Part Two

    In the end, there's really only one obvious answer to Farfarello's challenge. The argument I presented him with when I had to convince him to let go of Aine was that, besides being a Five, she'd never been given a reason to hate Hoffmann. She'd never experienced his gift to the point that she would question her loyalties. I have a lifetime of nightmares to dig from and Farfarello, though his experience was infinitely shorter, went through something harsh enough that he chose us in the end. He could have kept Aine by stepping out of the fight, but that would have put him on Hoffmann's side and he refused to do so. So if Farfarello and I found our convictions in the crimes against us, then it means Crawford must match us in a way.

    I find that hard to believe.

    'He's not coming when I'm awake because I'm an empath.'

    Crawford never let on that he disapproved of Farfarello's gift, not that he lets on about much. He's never given any sign that he has problems with the Council and he's never said anything to that effect. In the many years I've been with him I've only ever seen him handle them with that enviable poise and perfect respect. He has never flinched away from Hoffmann's voice, has never been left unsettled in the wake of the Council's visits.

    That doesn't mean I can ignore what Farfarello seems to be hinting at, however. As questionable as it seems, Farfarello never speaks just to hear his own voice. He was trying to tell me something. But how would Farfarello know, anyway? Granted, he's always had some sort of sixth sense, even before his empathy broke free, but still. He's not a mind reader or anything. Maybe it's just common sense, then, and far too much time to lie on his back and think about that fight and Aine's suicide.

    Seeing as how Crawford isn't here for me to interrogate, I'm left to find alternate sources: namely, one ex-Rosenkreuz doctor. Ikida has been camping out here in the ward with us, sleeping in one of the other beds in case we need him. I wait for him to show up on his last round of the evening before he goes to sleep, and track his mind as he finishes up paperwork for more supplies. He stops by Farfarello's room first and I let his thoughts slip in and out of my mind, ignoring the numbers Ikida reads off the machinery in there.

    He's by my place next and I've already got my arm out, pointing at the chair Crawford was sitting in just a few hours ago. Ikida seats himself obediently, clipboard at the ready and a mug of hot green tea in his other hand.

    "Bathroom run?" he asks.

    I ignore that. "You were at Rosenkreuz at the same time as Crawford, weren't you?"

    "I was," he agrees, setting his clipboard on the nightstand. I reach for his mug but he evades me easily and sips from it. I let my hand flop back to the sheet, making a face at him, but he feigns not to notice. "I was there before he was, in fact, and already on the board of the medical ward when he was formally inducted. They took him on when he was just six years old, but it wasn't like they could have waited on him." He considers that for a moment, then sighs. "I've grown so old…"

    The thought of a six-year old Crawford is enough to temporarily distract me from the point of this conversation. "Couldn't wait?" I ask, trying to imagine a mini-Crawford.

    "Considering who his mother was," Ikida says. He says it almost like he expects me to know. When I just eye him, he shrugs and takes another swallow from his drink. He doesn't bother to elaborate further and I decide that he must take some sort of pleasure in being unhelpful. "What brought this up?"

    "Was Crawford ever in the medical ward?"

    Ikida's mug pauses halfway to his lips and he considers me through the slight steam that curls through the air above it. I stare back and he lowers his mug at last to cradle it between his hands. "All of Rosenkreuz's students see that ward, Schuldich. It's a deadly place to grow up."

    Don't I know it. Well, I guess I don't. I didn't get the typical Rosenkreuz schooling. Being Hoffmann's hated nephew meant that I spent a year being broken into pieces instead. I don't know anything about what Rosenkreuz is like for all other Talents. It's not like Crawford has ever sat down and told me. All I know about Rosenkreuz is where it is, what its purpose is, and the general rankings within it, really. Crawford was too busy teaching me how to destroy the world to want to talk about things that didn't pertain to us.

    "Did you ever tend to him?" I want to know.

    "Of course. I've been his doctor longer than I've been yours."

    Huh. Learn something new every day. This time he lets me snitch his mug from him. I take a swallow and hand it back, but he just sets it on the nightstand beside his clipboard. "Are you asking because Crawford is unwell?" Ikida asks. "He would not stay here as long as I wanted him to."

    I file that away to harass Crawford about later. "How would I know if he's sick? I've been rotting here in this bed for two months, sleeping just like you told me to. He looked fine earlier, so quit distracting me. I want to know about what it was like at Rosenkreuz."

