Part Seventeen

    This job is exactly suited to Farfarello's desires: there are plenty of people to kill. He rises from his crouched position over what has to be his twentieth corpse, fingers sliding along his bloody blade. His amber eye is alive with the thrill of a kill and he is intoxicated by the mingled scent of blood and death that floats thickly on the air. Aine is off to one side, where she has been watching Farfarello make his kills. I am currently seated in a very comfortable office chair, slouching against its cushioned back. Nagi is seated at a computer, skimming through files. Now and then he looks at a small clipboard of information off to one side, notes we filched from a murdered scientist's office.

    This corporation has been dabbling in things they shouldn't have- things Rosenkreuz is interested in. A patronage between Rosenkreuz and this business was foolishly denied by the scientists. Now that the product is complete, the Council is ready to seize the formula that is said to double a person's strength and stamina. The downside of the mixture is that it has adverse effects on a person's mental capabilities, making them harder to control and aggressive. The Council doesn't care about that; such people can be controlled and contained by Talents. They want the formula for the grunt agents they end up with, the people whose Talents aren't strong enough or won't develop enough. It will also be good for training agents on how to kill- people altered by the formula will make good targets.

    Nagi is checking to make sure we take all that they have and leave no information behind. An alarm is blaring overhead, piercing and annoying. My mind is a place of havoc as the mental frequencies of every occupant in this building reacts to our intrusion. The people within have only one option open to them, and that is to come to us. They cannot run- Aine has a huge and wide blaze encircling this building that makes escape impossible. Everyone within these walls is going to die.

    Farfarello's excited.

    Nagi's screen blanks out and he lifts the three vials that were resting gingerly in his lap. "This is it," he says simply, rising from his chair.

    "And here they come," I add, sensing a shift in the thought patterns. The security is now organized and ready to rise up against us. I do a quick count. "Thirty-six."

    Farfarello offers a breathless "Yes". I see Aine's fingers twitch from where they are closed on her upper arms. She is wearing a slate gray vest- it seems gray is her color- and jeans. Her bare arms are pale and smooth. It was on the ride over here that I realized what about her hands caught Farfarello's attention. Both of her palms are massively scarred- from fire. The skin was melted long ago and has formed an interesting pattern of both smooth and shiny and pinched and red scars. They sure beat out Farfarello's scars; hers are more impressive.

    I step to one side, content to watch Aine and Farfarello take on the intruders.

    The first wave is Aine's. They erupt in flame as soon as they have cleared the doorway. The smell of charred flesh sears through the air, a noxious smell that makes my stomach turn. They begin screaming and wheeling about, all coherent thought scattered as they are consumed in flame. As if struck by a giant fly swatter, the lot of them go flying across the room. Nagi is clearing the way for the next wave- and making sure the human marshmallows don't get anywhere near us.

    Farfarello is already tearing into the second wave. He moves with liquid grace, blade singing through flesh as he dives through the group. Blood sprays everywhere: on him, on clothes, on the ground, on skin. Limbs are severed, throats are cut, fingers are lost and trampled upon as the guards try to react to the pale demon that dances death among them. The air in the room is thick and oppressive: heat from the fire rolls over us, crackling against our skin; burning flesh almost wipes out the smell of blood and urine, where one guard wet himself in fear; the noise of screams and yells crashes against our ears and vibrates in our bones. A few guns fire, but the bullets miss their target.

    Aine steps into the doorway, holding out a hand. Fire explodes in the hallway and more screams join the mix. Nagi moves to stand beside me as Aine turns back to watch Farfarello. He makes quick work of his group and soon stands in a pile- or should I say puddle?- of bodies. He is covered from his elbows down in blood. Drops of it are streaked through his hair and some is smeared on one cheek.

    ~Give the men a few more minutes and I'll put the fire out,~ Aine says across the bond, knowing that we won't be able to hear her if she speaks aloud. She adapted to the bond quickly; I made sure her connection worked on our way over here.

