Part Eleven

    I don't think our employer likes Adashi. Not that I blame him. Depending on the job, Crawford usually is passively superior. Adashi is aggressively superior, and that gets old real fast. Like, two seconds fast. Hiroku Masaki is wearing a full fledged scowl as he regards our temporary fourth. He turns his glare on me. A mocking smirk dances on my lips. He turns his anger on Nagi and Farfarello, who stand to either side of me, but they are impassive to his displeasure.

    Like Adashi or not, a unified front is a must.

    "I thought Crawford was with the black unit," Hiroku says, levelling his accusing words at me.

    I lift an eyebrow. "You can think?"

    There is a spark of pain in my ankle and my smirk hardens as my jade eyes slide towards Adashi. Idiotic Rosenkreuz trainer...He doesn't like it that I spoke. I suppose he thinks only he gets to communicate with our employer. Maybe he hasn't figured out that this is a unit and not a training guild. We are not his students, who are just starting to learn how to wield our Talents. We are on equal ground here; we are each essential pieces for making this unit work.

    This was never a problem with Crawford.

    "Crawford is busy elsewhere," Adashi says, flicking his fingers in dismissal before planting his hands on his hips.

    I can feel a snide comment about him wrinkling his suit with such a pose pushing at my lips but bite it back, slipping it across the bond to my teammates instead. Nagi is amused and I can see the corner of his mouth twitch slightly into a thin-lipped grin. Farfarello remains silent. His gaze hasn't left Adashi since we left this morning. At least I can count on Nagi to help restrain him. Farfarello's not stupid...He can weigh the consequences of what he chooses to do. He is not well known for his tolerance for stupidity and scornful mockery, however, and Adashi is walking a thin line with Farfarello's patience. Farfarello can tell the important difference between my amused mockery and Adashi's absolute disdain.

    "This is an important job," Hiroku says, scowl deepening. "I am paying very well for this. There is too much riding on the recovery of those disks for us to risk botching it."

    Adashi's eyes narrow at the implication that he is not good enough, and then Hiroku doubles over, choking for air. He claws at his chest, gurgling in his throat. Adashi closes the space between them and reaches out with a foot, shoving it against Hiroku's shoulder. The man tumbles to the floor heavily, curling in on himself. One hand claws at the floor as three and a half pairs of eyes watch him. Adashi lowers his foot to Hiroku's throat, slowly leaning weight onto the helpless man beneath him.

    "You will _not_ speak to me that way again, do you understand?" Adashi asks icily. "Who Estet chooses to send is not up to you. It never will be. Your only role is to contact us when you screw something up and to pay us when we have fixed the problem. Is that clear?"

    Hiroku can barely manage an anguished groan.

    After a few more moments, Adashi backs off. Slowly he releases his empathic Touch on our employer and the man struggles to his feet. His eyes hold no respect, but we don't need respect. We work well enough with fear, and that emotion glimmers in the back of the black eyes that watch Adashi.

    "Now..." and Adashi extends his hand. "Give me the information on your turncoat."

    Hiroku pulls a folder off the tabletop beside him and hands it over. Adashi flips it open, skimming the profile inside. Hiroku did not want to release this information until his unit had arrived. One of his men turned traitor and took off- carrying some valuable information with him as he went. If he is not found and the disks are not retrieved, Hiroku's company will go belly-up. Estet receives some of their funding from this man, which makes this job a top priority.

    Unfortunately for Hiroku, he's made an unforgiveable mistake for allowing such a theft to happen. He will be terminated as soon as the transaction has been made from his bank account to one of Estet's branches.

    I think Farfarello wants the job.

    Adashi flips through the folder, skimming the information on the turncoat. I steal everything he reads from his mind since I do not know how much he'll decide to entrust us with. He doesn't trust us enough to speak...Why would he tell us anything on our target? I pass the information along to my teammates as Adashi hands the folder back. Hiroku pulls a lighter from one pocket and touches a small flame of fire to one corner of the packet. He drops it into a trash can beside him and watches for a few moments as it burns.

    Adashi turns and makes an imperious gesture with his hand that I've learned to mean he wants us to follow him. I squash the urge to roll my eyes at such ridiculous dramatics and fall in behind him. Nagi and Farfarello follow.


