like the results, but he kept his lectures to himself.
Ikida helped him to the door, but he knew to let go before they stepped into the hallway. Ikida followed Jonas all the way to his room. Jonas' office had a private toilet, but not the full bathroom his bedroom had. Jonas hadn't felt grungy until he stepped into his bedroom and saw that narrow door at the back of the room. Ikida said nothing when Jonas started that way. He left only after Jonas had the water going, but Jonas felt his return less than ten minutes later. When he left his bathroom in his towel, the doctor was standing by his bed.
Ikida had brought back two full pitchers of water and a plate of food. A bottle of pills was sitting beside an empty glass. Jonas picked it up and eyed it, but the name meant nothing to him. Ikida didn't explain, distracted by the scars on Jonas' bared back. They were the only scars Jonas bore, left there after Jonas broke his nephew. Jonas had seen them in the mirror once and been repulsed by the jagged, ugly lines. It wasn't vanity; it was outrage that someone had dared mark him. It meant he'd been someone's dog at one point in his life, when Jonas had promised himself he'd never settle for anything but the top.
Ikida looked at his back without judgment, so Jonas didn't warn him off. Instead he set the bottle aside and slowly began toweling himself dry. "I do not need your assistance."
Ikida inclined his head at that and started for the door. He paused in the doorway and glanced back at the empath. "Rosenkreuz needs you," he said quietly. "Please attempt to take better care of yourself."
"Rosenkreuz needs Asia," Jonas returned.
And the needs of the many always outweighed the few. Ikida knew that, so he let the argument die. He left Jonas to his dinner and bed. Jonas draped his damp towel over his shoulders and considered the tray Ikida had left on his bedside table. Only now did he realize how hungry he was, now that he was too tired to squish such an annoying feeling with his gift. He tried to count up days since he'd last eaten and gave up around five. He rubbed at his forehead in irritation and finally relaxed his gift's grip on himself. With hunger came a pounding headache—either sleep deprivation or dehydration.
He got in bed without bothering to get dressed. He let himself eat only a little, knowing better than to clear his plate after so long a fast. When his stomach complained, he filled it with water instead. He took Ikida's pills with his second glass and felt their effects by his third. He fell asleep still half-wrapped in his towel.
He woke up three days later, feeling sluggish from so much sleep. The date on his clock was enough to wake him up and he threw the rest of Ikida's pills away with a florid curse. He got dressed with hands still clumsy from his prolonged unconsciousness and started for the door. Second thoughts had him turning back at the last minute, and he brought the second pitcher of water to his office with him.
There was a lot to catch up on after such an absence. His answering machine was full, as was his inbox. Jonas dug the heels of his palms into his eyes and seethed quietly for a moment. He gave himself fifteen seconds to be well and truly angry, then shattered that emotion beneath his gift. He set his inbox to load his emails and pushed play on his answering machine. He turned up the volume so he could hear his messages as he set a pot of coffee to brew. There were three messages from each of his teams, one for each day he'd been asleep. He stared at his map as he imagined their movements, listening intently to the updates.
There was only one report from Crawford. His position meant he had more authority to act on his own, so there was less he had to check in with Jonas. This was the longest message Jonas had gotten from him since Crawford's promotion, however. Unable to get in touch with their Five, Asia's teams had had to report to Crawford. Jonas' answering service didn't give Crawford enough room to go into great detail, but Crawford had plenty of time to name which teams he had spoken to over the last several days. Jonas knew he would find a more in-depth report in his inbox, and he was—reassured.
He was seriously behind after such an absence, but his sector was fine. His teams had known to turn to Crawford, and Crawford had kept things moving flawlessly.
Such thoughts had him glancing at the calendar and looking ahead to Crawford's departure from Asia. The precognitive would be turning over all of his projects and teams and reports to someone else to handle. Jonas wasn't looking forward to that day, and he knew Crawford wasn't, either. They had a limited time in which to prep Asia for a new leader, and it seemed Crawford hadn't told anyone yet that he was leaving. Jonas wasn't sure he blamed him, not when the demotion was so severe.
Still, Crawford's upcoming duties with Rosenkreuz's school didn't mean Jonas couldn't make some use of him. Jonas would finally have Crawford right where he could reach him. There was so much they could accomplish together.
Rosenkreuz needs you, Ikida had told Jonas.
Rosenkreuz needs Asia, Jonas had said.
To himself, he now said, "Rosenkreuz needs Crawford."
Maybe the Council was leery to believe that after Seraphim's death, but Jonas knew they would come to their senses. And if they wouldn't… well, he'd be Council one day, and then it wouldn't matter what any of the others thought.
His coffee maker gurgled, indicating it was finished brewing. Jonas poured himself a mug and sat down, burying himself in his work once more.