    Ikida offers me a tolerant look for my impatience. "I was his doctor," he says again. "The Council trusted only me with him. Like you, he was far too valuable a commodity for anyone else to treat. Really, I was only given you because I had proven successful with Crawford, I think."

    I frown at that, not liking how it sounds. "What was wrong with Crawford?"

    "That's not for me to answer."

    "You were his doctor."

    "It's a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality and a severe breach of Rosenkreuz rules. The only ones allowed access to a Five's files are the Council and the Five's doctor. Even the other favored four can't see them."

    "That's a load of crock. We're not Rosenkreuz anymore."

    "No?" Ikida asks.

    I roll my eyes and slouch down further against my pillow. "You sound surprised. Maybe you missed the part where we killed Estet and the Council. Nice aim, by the way." Ikida looks a little bleak at the reminder that he shot one of the former Councilmen, but I just wave at him to return to the argument. "If you could shoot Jean, you can break this rule. Why was Crawford sick?"

    "It still breaches Crawford's trust," Ikida points out.

    I scowl at him. "Way to be a stubborn prick. Whose side are you on?"

    Ikida just gets to his feet and gathers his things, unbothered by my words. "Anything else?" he wants to know.

    "Hoffmann put him there," I say, and Ikida's hands go still against his mug. "Hoffmann put him there, didn't he?"

    "Schuldich, as someone who had a unique entrance to Rosenkreuz, there's something you may not know. Ever since Hoffmann earned his nickname 'the Soul Shaker', he's been the welcoming committee to Rosenkreuz. All Talents go through him before they even seen where they're going to be sleeping at night. It would be unreasonable of you to think that Crawford was exempt."

    "There was another time," I insist, searching the doctor's calm gaze. "If everyone went through the same welcome, then your success with Crawford wouldn't be enough that you'd be given me some fifteen years later. There was another incident."

    "This is a conversation you should be having with Crawford."

    "Why can't you just give me a yes or no?" I demand. "You mean yes when you tell me to ask him, so just say it. If it was no, you could tell me easily. So just say it."

    I wish I could feel some sort of success, however slight, over following Farfarello's hints in the right direction. Triumph is a far more pleasant feeling than the dull rage and hatred that curl in my throat. The thought of Hoffmann using his power on Crawford makes me sick to my bones. It's a little too easy to imagine Crawford's pale skin splitting and bleeding under an invisible touch the same way I watched mine break so many times before.

    I tear my eyes away from Ikida, who gazes at me for a moment more before quietly gathering up his things. "How bad was it?" I ask. "How bad was it, if they decided you could handle what Hoffmann did to me?"

    "Get some sleep, Schuldich."

    "Fuck off," I send back flatly.

    I wonder how old Crawford was when it happened. No wonder he perfected the art of dealing with Hoffmann, if he learned early on what happened otherwise. I can't really imagine Crawford ever being careless enough to earn that sort of punishment, but maybe he is the way he is now because of what happened back then. Then again, how does a precog that strong ever misstep so badly? His visions would have told him to keep it together. It's not like Hoffmann needed a reason to hurt someone, though… But Ikida called Crawford a "valuable commodity", so was Hoffmann really allowed to hurt him like that?

    And how would Crawford ever become a Five if he ever earned Hoffmann's wrath? The Five are supposed to be the most flawless and intelligent Rosenkreuz has to offer. If he'd incited Hoffmann's rage, then the empath would be less likely to pick him.

    I don't know. It doesn't make sense. I can't make it make sense.

    But it happened, and just that knowledge brings the long-familiar taste of blood to my tongue.

    ~I told you,~ Farfarello speaks up.

    /Shut up,/ I send back. /Just shut up./


    After a week without seeing the other half of my team, I've just about decided that Crawford knows I have a bone to pick with him. His absence around here is nothing new, but it's a great deal more aggravating when I want to speak to him. I keep a telepathic ear out, waiting for him to move within my range, but it's eight days since my useless talk with Ikida before Crawford blips across the mental radar. I'm asleep when it happens but I've been waiting for him long enough that it wakes me up.

    /Crawford?/ I send out, opening my eyes. The usual dreamscape of colorful blurs is replaced by the darkness of my room. I blink at the wall, a little disoriented by the abrupt step from light to shadows, and roll over to stare at my window. It was the afternoon when I fell asleep… A clock on the far nightstand says it's almost midnight and I sigh, reaching up to rub at my temples. It's going to be a bitch to fall asleep again.

    /Hey, Crawford,/ I try again.