    Nagi is looking a little queasy from the smell of burning flesh. He looks how I feel. The stench is harsh enough to make my eyes sting. The boy lifts a hand, pressing the back of his palm to his mouth. He does not complain, though. I complain for him, pinching my nose shut with my fingers and making a face. /Jesus Christ, that stinks./

    Farfarello's gaze darts to my face, alerted by my choice in wording, but he says nothing. Aine smiles faintly. ~I'm used to it,~ she answers simply, crossing the room to stand before Farfarello. He looks towards her on her approach. ~Now I see why Schwarz was allowed a Talentless,~ she says, crouching and dipping her palms in the thick pool of blood that are spreading all over the floor. She rises again and streaks her fingers across one of Farfarello's shoulders, staining his sleeve blood red. ~You are the devil on Earth.~

    ~Perhaps,~ Farfarello answers. He lifts his knife to his lips, flicking his tongue out to clean its surface. Aine watches him. He holds the clean blade up. Now the firelight flickers off its surface. ~Or perhaps there is no such thing.~

    ~Not religious, are you?~ Aine asks.

    Farfarello reacts by darting out with his blade, delivering a lightning quick warning poke to her face. A small drop of blood wells up slowly on her cheekbone. She doesn't even blink. His amber eye is narrowed as he glares at her.

    /Don't get him going,/ I drawl. /He'll lose you somewhere along the way because he contradicts himself constantly./

    ~Hm,~ she murmurs in response, smiling faintly. She turns away to survey the first bonfire. The flames put themselves out, leaving charred once-humans behind. Next the fire goes out in the hall. She heads towards the door. ~We shall go.~

    We head out into the hall, which is full of charcoaled remains. Nagi, Aine, and I pick our way through the mass of broiled people carefully. Farfarello moves with callous disregard to the corpses, shoving bodies aside with his shoes when they're in his way. I make a mental note to not sit next to him in the car. At least we have some plastic in the trunk. Nagi grabbed it before we left. He knew Farfarello was going to make a mess of himself.

    There are still people in the building, but their fate has been decided. Aine pushes open the front door and the flames right in front of it go out. To exit, we walk through a ten feet long tunnel with flame walls. As soon as we are all out, the tunnel closes itself and the fire sucks itself into the building. Windows explode, sending glass everywhere, as the entire building is consumed by flames. Aine eyes her handiwork for a moment before heading towards her car. She pops the trunk open and pulls out the plastic, arranging it on the passenger seat. Nagi and I climb in back and Farfarello slides in front. As we drive away we can hear the distant sound of fire trucks.

    Aine hums along to their sirens.


    It's always been my job to clean up when Farfarello leaks all over the place, so I'm the one stuck tugging a towel over the blood. It's a bigger mess than usual, so I'm not feeling inclined to think happy thoughts about our resident psycho. I sigh, scrubbing at the puddles. Not all of it is liquid. Beh. Gross.

    "There's an easier way to do that," Aine informs me, stepping into the doorway of the kitchen to watch my progress. She made ice tea and is holding a tall glass in her hands. A smile dances on her lips.

    I smirk back, rising and offering the towel. "Is that an offer to take over?" I ask.

    I don't really expect her to, but she holds out her cup. We trade and I watch as she lets the towel fall back to the floor. She steps onto it and begins scooting down the hall. I watch her go. I think she's lost her mind. She grins over her shoulder at me after a couple steps. "It's better to do it to music," she says. "All housework is better to music."

    I suppose you could consider mopping up blood housework, at least under this roof. I just always considered it an annoyance. I watch as she hops off the towel and disappears into the kitchen. After a moment music spills forth from the radio in there and she's back. She plants both feet on the towel and begins doing a scoot-dance down the hall. I'm not sure whether to laugh or gape. It's utterly ridiculous. Nagi hears the radio and steps out of his room. He stands at the opposite end of the hall, watching Aine with a blank look on his face.

    "Care to join me, Nagi?" Aine offers.

    "I-iya," he says, and vanishes back into his room to puzzle over the strangeness of our fourth.

    "What about you, telepath?" Aine teases, looking back over her shoulder at me.

    "You seem to be handling it quite well on your own," I tell her.

    She sticks her tongue out at me. She actually sticks her tongue out at me. I can only blink at her. I don't understand her at all. I wonder if I'll understand her by the time she leaves, then wonder if I want to strain my brain that much. How can this woman possibly be part of Rosenkreuz's staff? She matches the part on the field- she kills efficiently and without hesitation. She has no qualms with bloodying her hands or making others suffer. But outside the job, she acts as if she's one of those naive idiots that populate this earth, that know nothing of darkness and the real ways of the world.

