Part Twenty

    Crawford is delivered back to us at seven thirty. The rest of us have put together the sorry remains of our bank accounts to order a fine dinner, and it arrives soon after Crawford does. We sit down to dine together for the first time in seven months. We are quiet while we eat, but as each finishes we remain in our place. It is like an invisible chain holds us here, prolonging this meal. After seven months, we are whole again, and none of us can deny how that feels. We say nothing, however, lest one of us utters something ridiculous or sentimental.

    It is Crawford that breaks the quiet. "We have a job," he says.

    I cannot help but grin, gliding my fingers along the rim of my cup. It just sounds _right_ to hear the words coming from Crawford's mouth. Things are going to be good again. We will not have the dangerous conflict and hate that surrounded Adashi's presence. We will not have the severe personality contrast we had with Aine. We are balanced back the way we are supposed to be, and now we will be stronger than ever.

    I feel someone's eyes on me and look up to briefly meet Nagi's gaze. His lips twitch in a faint smile before both of us turn our attention on Crawford. Our clairvoyant looks around the table at us, gaze lingering on me last and longest. "This is a long-term job. We will be residing with a politician and will be acting as both his bodyguards and advisors. We will guide him along the path we feel he should take. He will be important to Estet's future if we lead him right."

    I give a slight, scornful shake of my head. Our renewed strength as a unit comes at a price to Estet that they have not yet realized...They gave up on one of our own when we refused to. Our loyalty now lies stronger to each other than to those that molded us into what we are at present. We will obey Estet, yes, but I doubt any of us will be quite as controllable as before. I dimly wonder what this will do to our future, then decide I'm not the clairvoyant- my job is the present.

    "His name is Takatori Reiji," Crawford continues, breaking eye contact with me to fill his cup. He lifts his glass to his lips. "We will remain with him as long as necessary- perhaps until he no longer is useful. That could be anywhere from several months to a little over a year. Our pay will be determined by his success." He takes a sip before continuing. "Estet will refund part of what was spent on bills for us to provide our own transportation and to make sure we are properly attired. Takatori is continually in the presence of the higher class politicians, and we are expected to keep up our appearance. While that does not require extreme formal wear, jeans are expressly forbidden." He glances from Nagi to Farfarello, studying Nagi's gray school uniform and Farfarello's vest and slacks. "Your outfits will do," he tells them.

    I wonder if their clothes will do because it is most likely Crawford that will be interacting with the politicians. That is how it is always done...Crawford, as group leader, will accompany our employer almost everywhere. The rest of us are more behind the scenes, usually. Crawford looks towards me. I am dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt. I wiggle my fork in his direction. "I decided long ago what I was going to wear if I had to dress formally again," I tell him. "I'm getting something green."

    "Green?" Nagi asks, looking at my tacky yellow headband and my orange hair.

    I smirk, stabbing a vegetable from a serving dish and devouring it. "Green," I affirm.

    "As you wish," Crawford says.

    "Damn straight," I agree, and filch another vegetable.

    Silence falls between us again, comfortable and light. I eye each of my teammates. Nagi is looking healthier than ever. I reluctantly attribute it to his education. Schooling may not be for everyone- _I_ certainly turned out fantastic without it- but it was good for him. He actually got out of the house and was able to interact with others, if only on a distant basis. Nagi is too far gone, perhaps, to be able to communicate well with outsiders. His past serves only to make him wary of other people, and his isolation from others helps cement his faint distaste for the world in general. He has seen so much in his short life that he will never feel the naive innocence that will allow him to bond with those outside of Estet. It is better this way, I am sure of it.

    Farfarello has eaten less tonight than he usually does. I debate whether or not I can say that is because of Aine's absence. We viewed her differently...She was not my friend, not even a companion. She was a bizarre woman, a temporary member of our team. She was efficient on the field so I would do what she said, but I have no ties to her now. With Farfarello, however...Somehow she could understand him, better than I, a telepath, could. Maybe that is what Farfarello has always needed- someone who could understand him. I wonder if his time and talks with her will do him good in the long run. I wonder if he will ever see her again, then wonder if I care. I'm not sure.

    Crawford, for his part...He seems more human now. He seems less perfect and invincible to us now. While that is considered a weakness by Estet, it should help us identify with each other more. For once, he had to rely on others. For once, he had to trust others. We have seen past the cold mask to see his inner strength as he refused to give in to a syndrome that was threatening to swallow him. We have seen him stumble, but I doubt we will ever see him fall. Because of this, we will always trust and follow him.