    ~I'm here,~ is his calm answer.

    /Did you have to get a place that's out of reach from here?/ I ask him. I understand that he wanted Schwarz out of our old flat, but it seems kind of retarded to find one so far away from the hospital. It's on the complete other side of the city from here. Though technically, it *shouldn't* be out of my reach. A few months ago it wouldn't be, but a few months ago, I shredded my precious shields to protect Schwarz from Hoffmann. The twist he put in Crawford's mind to sever our relationship could have destroyed everything we were working for if it had bled into the mental bond. I had no other choice but to give up my shielding to protect it, but it's left my shields in shoddy shape. Without good shields, I can't reach as far.

    I guess it's just been a bad year for shields, between Hoffmann shattering my mind again after that stupid Adashi bouncer and my slip-up in trying to go after Farfarello when the Council kidnapped him. Shaving my shields to protect Crawford was just the icing on the cake, I guess, but I hope Nagi doesn't need a similar sacrifice in the future. I don't have anything left to give.

    ~It's suitable,~ Crawford says.

    /I hope it makes sense to you, because it doesn't to me. Whatever./

    ~Did you need something?~

    /Am I boring you?/

    ~It's late,~ Crawford points out.

    /Maybe you shouldn't be out and about, then,/ I return easily.

    ~Did you need something?~ Crawford asks again.

    /I want to talk to you about something./

    ~You have three minutes,~ Crawford answers, ~and then I'm out of your range again.~

    I frown up at the ceiling and fold my arms together under my head. He's either on the train or in a car, then, if he's moving so quickly in and out of my range. /Where are you going?/

    ~Is that what you want to talk about?~

    I mutter a few death threats to make myself feel better. It works, a little. /Come by the hospital in the morning. This will take more than three minutes./

    ~I'm busy tomorrow morning.~

    /I don't care./

    ~Maybe you should.~

    /Just stop by,/ I insist. /And while you're at it, why don't you put that gift to good use and tell me when the hell I'm getting out of here? I'm so sick of staring at this ceiling./

    ~Tomorrow,~ Crawford answers.

    That's enough that I push myself upright and I stare down the length of my bed towards the far wall. /Tomorrow?/ I ask, surprised. /Ikida's been predicting at least another week and he's already said he'd prefer two more./

    ~Ikida can say what he likes,~ Crawford answers calmly. ~I need you out of there.~

    I let my lips curve into a smirk and twist my tone to match. /Is your bed a little cold?/ I taunt him.

    ~The new Council is coming to Japan tomorrow night,~ Crawford answers.

    That's enough to bring me up short. /What? Wait, Crawford, what? Why?/ There's no answer from him. I feel his mind flicker as he moves closer to the edge of my range and I reach out for him, unconsciously leaning forward in bed as if it somehow makes the difference in the physical distance between our minds. /Crawford, why are they coming here? What are you not telling me?/

    ~I will see you in the afternoon.~

    /No,/ I send back. /Tell me now. I'm not *dead*, Crawford, just injured. I'm still fucking Schwarz. Tell me why they're coming./

    ~Tomorrow,~ Crawford insists, and then his mind is gone.

    "Fuck," I say to the empty air, thoroughly annoyed by Crawford's hit-and-run tactic of keeping me updated. He's got a hell of a lot to answer to tomorrow, but there are many hours between now and then. I force myself to lie down again and stare up at the ceiling, counting the minutes as they tick by. I can't make myself relax again for a long time, and even after the tension has eased some, my thoughts are still discontent and rushed.

    It is a very long night, and I don't fall asleep until close to six. Farfarello is waking up as I'm finally drifting off, and the last thing I'm aware of is the flicker of amusement from his mind to mine as he takes in the emotional turmoil. I try to offer him a mental death threat but by then I'm too far gone to form the words.

    The good thing about falling asleep at such a time is that it means I wake up at noon, close to when Crawford is going to show up. I do a skim for his mind as I climb out of bed, but he's out of reach again- or still. Farfarello is still awake in his room as I shuffle past to the bathroom and Ikida is working at his desk.

    "Crawford says I'm leaving today," I tell him, and take a distinct pleasure in the look he sends me as I shut the bathroom door to block him out. When I open the door, he has relocated himself from his desk to just outside the bathroom and he fixes me with a stern look as I stop right in front of him.

    "You're what?" he asks.

    "You heard me. Be a good little doctor and write up the paperwork for it or whatever you do when patients check out."

