Part Eighteen

    I don't think I have appreciated the sight of anything more than this. The bandages are gone from Crawford's face, the bindings that kept his eyes closed. I don't know why I'm so relieved to see his eyes again. Maybe it's because it makes him seem more alive. I have perched his glasses on his face so he can actually focus on what's around him. After these three and a half weeks of seeing nothing, I'm sure he can appreciate the sight of this room- even if it is such an ugly stark white.

    He cannot breathe on his own yet, but Ikida expects him to regain that ability in a matter of days. Once he can do that he will be transferred upstairs, to a non-Estet physical therapist. Ikida told me yesterday when Crawford started to twitch that this part is the longest part. I don't care. Crawford can see again, and he can feel. He won't be a zombie in this long journey to re-teach him how to use his body.

    I am sprawled lazily in the chair beside Crawford's bed, and my eyes stray towards the table beside me. Well, there is _some_ color in this room. Our new fourth brought flowers with her. Supposedly she got them from a new flowershop in town. I reach out, batting at the small kitten logo that hangs from one stem. My eyes slide toward Aine, where she is standing on the other side of the bed. She and Crawford have finally met. They are conversing over the Schwarz bond, so everything they say is open to the rest of the group. Lucky for them they are just making civil talk.

    Nagi is lingering against the wall behind Aine, keeping his eyes on Farfarello. He's in here with us because we don't want to leave him alone with Ikida in the main room. The Irishman is toying with the machinery that is hooked up to Crawford. At least it's not an "I wonder what this button does" kind of toying- he's just stroking the dials with interest and tapping the small lights. I threatened Farfarello when I first saw him checking out the equipment. While I doubt my threats invoke any sort of fear or respect in him, I made sure he understood the fact that all of our trouble with Adashi and my trouble with Hoffmann would have been for nothing if he were to kill Crawford now. I was very clear when I said I would not appreciate it at all if he were to screw up things for us now.

    Even so, Nagi is watching him.

    ~It is my goal,~ Aine finishes, inclining her head to him, ~to have your group still intact and ready for you when you return to your position.~

    Crawford does not answer, but I get the impression he would have given her a slight nod of acknowledgement if he could move his head. Aine takes a step back, done with the conversation, when her pager goes off. I catch her mental identification- it is Estet. She checks it, then looks around at us to see if we are finished here. I rise to my feet, casting a final look down on Crawford. His eyes narrow ever so slightly as if in thought and his fingers twitch, trying to uncurl from the loose fist they are in. It heartens me to see the movement, even if it is so slight.

    I see something glint between his fingers and stop from where I have started to turn to go, curious. My teammates hesitate from where they have clumped at the door, alerted by my step closer to Crawford's bed and the way I have leaned down slightly to try and get a better look through his fingers. Crawford's hand is shaking with the effort as it oh so slowly uncurls. It cannot go very far- he fails a third of the way there- but it is enough. The object that was in his hand tips out of his grip onto the mattress.

    I am surprised enough that I react without thinking, snatching the small trinket up. "Oi, that's-" I bite off the words, but Farfarello finishes them for me.

    "Yours," he supplies blandly. I suppose he _would_ place it the easiest...He still has his broken unicorn. I see it whenever I fetch him from his room.

    Held between my fingers is the glass head I filched from Hiroku's place. I blink at it. How on earth did Crawford get it? I lost it a while ago...How did it end up in his hand? I certainly didn't put it there, and it's not like Crawford could have scooped it up.

    /Ikida, why did Crawford have a figurine in his fist?/ I send at the doctor.

    He's confused, but a mental picture tossed his way aids his memory. ~A nurse found it on his sheets and put it there. She thought it would be a good-luck trinket for him. You never mentioned it, so I forgot about it.~

    "It's cute," Aine comments. Amused laughter tinges her voice. I glance at her. A smile plays on her lips. "It looks like a familiar face, though." She looks from it to the invalid clairvoyant, then lifts her eyebrows at me in an innocent question.

    "It was supposed to be a stress reliever," I drawl. "I was going to smash it with a hammer if I was feeling violent. Then some ugly little thief took it." I looked pointedly towards Crawford. His amber eyes are resting on the figurine that he's been unknowingly holding for two weeks, studying the small head with glasses. I shove both my hands in my pockets, affecting nonchalance as his eyes lift to hold mine. I cannot help it- my lips quirk into a smirk. I pad towards the door. Aine says a farewell to Crawford and we leave.