Six weeks after they'd stopped talking to him, the Council finally called on Jonas. Six weeks was long enough for the Five to cycle from amusement to condescension to exasperation to apathy, so none of the four said a word as Jonas sat down opposite them. The Council said nothing about his long absence, either, and the nine went about their dinner meeting as if nothing had happened.
The Council left first, as was their right. Jonas would have followed them out, but Elizabeth caught his sleeve. He flicked her a cool look, but she said nothing. She kept her stare on the closed door, and the tension in her shoulders said she was uncertain when it was safe to speak. Jonas tracked the Councilmen's progress until they were back at the Tower. When he motioned to Elizabeth, she finally let go.
"Hoffmann," she said, barely a murmur, "things are turning for the worst."
"Nikolai freaked this morning," Ricard said, apparently not as worried about being overheard. There was little reason to whisper: Nikolai could hear them anywhere in Rosenkreuz if he so wished. The only minds sealed to him were Jonas' and Crawford's. "Something Elizabeth told him sent him off the deep end."
"I know," Jonas said. He didn't know what had caused it, but Nikolai's outburst had shaken the entire school. Even a level two empath would have been able to pick up on his tantrum. Jonas had had to reschedule one of his phone conferences; there was no way he would have been able to focus, not with shields like his. The only way he'd have been able to block Nikolai was to find someone else to listen in on, and no one else had had nearly so strong a mental pool to pull from.
"You are still their favorite," Miguel said. "The precogs know you're going to succeed Nikolai when the time comes. You can't leave the Five uneven. It is time for you to pick a successor."
"I have already made my preference clear," Jonas said. "Crawford will be my Five."
"After what he did to Seraphim?" Adrian asked, disgusted. "Your stupidity makes me ill."
Jonas turned his heavy stare on Adrian, and the pyrokinetic couldn't return it. "Speak boldly while you can," Jonas warned him quietly. "Soon enough you will be afraid to so much as breathe in my presence."
Adrian scowled at that, but Jonas was right, and they all knew it. They could barely tolerate him as their equal; they knew what would happen when he ascended. Despite that, they would fight tooth and nail to make sure he got the spot. Fear and hatred meant nothing at this level. If they believed Jonas could take Rosenkreuz further than they could, then they would do anything to make sure he ascended first.
"Your successor, Hoffmann," Ricard said, trying to distract Jonas.
Jonas got to his feet and left. He passed Malachi as he left the building, and a sharp snap of his fingers ordered the prescient to follow him. Malachi obediently fell in a couple steps behind him, and the two went back to Jonas' office. Malachi closed the door behind them and took a seat when Jonas pointed at the chair. The empath threw himself into his own chair and glowered across his desk at Malachi.
"I want Crawford as my successor," Jonas insisted. Malachi had been there when Seraphim died, so it was not news to him. "The only way the Council will approve him is if the Prophet's Hall can vouch for him. I know they have you watching him. You have not seen anything yet?"
Malachi shook his head. "No, Five Hoffmann. We are still watching, but…" He gave a helpless gesture. "Crawford is a very difficult man to see. Seraphim was the only one who could follow him without problems. The Council knows this, and they have given us the year to sort things through. But Herr Hoffmann," he continued before Jonas could speak, "you must know the Councilmen want him as their Eyes. If the prescients clear Crawford, that is the slot the Council will push him into."
Jonas saw no reason why Crawford couldn't be Eyes and a Five, but he did not say that. He didn't want the Councilmen- his future colleagues- to catch wind of his intentions before he ascended. All he said was, "Does he know of their intentions?"
Malachi gave a short shake of his head. "Whether or not he suspects it for himself, he has to know his chances are slim now. I told him how Seraphim died; he knows he is in a sore spot with the Council. They won't tell him until they can trust him."
"My word should be enough."
Malachi could hear the deadly warning beneath his conversational tone. Seraphim's former aide glanced his way, looked away, reconsidered, and turned back on Jonas. "Five Hoffmann," he said, as deferentially as he could, "the Council knows your position is compromised. Your… bias is some cause for alarm for them. That is why they cannot accept him on your word alone."
"All Fives have favorites," Jonas said.
Malachi was uncomfortable all over again. The precognitive rubbed at his temples, not liking this vein of conversation. He struggled for the right words, then started delicately, "Five Hoffmann, it is the particular nature of this bias that causes them grief."
"Speak plainly to me, prophet," Jonas said, annoyed. "You are getting on my last nerve with all of this hemming and hawing."
"Yes, Five Hoffmann," Malachi said, but he still took a moment to consider how straightforward he could be without getting himself in trouble. Caution warred with embarrassment and resignation. The only thing that showed on Malachi's face was exhaustion, as if he was tired of dealing with the whole situation. It only served to annoy Jonas further. Malachi knew something—had known something for quite some time—that the Council knew, and none of them had thought to inform him. They had a legitimate reason besides Seraphim's death to question his judgment, but they hadn't brought it up with them. They'd let him think it was all on Seraphim's head.