    Nagi has stayed between Farfarello and Adashi the entire time. It wasn't really necessary at the beginning, but by now I am ready to shove Nagi out of the way and let Farfarello at the empath. Adashi has deliberately excluded Farfarello from everything so far- from the tracking all the way to the killing. He refuses to use someone without a Talent. I was the one ordered to find the turncoat, which I think is stupid. I may have telepathy that can track people, but Farfarello can do just as well as I. We let him track most of our runaways because it gives him something to do and lets him have his exercise. He gets a primal thrill out of a hunt, and there's no real reason to take that away from him. We all have our own things to do. Crawford intimidates people. I pester them. Nagi studies. Farfarello hunts.

    Adashi is the one that pulled the trigger when we found the man. He made a snide comment about one of us ruining the job with a mistake before drawing his gun and shooting him. He told me I would get distracted- it seems he heard about the slip-up at Fuwigama's- and said Nagi is too young to trust with a murder. He started a rant about how incompetent Nagi must be since Crawford did not send him through Rosenkreuz.

    He made no mention of Farfarello until I inquired about the Irishman's abilities.

    Adashi had sneered in his direction and retorted, "That thing couldn't hurt a flea. He's all looks and no skill, the God-damn albino."

    Farfarello had gone for his knife then, but Nagi had caught him. The Irishman had opened his mouth to speak but Nagi shut it again, causing the older man's teeth to clack together with the force of the mental shove. The look Farfarello had turned on the boy had been acid.

    Adashi had snickered and retrieved the disks before brushing past Farfarello on his way back to Hiroku's.

    Now we are waiting for Hiroku to finish the transaction. He is in the next room. The four of us are positioned around his office. Adashi is slouching in Hiroku's desk chair. Farfarello and Nagi are against one wall, Nagi positioned between Farfarello and Adashi, and I am on the other side of the room beside a curio cabinet. Hiroku has a large collection of expensive looking trinkets. A lot of them appear to be breakable. I am taking them off their shelves one by one to examine them and toss them carelessly away when I decide they are ugly.

    One is a small glass figurine of a unicorn. "Na, Farfarello," I call, turning to face him. His eye is on Adashi. "Farf," I say again, and he slowly looks towards me. I toss the figure at him and he catches it easily, one hand snaking out to grab it midflight. He holds it between his thumb and index finger, eyeing it. Nagi studies it with him. "Break its horn off and you can have a horse," I tell him.

    He sniffs, considering this. ~Unicorns are innocence,~ he thinks, half to himself and half to us. ~Why does the presence of a horn make them better than normal horses? Take away their horn and they are as ugly and plain as the rest of us.~ Saying so, he carefully breaks off the horn and tosses it aside.

    ~Adashi's horn is his position within Rosenkreuz...~ Nagi muses, sliding a glance in the empath's direction.

    ~We should break it off for him,~ Farfarello says.

    ~Why were we assigned someone with power two levels beneath us?~ Nagi asks. ~Why were we given someone who had a job already?~

    /Hell if I know,/ I answer. I find another glass trinket. It's of a head and is about half the size of my thumb. It's wearing glasses. I pick it up, eyeing it. As I move to toss it aside I change my mind and slip it into my pocket instead. I turn back to the collection and use an arm to shove everything that is left onto the ground.

    "_Stop_ making that racket!" Adashi snaps as everything shatters against the hard floor, and I look over at him to see him glaring at me. "I can't think with you being so noisy."

    /He can think?/ I ask Nagi.

    ~I'm surprised,~ is Nagi's dry answer.

    I hide a smirk because Adashi is still looking at me. At that moment I pick up on a wave of thoughts radiating from a large group. I tilt my head to one side, reaching out. "What have we here...?" I murmur. It is my way of alerting my teammates- well, Adashi too, I suppose- that I have picked up on something that is out of place. I slip from my consciousness to the crowd. These people are thinking about us. They are here to drive us out, an ambush. They are hoping to get lucky because we do not have a clairvoyant to warn us.

    What am I, Talentless?

    People that underestimate me are amusing when they're scattered here and there. When there is a huge group of people that dismiss my group entirely, it gets annoying. I listen to their thoughts as they run over their plan one last time, catching the backwash of their opinions on the steps since I cannot hear the plan itself. When they begin moving I separate part of myself from them.