    The Irishwoman gives me a calculating look over the roof of her car, opening her door slowly. She is putting two and two together. She isn't stupid. I spend a lot of the time out of the house, at the hospital. She discovered I'm in Crawford's room the other day. She knows details about the confrontation- details I'm surprised Hoffmann bothered to tell her. I can hear them swirling in her brain. ~Schuldich...?~ she asks, tilting her head to one side. Her lips twitch in a teasing smile. ~I'm sensing a bit of devotion to your clairvoyant.~

    I let my lips curl into a smirk that is both condescendingly amused and a warning. She wisely shuts up and climbs into the car, though I think I hear her smother a quiet laugh. I slide into my own seat, turning my mind towards my teammates with a detached curiosity. Farfarello doesn't care either way. His thoughts are resting on Aine's page with impatience. He knows that means that we have another job, and he is ready for her to announce the details of it. He could care less about me or my interests right now. Right now, or ever? Hm. Nagi is chewing on his suspicions quietly- apparently they're nothing new.

    Maybe everyone knew except me.

    I'm not usually the last to know. I'm a telepath, after all.

    I lean my seat back, invading Farfarello's space as I do so, and prop my feet on Aine's dashboard. The trip home is short and Aine disappears into Crawford's study to place a call back to Estet. Farfarello waits in the living room with me. Nagi gets a drink from the kitchen before joining us. Farfarello is sprawled on his stomach on the floor, his eye fixed on the doorway. I know he likes killing and causing destruction, but the reasons behind his impatience are different from all other times. He isn't in this for the pleasure he feels from a violent murder. He wants to see the fire again.

    I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at his impatience; the fire is all he's been thinking about since our last job, when he saw they way she killed so many so effectively. Few things can impress Farfarello. Apparently, pyrokinesis is one of those few things. Granted, Farfarello would never want the gift for himself- he derives too much pleasure in the hand-to-hand taking of life- but that doesn't mean he can't admire her power.

    I find the remote and flick on the television. Farfarello reaches out and turns it back off with some impatience. "Oi," I say, but he ignores me. I turn it on again, and he turns it off. We battle back and forth for a while before Farfarello gives me an impatient yellow look and rolls on his side, facing one end of the room so he can see neither me nor the television screen. I give a victorious smirk and turn the volume up.

    Aine joins us a few minutes later. I turn the television off and tap the remote against my knee. The older woman enters and lowers herself to the carpet, sitting indian style near Farfarello's feet. He sits up, watching her face intently. Aine doesn't seem bothered by the scrutiny. In fact, she returns his gaze calmly as she informs us of our new job. "We're after a man named Arajiki Tomo. He's got too big of a mouth, it seems. He's been leaking information about Rosenkreuz to some lords of the underground. It's up to us," she flicks her eyes to me, lips twitching in amusement, "to find out how he knows what he does and who exactly he's told. Everyone will be dealt with."

    I can understand her amusement. She says 'us' but it's my job to find out the information.

    She looks towards Nagi even though she speaks to all of us. "We are going to leave in five minutes. He is going to be at the St. Lucy Church, getting his son baptized."

    Farfarello inhales sharply and all eyes go to him. Aine's curious at the sudden way his breath has hitched in his throat. He is staring at her but seeing through her, seeing instead three bodies sprawled in piles of blood.

    ~Should we take him?~ Nagi asks. He knows as much as I do how unstable Farfarello can get when religion is brought into the fray. Farfarello's mouth moves but he makes no sound. I know the name that formed on his lips, however.


    One minute there is a God, the next minute Farfarello's denouncing his existence. I give Nagi a shrug. /It's up to the housemaid,/ I answer. Farfarello's fingers clench into fists so tight they draw blood. His eye is narrowed and glows with hate.

    Aine looks fascinated. Ordinary people would be shitting in their pants right now at the murderous lust that laces Farfarello's veins. He gives a small shake of his head, lips curling in a faint, malicious smirk. "And will He judge us as sinners," he breathes, speaking to himself, "as the sacrament goes unfinished? A child saved from His brainwashing...saved from being cleansed not into truth but into lies. Will it sadden Him?"

    "You might want to leave Farfarello here," Nagi says.

    Farfarello gives a sharp shake of his head. "No," he snaps.

    "Why would I?" Aine asks.

    "He is hard to control when it comes to religion."

    Aine considers it before looking back at Farfarello. She studies him in silence and he gazes back, his entire being daring her to try and keep him away from what he wants. Rage and hate run hot in his blood. His entire body is practically quivering in anticipation. He is not often given the chance to strike out against the one he hates the most.