Finally Malachi cleared his throat. "The Council knows that you and Crawford are going to be intimately involved," he said. "Seraphim told them point-blank thirteen years ago."
Jonas stared at Malachi without seeing him. "That is not possible."
Pity—that Jonas was so blind. Disbelief—that Jonas would even deny it. The incredulous edge to the latter was the worst part. Malachi wasn't surprised that Jonas was questioning a prescient; he was surprised that Jonas hadn't figured it out for himself yet.
"You put her son in the hospital when you ascended ranks. The Council spoke to her at length in regards to your gift, and Nikolai made the mistake of asking if there would be problems between you and the child and Seraphim. Seraphim's answer was that your fates were intertwined, and she was quite specific about the details." Malachi lifted both hands slightly, in self-defense, perhaps, or in apology for being involved in such a private conversation. "Despite that, they only signed off on the relationship a couple of years ago. They do not think kindly of it, but they will allow it until it proves too unhealthy to continue."
Jonas dimly remembered Seraphim promising that Crawford was going to be important to him. The memory of her arguing relationships with him was just as faded. He definitely remembered that crafty, mocking smile of hers. He counted to ten, fighting the desire to wring her manipulative neck. It didn't help.
"They have never forgotten," Malachi finished. "That is why they are uncertain now. You see your world through Crawford-tinted glasses."
Those words were the last straw for Jonas' fraying temper. "I am a Five," he said, furious, and Malachi flinched as Jonas' power crackled over his aged skin. "I live and die for Rosenkreuz's future. If I am biased toward Crawford, it is because he is exactly what I have needed up to this point. If he is my favorite, it is because he has earned it. I have no time to waste on incompetent subordinates, not now or ever. Should he ever forget his place or his purpose, he would pay for it in blood and pain. It does not matter what he has done up to this point. Should he fail me, he will die. I would not even hesitate. I would not regret it."
"I know," Malachi tried, but Jonas wasn't listening.
"I dare any of you to look at what he has accomplished in Asia and tell me I am favoring him unfairly!"
"Herr Hoffmann," Malachi said, so quietly Jonas barely heard him, "I know." The sincerity in those two words, backed up by a wealth of complicated emotions, was enough to calm Jonas down somewhat. The silence that stretched between them felt tense enough to shatter. Malachi was the first to break it when he sucked in a slow, quiet breath. "I will keep my eyes open. We all will."
"Get out," Jonas said, and Malachi was all too happy to leave.
Jonas stared at the closed door in his wake, struggling to come to terms with what Malachi had just dumped on him. Seraphim had never misspoken a single word her entire life. She'd been oftentimes misleading, but never wrong.
He sorted through the paperwork on his desk without seeing any of it. His mind was thousands of miles away in Beijing, with Crawford, as he wondered what this meant for the future. He thought about Asia, Crawford's impending return to Rosenkreuz, and his own future ascension to the Council. He thought of Crawford as a Five or the Eyes or both, and wondered if it would really make that much of a difference. He'd known for years that Crawford was an integral piece of his future. Jonas had the position, Crawford had the sight, and they shared a ruthless drive for power and perfection. Master and advisor until the end.
Maybe it wouldn't change anything at all.
The phone rang, jarring him from his thoughts. The number on the cradle said it was his team in Seoul. Jonas shoved thoughts of Seraphim and Crawford to one side and turned his attention back to his work where it belonged. For now, anyway, because Malachi's news was never far from Jonas' mind after that.
A few weeks later, Haßt finally reached a lull in their work and sent their telepath back to Rosenkreuz. Elizabeth called Jonas first thing that morning to let him know Borin would be back in Rosenkreuz that afternoon. As soon as Jonas hung up with her, he bought a ticket for Crawford and ordered the precog on the next plane out. Crawford accepted his orders without question. Jonas spent the rest of the day trying not to think about Alessa or her son. It was an exercise in futility.
A layover in Cairo meant Crawford didn't land until late that evening. Elizabeth didn't understand why Jonas bothered bringing Crawford all the way to Rosenkreuz when he could easily rendezvous with Borin and Ikida in Berlin, but Jonas was intent on speaking to Crawford alone. He stood before the globe in his office, walking his fingers across the countries under his command, and wondered just how much he was supposed to say. After a day of considering it, he didn't have an easy answer.
A knock at his door interrupted his musing, and he called for Crawford to enter. The precognitive did as he was told and stood quietly on the other side of the room. Jonas gave his globe a smack just to watch it spin. "Haßt's telepath is back in Rosenkreuz," he said. "We are sending him to Austria in a few hours. You and Ikida will be going with him. You are in charge of the operation, regardless of what Borin says."