    She's crazier than Farfarello, I decide.

    As if my thoughts are a cue, the bathroom door opens then and Farfarello steps out. Water runs down his sleek form. His bloody clothes are held in a knot in one hand as he leaves the bathroom. Yet again he has neglected to bring a towel with him. He doesn't care. He's not the type to worry about decency, especially not when he's travelling the seven feet from the bathroom to his room.

    Aine stumbles, and I know it's not from snagging her foot on the towel. Farfarello spares her a brief glance. Aine does an abrupt one-eighty to turn her back on him. She's looking distinctly uncomfortable, and her fair skin seems to have darkened. Farfarello's door swings shut behind the teenager.

    I snigger, raking my fingers through my bangs. "What's the matter, Aine? Didn't you like what you saw?"

    Her thoughts are amusing, a swirling mix of embarrassment and admiration. The admiration is to be expected- anyone who sees Farfarello is impressed. Farfarello is built pretty well- he has more strength packed into his small frame than I could ever get in my life. He moves with a lethal grace that makes his skin ripple with the movement of his muscles. I used to find him interesting to watch. When he first joined us I would just watch him as he went back and forth without a shirt. By now the interest has faded, and a Farfarello in various stages of dress is just part of the background scenery of the flat.

    "I wasn't expecting to see him wandering around undressed," Aine answers, trying to regain her mental footing. She sounds a bit flustered. "Don't look at me like that! That look means you're making assumptions."

    My smirk just widens until it might split my face in two. "I only make assumptions off of what your little brain tells me, lady," I tell her, waggling a finger by my head. "And my, I could have a field day with that flurry."

    Her face is red as she steps off of the towel. "You can have the towel back, Schuldich," she tells me.

    "Running away?" I taunt her, laughing at her over our bond. She shakes her head, uncomfortable with the sound of my laughter inside of her head. "I can hear you wherever you are, and you can hear me."

    A spark of flame explodes on my shoulder, searing me just briefly before disappearing. "Then hear me while you finish cleaning the hall!" Aine says, and vanishes into her room. When I hear her door shut I burst into laughter, reaching up with a hand to finger the charred section of my sleeve.

    ~I can hear your cackling from here,~ Nagi speaks up. ~What has gotten you so amused that you're disturbing my studying?~

    /At least I wasn't disturbing anything worthwhile,/ I comment, padding towards the towel. Aine cleaned up most of the hall, leaving me with just a little bit. I nudge the towel along with my foot, too lazy to bend over. /I don't think Aine's seen a naked Farf before./

    There is silence on Nagi's end as he digests my words and examines the difference between Aine's view and ours. It takes him a few moments to understand the significance, as he is as used to Farfarello as I am. Both the fact that Aine is a newcomer to the house and a woman finally register in his mind. ~Ah,~ is all he says in reply, and he turns back to his review.

    I grin widely, turning my mind towards Aine's. At least I will have something to keep me entertained while Crawford is healing.


    I experience a moment of disorienting confusion. I am in Crawford's room, but something about it seems different. I cannot figure out what it is. I am gazing at the mirror above his dresser, and my reflection gazes back. I am not wearing anything, not even my boxers. I tilt my head to one side, trying to figure this out. I hear the doorknob rattle softly then and turn to see who is entering. It is Crawford. What is he doing here? Well, this _is_ his room. But he's healthy...?

    Perhaps he's going to bed. After all, it is night. Moonlight streams through his windows, as the curtains are thrown wide open. But no, he's not going to bed. He's moving towards me. I watch him come, distantly wondering why he is approaching me and why I am in his room if he's healthy. I wonder why it doesn't bother either of us that I'm not dressed...We have never seen each other fully unclothed. I suppose I should say something, but I cannot think of anything. I stand there in silence and watch him as he comes.

    He pauses just a small space away. Before I realize he has moved his fingers are sliding along my cheek, cupping my face in his palm. His hand is warm and soft. I always figured they would be hard and cold, to match the mask he wears. I stop breathing at the contact, recognition and confusion spinning into one. He tilts my head back slightly, thumb skimming over my lips in a feather light brush. His mouth doesn't move, but his thoughts project to me. The room is splintering around us, but I can hear him clearly.