    Aine smiles and looks to Nagi. "If I feel he is disrupting the job too much, you will slow him with your telekinesis," she says simply. "He will go with us."

    "Yes," Farfarello whispers, a sibilant sound.

    Nagi gives a mental sigh.


    Aine turns the hose on full blast, aiming it at Farfarello. He sits patiently under the rush of the water, letting it wash away all of the blood and foreign body parts that are clinging to him. Nagi is still in the car, feeling slightly queasy. I am sitting on the hood, watching the two Irish assassins. Nagi lost track of Farfarello for one second- just one- and our rabid teammate managed to cause mass destruction to most of the church. All of the people that had entered for the baptism are now nothing more than corpses. The priest who had been presiding over it is nothing more than shreds of flesh from where Farfarello took him apart. The baby who was going to be baptized is drowned in the water. Farfarello told the baby that he would not be like God now- that he would not tear a child from its family. Therefore, his gift to the baby was to send it with its family to death.

    For a finishing touch, the statue of Mary at the side of the church was left with a cross on her bosom- two streaks of overlapping blood from the priest's body.

    Now we are back at the flat, and Aine refuses to let Farfarello go inside without being washed off. That is why she is currently hosing the Farf down.

    Farfarello is feeling some deep satisfaction over his actions, a lethargic contentment that rests in his bones. He looks like a small push would send him onto his side- he sits that passively. Given his current state of mood, I bet he would even allow me to test that theory. I'm not going near him until the gooey remains are gone, though.

    Most of the men Arajiki informed are far enough away that Estet will send others to take care of it. They will also take care of the loudmouth that hides within their ranks. There are one or two enlightened men near us, but it will not take all four of us to deal with them. Hell, just one of us would be way more than enough.

    Aine turns off the hose and heads towards Farfarello. He remains where he is, his clothes plastered to his wet skin. As Aine kneels in front of him, red wells up among the water trickling down his skin. Someone got Farfarello...It was probably Arajiki's bodyguards, with their guns. Farfarello had been a bit too intent on ruining the religious ceremony- and going for the priest's throat- to pay much heed to the bodyguards. Now sluggish trails of red run down from his upper arm.

    Aine takes his elbow, turning his arm slightly to examine the wound. Farfarello joins her scrutiny, though his gaze is disinterested. Aine tugs lightly at the torn cloth that used to be his sleeves. "You should wear a vest, Farfarello," she tells him, tapping her own gray one. "They're easier to move in- they're sleeveless and hang tighter- and you ruin your clothes with bullet holes, anyway." That's true enough; most of Farfarello's shirts have holes where bullets cut through the material but not his skin.

    He gives a careless shrug and the wound leaks more, agitated by his movement. Aine stands and he rises as well. She looks over at me, holding up the keys to her car in silent question. I hold out my hand. She tosses her keyring to me and I catch it. It seems I get to take out Arajiki's two friends. Nagi climbs out of the car, picking his way around the bloody water that stands in our yard. I glance towards Aine's mind. She is going to bandage Farfarello and then look for the reasons behind his violent reaction to religion.

    /Curiosity killed the Celt,/ I drawl.

    She pauses from where she is leading Farfarello to the doorway to send me a small smile. ~Thanks for your concern,~ she teases.

    /It'd be a waste of Farfarello's bath if he were to get your blood all over him,/ I reply, sliding into the driver's seat of the car. I turn the key in the ignition and tug the door shut. /Besides, I'd be the one stuck cleaning up after him./


    Crawford is brought to the fourth floor in a wheelchair. I follow to one side of him as he is rolled along by an orderly, shoes clicking softly on the hard floor. While a wheelchair is a major improvement over Crawford's previous state, it's still disturbing to see him in it. It still offers the same image- that Crawford is weak. I know Crawford can't appreciate it. I wait to one side as the orderly rolls Crawford into his new room. I have spoken to one of the therapists here already about billing. This portion of Crawford's rehabilitation isn't as expensive as the first, but it will last much longer.

    I am about to enter the room after them when I hesitate. I linger for a moment before glancing down the hall. After a short mental debate, I leave the doorway and pad down the hall. The orderly is going to lift Crawford from the wheelchair to his bed. I didn't watch Crawford get put into his chair...I don't want to see him get taken out of it. It's one thing to see him lying in bed and know he cannot move. It's another thing to actually watch him get moved like a ragdoll.