The globe started to slow down; Jonas gave it another hit to send it whirling again. Crawford said nothing, content to wait until Jonas gave him further instructions. The precognitive knew he hadn't been waylaid at Rosenkreuz for such a simple briefing. Jonas let him wait, knowing Crawford would never grow impatient, knowing Crawford would never dream of prompting him for more.
At length he gave up on the globe and sank heavily into his chair. "How much information do you need to make a successful prophecy?" he asked, looking at Crawford at last.
Crawford kept his gaze on the globe. "As I am not a specific instance sensitive, it takes a varying amount of information to be a trigger, Herr Hoffmann. At times, it is just a word; at others, it comes best from a matter that is days or weeks in the making. My instructors said it is never a sure thing and I have had to accept that as truth through years of experience."
Jonas considered that for a moment, then pointed at the chair across from him. "Sit," he said, and Crawford obeyed. "I need your gift to breed true on this."
And before he could think twice about it, he told Crawford the truth—the full truth, that so few people knew anymore. He told Crawford about Alessa's accident and ensuing madness, and her banishment to Germany. He explained the particulars of her new living situation and how horrifically it had turned out for her. He told Crawford exactly who Alessa was, and in turn, who that ragged, insane mess of a telepathic child was. In the end, he told Crawford more than he meant to, maybe more than he should, but if Crawford realized Jonas' indiscretion, he gave no sign of it. The precognitive listened silently and intently, focusing on every word out of Jonas' mouth, turning each bit of information over to his gift.
In the end, maybe the too much was what made it enough, because Jonas felt it when it clicked. He watched Crawford's eyes go distant, felt Crawford's mind disappear, and knew he'd lost the younger man. Jonas had seen a lot of Crawford's visions firsthand, but he'd only seen Crawford shut down like this once before.
Fucking telepaths, he thought sourly, but he leaned forward to study Crawford's face.
Crawford's mouth moved over a name he couldn't say aloud: "Schuldich…"
On the tail-end of that name was nothing but pain, a deep and vicious shuddering as Crawford's shields started to crack. Jonas was around his desk in an instant, but the weight of his hands on Crawford's shoulders wasn't enough to rouse him.
"Crawford," he said flatly. "Wake up."
Crawford didn't answer, but Jonas felt another of his shields shiver and give. The Soul Shaker caught Crawford's chin in his hand and tipped the precog's head back. It forced Crawford to look him in the eyes, but Crawford was so far gone that Jonas couldn't reach him. His power hit nothing but a precog's wild, unrestrained gift, and it slid off like water on glass. Jonas plucked his glasses off his face, an attempt to erase that barrier between them, but it did him no good. He was staring at a Crawford who had forgotten this moment existed.
He had just about decided he was going to have to wait this out when Crawford started to bleed. The whites of Crawford's eyes slowly turned red as capillaries on the surface burst, and Jonas watched drops of blood trickle over the surface of his eyes to dribble down his cheeks.
That changed everything.
Jonas shot his gift across the compound to Malachi. He didn't know the precognitive's phone number by heart and didn't have time to waste on looking it up. Instead he sent a searing snap along Malachi's nerves. The prescient would know who was calling on him. Indeed, Jonas' phone started ringing a moment later. He let go of Crawford with one hand to snatch the receiver up.
"The Oracle's shields are breaking," Jonas said. "He's bleeding."
He slammed the phone back down again, knowing that was enough to get Malachi moving. The aging prophet was out of his bed and to Jonas' office in less than a minute. He hadn't even bothered to get dressed. Jonas couldn't remember the last time Malachi had moved so fast.
"He's jumping ranks," Malachi said, giving Jonas the explanation he hadn't had time to on the phone.
"I was there when he made rank six," Jonas said. "It took barely a minute."
"Eight is not an easy leap, Five Hoffmann," Malachi said, wiping blood from Crawford's cheeks. "Few survive the transition. Most of the sevens we lose are sevens who are trying to become eights. Their shields break and they get lost along the way."
The thought of pouring so much time and energy and trust into this man, only to lose him to his power was—unthinkable. Impermissible. An outrage. No. Crawford was meant to be much more than this, just as Jonas was meant to be more than this. Jonas swallowed hard against acidic rage. When he blinked, he saw blood dried on hardwood floors and Alessa's vacant stare.
"He will not get lost," Jonas said, more savagely than he intended.
Malachi flicked him a startled look before he could stop himself. "Seraphim's prophecies do not stop here," he promised, and Jonas let himself be reassured by that. Neither man said anything for a moment. When Crawford started to bleed again, Jonas was the one who wiped the drops free. At length Malachi said, very cautiously, "You do know why he is bleeding, Herr Hoffmann? He is losing his sight."
Jonas slowly dragged his stare up from Crawford's face to stare at the older prescient. Seraphim's former aide was careful to avoid his gaze. "No," Jonas said. "He cannot be my Five if he is blind. I need his sight. He isn't worth anything to me without it."