    ~Is this what you want?~

    /I think you know,/ I return.

    Then the colors spin out of control, and I find myself staring up at the ceiling. It takes me a while to figure out what has just happened, and I continue to stare at the ceiling for several moments before I realize the room is lit dimly by sunlight. I roll over slowly, looking for Crawford's clock. It was a dream...For one moment, Crawford had been healthy again. Welcome back to reality, Schuldich. I give a quiet sigh, rubbing a hand over my eyes as I sit up. It feels like I haven't slept at all...

    My fingers drop to my mouth unconsciously and my fingertips hover against my lips. I gaze at the sheets that are tangled around my waist, mind wandering but without coherent images or thoughts. I sigh again absently before shoving the blankets away. I slide from bed and pad towards my closet. I pick a random outfit, not caring whether it matches or not, and move towards the mirror. I change in front of his dresser, eyes on the mirror as my fingers work each button. My reflection gazes steadily back. I tilt my head to one side, lingering for a few moments when I am dressed.

    My hand lifts of its own accord to touch my lips before I give my mirror image a scornful smirk. I rake my fingers through my bangs once. The wild and untamed look is good enough for me. I don't see the point of worrying about my hair that much...It won't stay straight and neat for long after a brushing, no matter what.

    I slip into some shoes and leave the room, grabbing my keys as I go. I have started leaving my mug in Crawford's room. It makes more sense than grabbing one every morning.

    Dishes clink in the kitchen and I experience a moment of disorientation. My first stupid thought is 'Crawford?' Then my mind patiently informs me that I can hear the thoughts of the person inside the kitchen, and they belong to Aine.

    I glance in as I pass. Aine is reading a magazine at the table, sipping some ice tea from a glass. She looks up as I go, but I don't pause. "Good morning, Schuldich," she calls after me.

    I don't think she knows not to make conversation with me before I've had my coffee. I offer a mental grunt and exit our flat, pushing the door shut behind me. I eye her car for a moment, debating whether or not to ask Aine for her keys. I decide at last that I don't want to drive her car. It's inferior to the one I used to have...Bus it is, then.

    Maybe I'll understand my own logic one day, I muse as I set off. The nearest bus station is a good distance away.

    I want coffee.

    But that's not all I want, Crawford.


    /She's a freak,/ I tell Crawford, tapping my fingers on the rim of my mug.

    ~Oh?~ Crawford asks.

    /Ja./ I slouch in the chair beside his bed and prop my feet on his bed. /She's not what I expected her to be at all. She's better than Adashi, but...She seems more suited to the role of a housewife. She cooks, she cleans, she listens to Nagi about his school...I can't decide if she could be his mother or if she's our maid./

    ~And on the job?~

    Yeah, I suppose someone like him is more interested in work ability. He's predictable. /She has no qualms with frying people, and the smell doesn't bother her. I had no idea that charred flesh would smell so bad./ I give a small shrug, shifting my feet to get them more comfortable. I yawn loudly before taking a gulp of my coffee. I can feel coherent thought swirling in my brain now. I rub at my face, peering through my fingers at Crawford's still form. That dream had me fooled for a moment...I had thought he was healthy again. Minds work in strange ways. I may be privy to their thoughts, but I have no clue how they work. Dreams are a good example. Dreams can have the most outlandish themes, but the sleepers will think them perfectly normal while they are asleep.

    Usually I do not have to worry about it...I only catch snatches of other people's dreams because I am always so busy being buffeted about from one mind to the other. Last night was strange...I still find it disturbing that I had such a clear dream. I'm not used to having my mind to myself. I shift again, sighing into my mug.


    Crawford's thought startles me from my contemplation and my eyes bounce to his face. /What?/

    ~Get your foot off my hand.~

    I glance down at my shoes. One is sitting on his hand. I roll my eyes, a grin playing across my lips as I obediently move my legs. /It's your fault for having your hand there,/ I tell him. /Move your hand if you don't like where I put-/

    I stop.

    My hands lower slowly to set my mug in my lap as I stare at Crawford. He felt my shoe...As if in response to the recognition dawning in my mind, Crawford's fingers twitch.

Part 18