    Five eyes rest on me, waiting. Adashi looks impatient.

    "We're going to be ambushed," I tell them, closing the curio cabinet's glass door idly. Hiroku must have figured out that he's no longer useful. "Hiroku doesn't want to die, and he is sending some people to try and drive us out."

    "Blasted idiot..." Adashi growls, lifting his feet from the desktop. He shoves himself to his feet. "How many?"

    I do a quick count. "Eighteen."

    "Fine then." He considers this, then looks towards Nagi and Farfarello. Farfarello is ready to go. I can see it in the way the tension along his shoulders has changed. I'm sure such a massacre would help work off his annoyance over Adashi. Not surprisingly, however, Adashi's gaze lands on Nagi. "You'll have to do," he says, annoyed. "Go get rid of them."

    Nagi doesn't look at me, but there is a subtle change in his thoughts that alerts me to his resistance to Adashi's order. "Adashi," I say, stepping away from the cabinet. "I think it's best if you allow Farfarello to take care of the intruders."

    "I wasn't aware you could think," Adashi says, scowling at me. "I'd heard that telepaths could only relate what the world shouted in their ears."

    Farfarello doesn't have time for this. He pushes away from the wall and starts for the door. Nagi glances at him but doesn't restrain him. Apparently Farfarello doesn't care what Adashi wants or doesn't want. He is doing what is best for the group. He can recognize the danger of his irritation as well as the rest of us, and he knows the only way he can get rid of it is by causing mass chaos among the would-be-ambushers.

    "Where do you think you're going?" Adashi demands, moving towards Farfarello. He is ignored. "Stop right there!" When Farfarello doesn't slow, Adashi's eyes narrow. I sense a subtle change in his mind as he tries to unleash pain within the teenager. Apparently he forgot Farfarello doesn't feel pain, and the albino doesn't even blink. Adashi storms after him, reaching him just as Farfarello arrives at the door.

    "I said stop!" Adashi repeats, furious, and grabs Farfarello's elbow.

    Farfarello reacts instantly, whirling around and backhanding Adashi across the face with enough force to send the empath sprawling a good distance away. His knife is out before Adashi hits the ground and he takes a step towards our temporary fourth before Nagi restrains him. Adashi tries to push himself up on his arms but can't seem to get the strength to do so for a long time. I can actually watch his cheek color. Cool.

    We watch in silence as he finally makes it into a sitting position. He lifts a hand to gingerly touch his face and finger the blood trickling from his lip. I know he cannot feel the pain; empaths learn how to counter and cancel out such emotions. "You..." he sputters, eyes narrowing in a furious glare.

    I do not bother to watch my words. There is no point...Farfarello's attack is going to be reported whether I walk on eggshells around Adashi with my wording or not. I cross my arms over my chest, lifting an eyebrow at Adashi in cold mockery. "Next time maybe you'll listen to people who know what they're talking about," I tell him, scorn twisting my words.

    Adashi turns a slit-eyed glare on me. "I would love dearly to hurt you," he says, voice shaking in anger, "but I will leave that for Hoffmann-sama to do." His mouth twists in an ugly mix between a sneer and a scowl. I keep my mocking expression even as something inside of me flinches. My thoughts splinter briefly under the thought of icy blue eyes burning into mine before I yank them back together. A cold chill is working its way down my spine. "You will regret your lack of respect and control when he has you screaming. I will have the pleasure of sitting in on the ride," and he touches his chest to indicate he will link himself to me for my punishment so he can bear witness to what happens, "and that will be enough. Perhaps _then_ you will learn to obey your betters."

    I dismiss Adashi by turning my gaze on Nagi. He is watching me. His face is impassive but his thoughts are whirling with regret. I turn my attention on Farfarello. /Leave off Adashi, Farf,/ I tell him. /It's not like you can hurt an empath./ One amber eye turns on me as he contemplates his action and the consequences it holds for me. I cannot sense any concern over how we will get reported, but he isn't feeling indifferent about it, either. /Go take care of the men downstairs. Nagi,/ I aim at the youngest of our team, /let him go./

    A moment later Farfarello is released. He turns and exits the room. Adashi pushes himself to his feet. "Where is he going?" he demands. "Stop him!"