"But he can still," Malachi said, slowly and oh-so-carefully, "be the Council's Eyes. He is still yours, Five Hoffmann. You already know what will happen when Herr Nikolai dies. Crawford's power will always rest with you. So Seraphim said, in her own roundabout way." Jonas glanced at the prescient, mulling over those words. Malachi misread the look. "I apologize if I have said too much."
Jonas looked at Crawford. "He will only be their Eyes if the Council forgives him."
"If that," Malachi agreed quietly.
"Black," Crawford murmured, startling them both.
"Crawford?" Malachi tried, but the prescient didn't answer.
"He's out," Jonas said, scanning Crawford's mind. "I am bringing him to Ikida's."
Malachi helped Jonas get Crawford to his feet, but the old prescient couldn't help Jonas carry him. Crawford had a few centimeters on Jonas, but the empath still managed to pick him up. Malachi went ahead of him down the hall. At this late hour, no one was about to see the strange procession, so they made it to the medical ward without interruption. Ikida was awake, since he expected to be on a plane soon. He was not expecting the mess Jonas brought him, but he acted with swift efficiency and got Crawford settled in one of his empty rooms.
Jonas turned Crawford over to Ikida and called the Council with his report. They ordered him to call back as soon as Crawford woke. Jonas agreed and went to supervise Ikida.
There was little any of them could do until Crawford woke up again. Still, Malachi did not go far from Crawford's room, and Ikida sat at the foot of Crawford's bed in-between his rounds. Jonas sat at Crawford's bedside, arms folded over his chest, and thought long and hard about what Crawford's ascension and blindness meant.
Disappointment eased to jagged, reluctant acceptance, and in the end there was just a single, malicious thought:
I cannot wait until Crawford finds out.
Because oh, this newest change was not going to go over well with him. Jonas got comfortable in his chair, content to wait until Crawford's mind came back together again.
Crawford was unconscious for nearly twelve hours before Malachi sensed his impending waking. Jonas was asleep in the next room, banished there by Ikida sometime around two in the morning, but Malachi woke him before going to call on the Council. His watchdog duties finally over, the prescient retreated to the Prophet's Hall to sleep. Jonas waited outside of Crawford's room for the Council and the Five to make it to him, and they all went into Crawford's room to wait.
"I know what he based his core on," Nikolai said, staring hard at Crawford but tilting his head in Jonas' direction. "Why are his shields cracked?"
"I do not know, Herr Nikolai," Jonas said.
Elizabeth sent Jonas a tight smile behind the Council's back—congratulations, maybe. The emotions behind the expression were more complicated, ranging from amused to exasperated. The Five remembered well how often they'd tried to talk Jonas out of his obsession with Crawford. Crawford had proven yet again that he'd been well worth the trouble. Elizabeth was acknowledging an I told you so Jonas would never be childish enough to say out loud.
Mosuli started to step forward, but Crawford's mind snapped awake so forcibly Jonas wondered how it didn't make an audible sound. Nikolai certainly noticed. He jerked a hand at Mosuli, ordering him to stay silent and still. Mosuli wasn't the only one who stared at Nikolai, but Jonas was easily the only one furious by this newest development.
Nikolai could hear Crawford.
That would not do.
Crawford was his property, his little pet.
A flutter of dread distracted him. Crawford's eyes were open when Jonas looked back at him and he was pressing careful fingers along his face. Denial was an uneasy trickle at the back of Crawford's thoughts. He blinked a couple times, making sure his eyes were indeed open. The movement made him bleed again. Ikida saw it beading at the corner of his eye and crossed the room toward him. Crawford obediently tilted his head in that direction, confusion denial denial denial
Jonas wondered if Ikida saw any of that in Crawford's sightless eyes, because the doctor said, "You're awake now."
Ikida carefully set Crawford's hand back down on the sheets and wiped his face clean.
"I cannot see," Crawford said.
"I wouldn't expect you to," Ikida replied. "Herr Hoffmann brought you in here early this morning when you started bleeding out of your eyes. You're still bleeding, in fact, but it's only off and on and it should stop soon. You've been unconscious for twelve hours, you know, lost in that gift of yours."
Crawford lifted his hand back to his face, looking for some signs of blood on his cheek. His free hand curved against the sheets; fingernails raked a short, vicious line across the cotton. Jonas' lips parted on a silent breath as something bright and sharp seared across Crawford's nerves. Resentment, denial, and fury came first, though Crawford squished that as fiercely as he knew how. The force of such emotions left a hollow gap, filled by something halfway between nausea and despair.
Despite that mess, Crawford's voice gave nothing away. "Why can't I see?" he asked, as if he was asking why the ceiling was gray.
"It is not unusual for precognitives to lose their eyesight as they progress through ranks and overload their minds," Jean said, starting for the bed. The Council moved with him. Crawford relaxed his hand against the sheets, suddenly aware that he had an audience.