    And I...? Self-examination is always hardest. It involves a fair amount of truth. I could tell myself that I don't give a shit about my teammates and that nothing about me has changed, but that is too obvious a lie. I am not a fan of lying. As Nagi said once, I much prefer selective truth telling. So I will refrain from lying to myself as I contemplate the changes Crawford's stumble wrought in me. As uneasy as thoughts on such things make me- compassion for others isn't exactly a part of my genetical make-up- how else can I explain the sheer outrage I felt when I learned Adashi was abusing Nagi or the reluctant sympathy I feel for Farfarello now at losing his confidante? I can readily say that my view on everyone else remains the same: the world is full of trash. It is my own team that I have reevaluated, and the links between us. I am able to appreciate what I have more.

    And...I have had to admit to myself where I stand with Crawford. The day I had to bite the bullet and face the truth was the day I realized I was more than willing to throw my life away for just a faint chance at saving Crawford. I know what I want. Maybe I've known all along, but it's like when you have a tune lingering in your head- just a few notes, and you can't remember the words. It's that unnameable familiarity. Now I can place it; now I can sing that song.

    I want the superior and unforgiving Oracle that commands us on jobs. I want the Crawford that rules this household. I want him to be there for coffee every morning. I want his routine of fetching the newspaper. I want the conversations we held in the hospital. I want the silence where neither of us has to say anything. I want to go to bed and know he's here and healthy and safe. I want to know that he is here- near me.

    I want everything that is Bradley Crawford.

    But does Crawford want anything that is me?

    It is I that finally breaks the stillness of the room. I rise to my feet, making a gesture towards my plate and lifting my eyebrows meaningfully at Nagi to tell him I think he should clean my dishes. I cannot stay here any longer. My thoughts are disturbing me. "_I_," I announce, as if the room should care about my every move, "am going to take a shower."

    As I leave, I think I feel eyes watching me.

    For some reason, I cannot make myself look back to see who they belong to.


    I sigh, fingers combing wet bangs out of my face. No matter how long I towel my hair, it never wants to get dry. Looks like I'll be sleeping with a head of wet hair tonight. I close the door with a soft click behind me, not bothering to flick on the lights. I pad across the softly carpeted floor towards the dresser, eyes straying towards the window. The curtains are thrown back and the moon is positioned in the perfect spot to spill its silver rays into the room. Something about the room seems a bit...odd. It pulls at my mind, telling me that there is something out of place. I frown faintly, turning towards the dresser and dropping my towel to the floor. I have the feeling I have been here before...How irritating. The feeling of deja vu is one of the worst sensations in the world.

    I am reaching for the top drawer when my eyes fall on something on top of the dresser- something of Crawford's. I blink, startled. That's right...Crawford is in this room now. I am so used to rooming here...I lift my eyes to the mirror, meeting my naked reflection's gaze, and freeze.

    I _have_ been here before...once upon a dream.

    The door opens. Crawford enters and shuts the door quietly behind him. There is a soft click as the lock slides into place. I slowly turn to face him, jade eyes wide as recognition dawns in my mind.

    ~Would you like to hear about a vision I had the night before I began regaining feeling?~ Crawford sends at me, coming to stand right before me. His hand lifts to touch my face, his fingers sliding along my cheek as he cups my face in his palm. I stop breathing at his touch, allowing him to tilt my head back. His thumb skims across my lips and I exhale slowly, shakily. I feel a light tremor pass down my spine. He leans forward, cheek brushing mine as he whispers in my ear.

    "Is this what you want?"

    My mouth has gone dry and I'm mentally berating myself for reacting this way. I try to swallow but it catches in my throat. I try to speak but cannot get the words out, having to send my answer by thought instead. /I think you know./ I reach up, pressing the back of my hand to Crawford's chest. He leans back, but his face still hovers- so close- to mine. /But then, you're the one that said I couldn't have what I wanted./

    A faint smile curves his lips and my gaze drops to his mouth, absently fascinated by the expression. I've seen his half-smirks, the unpleasant, superior look. I've seen his impassive look. I've never seen him smile.

    "I said you can't always have what you want," he says smoothly. "I never said you couldn't have this."