    "He is going to take care of the inruders," I tell Adashi simply. I am feeling very tired suddenly, and sick to my stomach over thoughts of my upcoming meeting with Hoffmann. "It's not done out of defiance towards you," I cut in when he starts to make a sharp retort. "It's done out of necessity. Farfarello is our best man for hand-to-hand work. He can take care of them easily and it will let him work off energy. He has to be exercised now and then or he grows too restless. Nagi has to remain with the employer when there is computer work being done. He is our technical expert, and he is on standby in case he has to fix things. That is how Schwarz is run."

    Adashi doesn't even bother to take the time to digest what I've said. He merely reacts to the last statement. "Iie. That's how your clairvoyant ran things. I am here now. This is my group now, and we will run things how I demand them to be run."

    "This isn't a classroom," I snap, patience wearing thin. "It does not have a teacher and his students. It is a team." Somehow I manage to bite "you insufferable dumbass" back before it leaves my lips.

    "This is what I say it is. I had thought Hoffmann-sama made that clear to you. This discussion is over. Boy, you will come with me. You will remain here." He points a finger at the floor and storms towards the adjacent room, to confront Hiroku. Nagi follows him silently, thoughts masked.

    "That exact spot?" I murmur aloud to the empty room, and step forward to position myself exactly where Adashi's finger pointed. I doubt the empath will appreciate the mockery behind it, but he doesn't matter.

    Crawford...You need to get your American ass back here.

    I sigh, one hand lifting absently to rub at my shoulder. I won't think of Hoffmann. I won't. I _can't_, not here. A job is not the best place to try and lose yourself in thoughts you can't get out of.

    They say you never know how good you have it until it's gone...

    I think I always knew how good I had it.


    Adashi enters our kitchen as Nagi is finishing up his dinner, pushing down the antennae on his cell phone. His eyes are on me, and that arrogant smirk is curling his lips. At any other time I would be dying to take the expression off his face with a well-placed blow. Right now it is all I can do to keep my face in the impassive mask Adashi's presence demands. My stomach is in a tight knot. I've eaten as much of my dinner as I can force myself to. I do not want the others to pick up on my inner turmoil. I cannot eat all of what I have served myself, however. I am feeling nauseous.

    "Hoffmann-sama will see you now," Adashi tells me, beckoning for me to rise. "I will take you to him. You two," and he gives my teammates a look laden with disgust, "will remain here."

    I think I'm going to throw up.

    I push my plate away and rise. The gazes of my teammates burn into me but I refuse to meet them. I shove my chair back under the table. At least my stride is steady as I leave the room. I do not know where my legs are carrying me until I recognize the inside of the bathroom. I shut the door behind me and cross the room to the toilet, kneeling beside it. There is no way I am going to face Hoffmann with food in my stomach. At least I did not each much, I muse absently, sliding a finger down my throat. It does not take long to hack my dinner back up.

    This toilet has seen too much vomit, I think...I can hear voices echoing off the walls from just a week ago. Was it really a week? It seems longer.

    ~I didn't know you had a thing for porcelain. Kinky.~

    ~What do you want, Schuldich?~

    I want what I can never have. I want what I should never have started to desire. I want something dangerous. I want something that I should forget about. I want something that I hesitate to acknowledge, even in the depths of my mind.

    I flush and rinse my mouth out in the sink. I press the back of my hand to my lips, gazing at my reflection for a moment.

    What I want...

    I take a deep breath and flick my hair out of my face. My throat is still burning, but there's not really anything I can do about it. I'll have bigger things to worry about once I step into the room that Hoffmann is waiting in. A shudder I cannot squash shakes my body and my fingernails dig into the counter in front of me. Jade eyes stare back at me from the mirror, flickering with a dozen raw emotions before sealing themselves behind an icy sheen.

    I reach out with my mind and break the mental bonds that hold Schwarz together. There is no way I'll be able to keep what happens to me from leaking onto the bond, and I would prefer not to have them as witnesses.

    There is no point in putting this off any longer. I open the bathroom door and step out. Adashi is waiting for me, and we leave together.

Part 12