"Didn't you see it coming?" Jonas asked, amused.
Nikolai settled at the base of the bed and harrumphed in annoyance. "There are ten of us here," he said, as if answering a pointless question. "The Five and the Council have come to bear witness to your waking."
If blindness had left Crawford uneasy and off-kilter, Nikolai's tactless 'I can hear you' was more than enough to send him reeling. Jonas wasn't any happier about it. Crawford wasn't meant to be shared. Crawford was meant to be his.
Of course, he realized with a dull twist of anger, if Crawford did become the Council's Eyes, then that was precisely who he would be: the Council's Eyes. The other three would have equal rights to call on him. Malachi had said Crawford's power would stay with Jonas, but Jonas was, in fact, going to lose his most precious possession. He would have to give Crawford up to Rosenkreuz as a whole.
He was distracted from his angry thoughts when Ikida excused himself from the room. Across the room, Crawford closed his eyes and pressed his fingertips against his eyelids. Denial discontent anger; a perfect cocktail to supplement Jonas' own feelings on the matter.
"Councilmen," Crawford said in quiet greeting, and he made himself lower his hand from his face.
"The Five are here as witnesses," Ahmed said. "The Council of Rosenkreuz hereby declares rank. The prescient Oracle, only son of Seraphim, is hereby recognized as a rank eight general view precognitive. The Council bestows on you congratulations and the expectation that you will use this promotion in the best interests of Rosenkreuz and Estet."
"Everything that I do is done for Rosenkreuz's future," Crawford said. "My life and gift are at your disposal."
Ricard glanced over at Jonas at that, making his own bets on Crawford's sincerity. One certainly couldn't hear a lie in Crawford's voice. Jonas smiled, slow and cold, because nothing Crawford said was forced. That didn't mean Crawford liked the truth, however – he positively hated it.
Nikolai nodded, satisfied, and that was enough for the Council. The telepath glanced Jonas' way. "Deal with this," he said. "We will see him when Malachi has deemed him stable."
Jonas inclined his head in acceptance, and the Council filed out. The Five lingered a little longer, considering Crawford. "Well," Ricard said at length. "This will make Thursday more interesting."
Jonas said nothing to confirm or deny his presence at their next meeting, and the four left. Jonas followed them so far as the door and closed it. He propped one shoulder against the wood for a minute, content to study his prone prescient. Crawford still had his eyes closed. He didn't want to open them to nothingness.
Brad Crawford: Seraphim's son, former high advisor to Five Hoffmann, successor to the Council's Eyes.
Twenty year-old man.
And oh, did Crawford feel human now. Jonas' gut clenched in hunger and he crossed the room to Crawford's bed. A hand snagged the chair he'd been using last night and he dragged it closer to Crawford's bedside. He sat as close as the chair would let him and caught Crawford's chin to turn his head.
"Aim your gaze to the right, Oracle. I want you to open your eyes."
Crawford did as he was told. Jonas leaned closer, trying to decipher Crawford's gaze. He wondered what he'd expected to see, but Crawford's stare didn't seem any different. His eyes were still pinkish from the minor trauma inflicted on them last night, but there wasn't an obvious sign that Crawford had gone blind. He wondered if he'd expected Crawford's stare to look blank or unfocused, then wondered if he was disappointed that it didn't.
Jonas let go, and Crawford immediately closed his eyes again. The empath smirked a little and got more comfortable in his chair. "I suppose you have a lot to tell me if I got that reaction out of you earlier. We had to keep Borin here without you to oversee the search. Now that you're blind, he's going to have to go on his own. I haven't sent him yet because I wanted to hear what you had to say."
Crawford's reaction to mention of the shattered telepath made Jonas laugh. "Don't be so resentful, Oracle. You were lucky to make it to a seven with your eyes intact. How many level sevens do we have, and how many can see?"
"There are twelve level sevens, Herr Hoffmann, and eight are blind." There was a short pause, then, "I do not wish the Council to think that I am ungrateful for the evolution of my gift, sir."
"The Council thinks a lot about you. They've been thinking and talking and arguing about you ever since Seraphim died. Malachi says he explained the matter of her death to you."
"He said that she died looking into my future, Herr Hoffmann."
Not a single shred of remorse or grief, and although that apathy was directed at Seraphim, Jonas thought about the Council's fury toward him. His power crackled against Crawford's skin and he got right in Crawford's face. "They do not trust you," he said in a low voice. "They do not trust you because she saw something that killed her. I have been watching over you for years. I've had my gift in and out of you enough times that I was willing to argue for you in front of them. I vouched for you, Oracle. I did, when they might have asked no questions and terminated you.
"You know what I would do to you if you ever gave me a reason to regret that. It matters not to me that you're a level eight now, one of two. If you ever gave me a reason to doubt you I'd kill you and I'd make it slow. No one makes a fool of me."