    I swallow, and it works this time. Jade eyes lift to his face. My mind is a tangled knot of emotions I cannot tame: surprise, anticipation, something that can't be nervousness but is, desire...I am feeling exposed, vulnerable, because I do not know how to react to this. I want this, I know I do. I can feel the need for him vibrating in my bones. But I stand here, and I am not Schuldich, I am just someone being offered something he never expected to receive. I cannot use my smirk and haughty expressions to cover my mental chaos. I cannot think of anything smart to say- and I would hate to say something now that would send him away. Without my mask, who am I and what do I do?

    Golden brown eyes are locked with mine. His eyes are not cold, not shielded. They seem warmer somehow, softer maybe. They are looking at me, seeing me...Seeing only me. The idea sends a warmth through me that I cannot name, lending strength to me.

    I am Schuldich...but I am not _just_ Schuldich.

    I lift an arm, threading it around his neck and pulling him closer to me. His lips brush mine and I open my mouth to him, eyes sliding shut. Teach me, Crawford. I was playing with toy trucks when you were at dating age. I lost my virginity at sixteen to a stranger with no kisses and no touching outside of what it took to get him inside of me. Rosenkreuz controlled us too much to allow any sexual play. Women kiss me when I frequent the clubs but I otherwise decline their attentions. You went to high school...You went to college in America, the land of sex and partying. Teach me, Crawford. Teach me what you know.

    His taste intoxicates me and I think I have made a sound into his mouth. Distantly I can feel his hands on my hips, distantly I can feel his chest against mine, his body molding perfectly against me. His kiss dizzies me, splintering all coherent thoughts. My free hand is closed tightly on his upper arm as if using it to help keep me balanced. His mouth is gone then and I am gasping for air and tilting my head to one side as his lips trace a fiery path down my throat. We have turned so that I can see the mirror over his shoulder. Half-lidded jade eyes gaze back at me, drunk with desire.

    His hands skim up my back, fingernails gently raking the skin. I feel my soul tingling at his touch, my entire being burning with his closeness. I murmur something unintelligible that I think was supposed to be his name and his mouth is on mine once more. The arm that was wrapped around his shoulders is now bent so that my hand cups the back of his neck, keeping his head where I want it. I allow him to ravage my mouth, one thought ringing sharply in my mind:

    Crawford wants this as much as I do.

    He guides me backwards and I move where he wants me to. I feel the backs of my legs touch something soft and chance a look over my shoulder to see the bed. I feel my lips curl into something more smile than grin and I tug at Crawford, letting the force of him connecting with me knock us both backwards. The mattress squeaks in protest of our combined weight landing on it. Crawford kneels over me, his knees to either side of my hips and his fingers tangled in my hair. We exchange long, heated kisses, exploring each other's tastes.

    His mouth slides over my cheek and he nips my jaw lightly before moving back to my throat. I tug off his glasses, tossing them in the general direction of his bedside table. For once, he doesn't comment on my careless handling of something of his. I tug at his shirt, wanting it off, wanting to feel his skin against mine. It occurs to me that his shirt has buttons and I attack them, not caring if I'm ripping them off in my haste to bare him to me.

    "You are impatient," Crawford says with what might be a soft chuckle.

    I tilt my head to one side, biting the nearest part of his anatomy- his cheek. "Seven months," I tell him. "I've been waiting seven months for you to get better." Yes...Seven months ago is probably when I was first able to determine why I was reacting to Crawford's health and absence so severely. But how long before then had the beginnings of such muddled and tangled emotions been around...?

    "And I've been waiting a year for you to figure things out," he replies calmly, a hint of amused aggravation in his voice.

    All this time I've been watching him...I don't know when I started, but I only learned why in the recent months.

    All this time I've been watching him...He's been watching me.

    I stare up at him for a long moment, letting that sink in, before muttering to myself and yanking at his shirt again. "Jesus fucking Christ, say something earlier..." I shove his shirt down his shoulders, letting the moonlight cascading in the room spill across his arms and chest. He frees his arms from his sleeves and shoves the shirt towards the edge of the bed. My fingers glide across his skin, skin that I gazed upon so long ago with blind admiration, skin that I now have permission to explore.