    I keep a part of my mind tuned in with Crawford's helper, half-listening as the man starts telling him the details of the physical therapy program. I let the exercises fade from my mind. They are for Crawford to worry about, not me.

    A stranger's thoughts stop me in my tracks and I turn towards the nearest doorway, padding towards it. This room seems to be a waiting area for visitors. There is only one occupant in the room, an old man sitting at a table beside the window. A chess board is set out in front of him and one wrinkled hand moves all of the pieces as he plays both sides. I recognize his face, just as I recognize the wistful sorrow of his thoughts.

    I enter the room without really knowing why, crossing to stand at the seat opposite his. He looks up and offers me a smile that does not quite erase the sadness in his eyes. He waves a hand at the opposite side of the board. "Care to play?" he asks, offering a soft, hoarse laugh. "I think that side is losing, though."

    I feel my lips twitch into an answering half-grin, half-smirk. "Black is my lucky color," I assure him, moving a piece. I lower myself into the chair obediently. I used to play chess to pass the time in Rosenkreuz...I won my games. It's a lot easier to win when you can hear what your opponent is thinking. I survey the board for a minute and he watches me, knowing I look familiar but unable to place my face. I wonder how he remembers me when his mind was miles away when we interacted in the airport. Ah...He recognizes my voice, and therefore feels he must remember my face.

    "You look a bit too healthy and young to be here," the old man says, considering his next moves.

    "I am here with a business associate."

    He gives a quiet sigh, finally moving. I move immediately and sit back to listen to his reasoning once more. "The young shouldn't have to be in places like this," he laments softly, moving again. His thoughts are on his absent loved one. "The world is a sad place."

    "You think it's only for the old?" I ask, stealing the piece he just moved. "This is life. It isn't sad. It's reality. Either take it as it comes or crumble under its weight. Check." He studies the board for a long moment, hand hovering in the air above his pieces. This man is no master chess player, and playing against himself for most of the game left many gaps in his defense. He gives a feeble attempt at protecting his king. I move another piece up, taking it immediately. "Checkmate."

    He eyes the setup for several seconds before offering me a smile and tipping his king over. "Play again?" he asks.

    "No." I rise, reaching out to knock my pieces onto their sides. By the orderly's thoughts, he is done with Crawford and is letting my teammate rest and adjust to his new room. "Stop sitting in this room. You have no reason to be at this hospital. Get on a plane and go visit your 'lady-love' if you miss her so much." With that, I stuff my hands into my pockets and leave the room. The old man stares after me as I go.

    I enter the room Crawford is in now. There is a television hanging on the wall and I reach up, patting the screen. "Living in style now, aren't you?" I ask. "_I_ never had a television in my bedroom." I tilt my head to one side. "Then again, for you this would be everything except your bathroom, so you get a television in every room. You're spoiled."

    "I feel it," he manages to get out. His voice is slightly hoarse but still manages to convey the dry tone of his words. I smirk at him, heading towards him. There isn't a chair here for me, so I make myself comfortable at the foot of the bed. My two meetings with the old man circle around my brain. I had decided when I left Crawford's room just a few minutes ago that I wasn't going to watch him get moved around like a ragdoll. I decide now that I will never be present when he is having his actual therapy- only when he is resting.

    "Aine took Farfarello shopping yesterday," I inform Crawford, batting my bangs out of my face and reminding myself that I need to find something to keep them out of my eyes. "She bought him some clothes."

    Crawford gives a slow blink. We bought Farfarello's clothes last time. Rosenkreuz gave us his sizes when he was attached to our team, and I just picked random outfits out that would fit. I grin at Crawford, knowing he is contemplating the mental image of Farfarello in a department store. "Yeah, I figured he was going to come home bloody from killing people, but apparently he behaved. She bought him a lot of vests and slacks for our next job."


    "She wanted me to talk to you about Nagi." I give up on my bangs. "He received his grades back yesterday for his courses and she sat down with him for a long talk about education." I roll my eyes to show my opinion of that. "She wants to sign him up for his next courses at the nearest university, but wants him to actually attend the classes instead of doing it as distance learning. She offered to pay for his tuition and uniform, since she knows our checks are going to you. She just doesn't want to move without your approval."

    With a great amount of effort, Crawford manages to lift one shoulder in a shrug. "It is up to Nagi."

    "One day he's going to learn that education will get him nowhere," I say.

    "Considering how you turned out without higher education," Crawford says, "I feel it's best for everyone that he continues his learning."

    "Fuck you," I mutter.

    Crawford does not respond, but the corner of his mouth twitches.

Part 19