"Herr Hoffmann," Crawford said; it was all he could say with Jonas' power burning away his nerves.
"Your blindness gives the Council an excuse to pull you out of China. When I leave here, I am placing a call to that telekinetic partner of yours. Your things will be packed up and shipped here. Malachi opened a room for you in the Prophets' Hall."
He lingered a moment, making sure Crawford understood, and then forced himself to draw back some. "But enough about that. I want to know what you saw in that child so I can decide what to do about Borin. Talk to me, Oracle. Tell me that you have good news for me."
Crawford thought it over, then turned his head Jonas' way. "Rosenkreuz is going to acquire a new telepath, Herr Hoffmann, but not yet."
"He is his mother's son. She survived madness for over seven years; she is the one who raised him and who put his shields in place. A Rosenkreuz telepath killed his mother and a Rosenkreuz empath killed his father and tried to kill him. He has been living on his own for years. When he turns to Rosenkreuz, he must turn of his own free will. He cannot be plucked up and moved here or he will break first. He must reach the point where he is willing to give up anything for our cause or he will die when he is here. It will take time, Herr Hoffmann, and a lot of work. If it were my place to make a suggestion, I would say that Borin should be transferred to Schrei, so that he is close enough to make frequent approaches."
He is his mother's son. Jonas thought of broken bones and skin and a bloody, terrified child.
"He is very strong, Herr Hoffmann," Crawford said. "He remembers you and he will fight you with everything he has."
"Only for so long," Jonas returned, amused. Crawford looked away, and Jonas considered the warning in that silent denial. "Oh?"
"He will fight you, Herr Hoffmann. Bleeding, broken, and screaming. He will fight you. If the timing is not perfect and if the induction isn't of his own free will, he will kill himself under your control. If the timing is right, he will fight, but he will lose, and Rosenkreuz will have a new telepath to train."
"Mmm," Jonas hummed. "I do so love having new toys to break in."
Crawford said nothing to that. There wasn't a speck of pity to be found in him toward the telepath; Crawford was ultimately more concerned with himself and his visions. "Herr Hoffmann?" he asked, carefully testing his right to speak further. Jonas said nothing, waiting to see if Crawford would take the initiative on his own. "He knows my name. I did not give it to him."
"Curious, but it can be explained. Since you will not be returning to China, I suppose you will be here whenever we finally manage to drag him in. Malachi cannot see him, so there might come a time when we need you to check on him again. I will keep that in mind. Can you give me any sort of a date to look for?"
"Rosenkreuz will celebrate the formation of a new Council before it accepts him."
"Months, then." It couldn't be longer than that, not with Nikolai's outbursts becoming more and more frequent. He didn't have Alessa's lasting power, didn't have her inner strength. He would not last the year. Jonas knew he would benefit from Nikolai's death, but he did not relish watching Nikolai go mad. He'd get to see firsthand how things had been for Alessa. At least Crawford was going to be here for it. With shields like that, Jonas had an anchor against Nikolai's outbursts. He'd taken to torturing and decimating the bottom students in each grade as a distraction, but perhaps there was another option.
There was enough room between Crawford's arm and the edge of the bed for Jonas to sit, so he slid from the chair to the mattress. He propped a hand against the sheets on Crawford's other side and studied his precog in silence. How the mighty have fallen, he thought, and his gut twisted with that vicious want he'd only ever been able to define as "Crawford".
"Seems like you and I will be seeing more of each other, though there will be less for you to report to me when the Council has you teaching little clairvoyant-wannabes how to read the future. Pity about the eyesight. I rather liked you able-bodied."
"I did not mean for it to happen, Herr Hoffmann."
"No, I suppose you didn't," Jonas said, amused by the splintering in Crawford's control. "So bitter you are about it, too. It is so few and far between that you react to anything. Sometimes I think you would have made a much better empath than a precognitive. You steadily train yourself to feel next to nothing. I have been watching for years as you carefully shut yourself down. And I… I have the power to break down all of your training in a heartbeat and rip out whatever I want.
"You have always been my favorite. That which you hide away from everyone else is left to only me. No one else can touch what I can touch. It's as if you keep it reserved, hidden away in a spot for my own private amusement. How do you feel about that?"
His own, but Crawford's shields had cracked in his ascension, and Nikolai could hear something. Possessive fury was like ice in the back of his throat, so fierce that Jonas almost missed Crawford's response: "Whatever you wish me to feel about it."
That wasn't good enough. Jonas tangled a hand in Crawford's hair and shoved his head into the pillow hard enough to hurt. He leaned down, keeping only a breath between their bodies, and stared hard at Crawford's face. Even here, even flat on his back in a hospital bed, Crawford managed to look like he had everything under control. It was that calm expression on his face, maybe, or the way he made himself lie so relaxed on the sheets. Even with his humanity shoved right in his face, the larger part of Crawford refused to think that he might have flaws, that he might have problems he would never be able to fix. Jonas could barely breathe around the need to prove him wrong.