    "Why?" Ikida wants to know.

    "Because that's your job."

    He frowns at me, not amused by my purposeful misunderstanding. I don't really care. "Why are you leaving?" he asks.

    "The new Council's flying in tonight," I tell him.

    "The new Council," Ikida echoes.

    "What, didn't Crawford tell you?" I feign shock that Ikida would be left out of the loop.

    "Crawford has told me nothing about Rosenkreuz," Ikida says. "He hasn't said anything since your revolt against the previous Council and Estet, not about why you did it or how Rosenkreuz responded to it."

    I eye him. "You just sat here for two months in the dark?" I ask him incredulously. "Don't you think that's kind of stupid on your part?" Stupid on his, and negligent on Crawford's. What the hell is Crawford doing? "You should have expected them to be here months ago, ready to kill us."

    "Perhaps," Ikida answers.

    "Perhaps," I repeat. "Ikida, I can't believe you were smart enough to become a doctor."

    "I trust Crawford," Ikida tells me. "I have always done my best to trust him, except when our opinions of what's best for you collide. In all other things, I trust his judgment and visions. He wouldn't have put Schwarz into a situation where you would all be sitting ducks; he wouldn't have trapped you here in this hospital where a Rosenkreuz hunting squad could find you. I trusted that things would be fine because he acted as if they would."

    "If you haven't noticed, Crawford has no soul," I tell Ikida. "He's never nervous. He could see a vision of Rosenkreuz disemboweling him and then finish his breakfast."

    "You're not ready to see them," Ikida guesses.

    "Crawford's visions aren't perfect," I tell Ikida. "He can't see everything. Too much of our work against the Council happened last minute. I don't trust Rosenkreuz's new Council on Japan's grounds. I don't know anything about them. I don't even know what their damn powers are."

    "Considering what Crawford has gone through, it's not surprising that his gift has been damaged," Ikida answers. "But he is still a level eight in Rosenkreuz's files. I'll always trust his sight. That trust is what helped me to side against the Council."

    "Which one of us were you helping when you pulled that trigger, Ikida?" I want to know. "Him or me?"

    "Both of you," he answers easily. "You for personal reasons. Crawford for business ones. I would have pulled the trigger for either one of you alone. The fact that you were both at risk out there just made it easier to live with."

    It's my turn to frown as I turn that over and over in my head. I'd never really thought Crawford and Ikida had anything between them past the fact that they were connected through me. This revelation so soon after Farfarello's pushing just makes me realize how little I know about Crawford before Schwarz. Ikida must see that on his face, because his expression eases a little.

    "Fix it," Ikida tells me, and I think he's referring to the divide between Crawford and me. "If Rosenkreuz is coming into the picture, then this is a battleground only Crawford is familiar with. None of the rest of you know anything about this. You cannot make a future if you don't have a past to stand on. Go with him today when he comes for you. I will continue to tend to Farfarello."

    As if on cue, I feel Crawford's mind slip into range. I glance towards the clock, checking the time, and then slip past Ikida. I can feel the doctor's eyes on me as I start towards Farfarello's room, but he says nothing else to me. I let his thoughts weave and out of my mind, tasting the regret and the concern that edges the words. All that matters is that I can't see any thoughts regretting the choice he made that fatal day. That's good enough for me.

    "Farfarello," I say, stepping into his room and closing the door behind me. "Crawford is on his way." He doesn't bother to answer, so I seat myself on the stool by the door. "Rosenkreuz is coming to Japan tonight."

    "For blood?" Farfarello asks.

    "Hell if I know, but Crawford had better have a good explanation when he shows up."

    "Maybe," he answers.

    "I'm leaving with him today," I tell Farfarello. "I think he wants me on two feet and looking healthy when they arrive. I should just hope none of them are empaths, I guess." I tug at long orange hair with one hand and study my teammate's casts. "You going to be bored here without me?" I taunt him, already knowing that he'll probably be much happier without me around to harass him.

    It's another question that's too stupid for him to answer, I guess, because the silence stretches between us. I listen to Crawford's mind as it draws near, and at last I hear him speaking to Ikida in the other room. At last Farfarello speaks up again.

    "Let's play a game," he says.

    "A game?" I echo, giving up on counting the bumps on the ceiling in favor of looking at the Irishman. His eyes are closed as he lays there and for a moment he looks fast asleep. "What sort of game?" I want to know.

    His only answer is a slight, cold smile. I don't think that's a good sign.

Part 3
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