He was losing Crawford to Nikolai, to the Council, to Rosenkreuz. Jonas would take what he could while he could. It was the only thing he knew to do.
"Does it break your heart?" he taunted Crawford. "I will be replacing you soon, if what you say is correct. If that boy steps through this door I will have someone else to devote my time and energies to. I will be trying to forget you, a precognitive who went blind with his power. For years I've watched and worked with you; for years you've been the perfect little errand boy. And now I will be losing you. I suppose you'll be wanting a farewell present, then?"
It wasn't a question with an easy answer, so Crawford copped out with a simple, "Herr Hoffmann."
Jonas laughed. "Open your eyes, Oracle, and look at me. I want to see your eyes."
Crawford didn't hesitate. The second their stares locked, Jonas finally felt the difference he couldn't see when Crawford had been looking away from him. He remembered the first time he'd looked Seraphim in the face, and the sheer power in her stare. Crawford's gaze had that same suffocating weight now.
They could destroy the world with powers like theirs, Jonas thought.
He didn't remember deciding to move and barely remembered tipping his head down. Crawford went perfectly still the moment Jonas kissed him, and the shock that skittered across his nerves was all the trigger Jonas needed. He let go, digging his empathy into Crawford, seizing on everything he could find and twisting it. Pain snapped between their lips like a static charge and Crawford sucked in a sharp breath against Jonas' mouth. Jonas thought that he liked this very much, and spontaneity gave way to fierce greed.
Jonas slid his hand down the side of Crawford's face, over his throat, and onto his chest. He dug his fingers into Crawford's shirt, trying to feel his heartbeat, and pushed harder when he felt it picking up speed. He kissed Crawford so hard he tasted blood, but he didn't know if it was his teeth or his power that drew it. He'd never tasted Crawford's blood before. Something about it sent a shudder through his gut. Imperfect perfection—mortal prophet—his Eyes.
He leaned back just enough that he could get to Crawford's shirt. He had no patience for the countless buttons that trailed down the front, so he simply grabbed it in both hands and snapped the buttons free. One pinged off his cheek before falling back to the bed, and Jonas batted it carelessly aside. He pressed his hands flat against Crawford's chest, leaving bruises and a bit of blood down pale skin as he dragged his hands to the hard lines of Crawford's abdomen. He remembered this lean form, but it felt different with his hands upon it. Everything that was familiar to him seemed three steps removed now, as he let his fingers learn on their own who and what Crawford was.
Horror, disgust, a lightning-quick flash of panic. The only thing Crawford knew was to give everything of himself to Rosenkreuz, but this was not something he'd expected to be asked, this wasn't something he'd even thought would be in the running. A lifetime of discipline warred with the natural instinct to fight back, and Jonas could feel it in the hand Crawford knotted in his shirt. Crawford wasn't pushing him away, but Jonas could read more than enough in his white knuckles. Everything in Crawford said no, said lash out, but nothing in Crawford knew how to refuse a Five's command.
"So much for being perfect," Jonas mocked him.
It was a needle prick against Crawford's pride, but even in a situation like this, it was enough. Jonas could feel exactly what it cost Crawford to loosen his grip. The mental roiling was so intense Jonas was almost dizzy. He stared down the length of their bodies, watching as Crawford set his hand back on the bed where it belonged.
"I apologize, Herr Hoffmann," Crawford said.
"You're not sorry," Jonas pointed out.
There was an endless pause, and then Crawford's careful, quiet, "I—should be."
Jonas smiled, slow and pleased and hungry. "I'm going to fuck you," he said matter-of-factly, "and you're not going to like it one tiny bit. I'm not sorry, either."
Silence for one sharp moment, and then Crawford said, far too calmly, completely at odds with what Crawford really thought on the matter: "Yes, Herr Hoffmann."
"Put your hand on my throat," Jonas said.
Crawford did as he was told, careful to keep his grip feather-light. When Jonas leaned in, Crawford yielded. His fingers didn't so much as twitch as Jonas kissed him again. Jonas lingered there for a while, teeth and tongue and empathy, and Crawford knew better than to tighten his hold on Jonas' throat. When Jonas was sure Crawford understood, he let his hands wander once more.
He fucked Crawford into his hospital bed with his body and fucked him over with his power. He showed the untouchable man that he was anything but, proved that a high advisor was still nothing at all compared to a Five. He could hear Crawford's agony in the ragged breaths smothered against his sweaty skin. The only thing Crawford could feel now was pain, and it burned across Jonas' nerves in an angry rush.
Crawford never cried out. He still had his pride.
Jonas didn't push it—this time, at least—because Crawford's fingers never tensed.