    My lips graze his shoulders and chest as my fingernails slide over his arms and back. I can detect the faint scent of his cologne, a smell that is distinctly Crawford. Seven months ago, I fell asleep on a pillow with his scent. I long ago lost it, however. Now it is back, as he is back, and I bury my face in his neck, lips pressed to the hollow of his throat. I can feel his pulse against my lips. I linger there for several moments before catching his mouth for another kiss. My hands glide down his back until my fingers have buried themselves under the waistband of his pants. Crawford's mouth moves to my chest and my breath hitches in my throat when his lips graze a nipple. I try not to squirm as he teases at the flesh but cannot stop myself from writhing slightly beneath him when each brush of his tongue sends fiery sparks straight through me to sear my blood. My hands dig into his hips with an unkind but uncontrollable spasm of my fingers.

    "Nnn...Crawford..." I'm not sure if I'm asking for more or asking for him to stop.

    He does not respond but trails his way across my chest to the other nipple. I arch up slightly into his touch, coherent just enough to loosen my fingers. My breath leaves me in a ragged gasp and I tilt my head back further into the mattress. It is almost unbearably hot in here, but it is a heat I find myself thriving in. I crave it, I need it. I do not want him to stop touching me. He cannot touch me enough. I rake my fingernails upwards along his back once more, tangling my fingers in his hair.

    His palm runs over my knee, sliding up the side of my thigh to my waist. I can feel the nerves in my leg jumping beneath his ghosting touch. Then his hand closes around my erection. I arch from the bed, fingers tightening in his hair. "Gott!" I choke out, not even meaning to speak. The word just spills from my lips as I try pressing my head back further into the mattress than it will allow me to go. Crawford's mouth moves back to my throat and jaw as he finds a rythmm and strokes me. If I had believed coherent thought to be hard before, it's near impossible now. I can only twist helplessly under his touch, my hands leaving his hair to run my fingertips down the side of his face.

    He kisses me and I open my mouth to him eagerly, drowning in his taste and his rythmm. It's too much but it isn't anywhere near to being enough. "I want you," I tell him. It's hard to talk; it's hard to breathe. I can barely get the words out between our kisses. "_Now_." I tug sharply at the waistband of his pants to emphasize my words, letting my actions replace my faulty voice. His pants are tight on him; he is as affected as I am. His hand leaves my painfully throbbing erection to slide up my side and I gather my thoughts enough to yank at the fastenings of his pants. It takes some work to slide his pants down his hips. He has to shift away from me to get out of his clothes and I push myself up on my elbows to watch him, my breath ragged in my ears.

    My eyes memorize his body, sweeping across planes of skin paler than my own. He pulls something from his pockets before sending the rest of his clothes tumbling from the bed. I take it from him, squinting to read the label in the dim room. It is a type of lotion, suitable enough as lubricant. I cannot help but crack a grin at him. That's the beauty of being a clairvoyant...You're always prepared for what's coming. He would have made a good Boy Scout, I believe. I tug him back to me, kissing him. The small bottle is taken from me as we kiss and I'm more than willing to occupy my empty hands with better tasks. I cannot get over how soft his skin is despite the hard exterior he so loves to wear. He always comes across as such a hard ass, but perhaps the only fortress about him is his mind.

    A lotioned finger presses at me, seeking entrance. It slides inside and I make a face, wincing slightly at the foreign invasion. Luckily for me, the man I lost my virginity to had enough common sense to use lubrication and stretch me before taking me. That didn't mean I enjoyed any of the sex. I tell myself that it will be better this time because this time I want it, because this time it is Crawford. I focus on Crawford's lips on my throat as he slides another finger in and stretches me in preparation for his penetration. He draws his hand out after what feels like an eternity and leans up to kiss me. It is a short kiss and he hovers over me afterwards. Both of us are have trouble breathing. I can feel his breath washing over my face as we gaze at each other. Jade and golden brown meet and hold as if we are searching for something.

    We find what we're looking for at the same time and break eye contact to move. I shift for him as he repositions both of us. One of his hands lightly brushes up and down the side of my leg and the other finds a rythmm once more stroking my erection as he slowly pushes himself inside of me. My hands clench into fists on his sheets and I tilt my head back, eyes closed as I struggle to focus on the pleasure his hand gives me, struggle to keep myself relaxed. It is painful, but made tolerable by the knowledge of what it is and who is doing it. It is being stretched too far but being filled completely. My breath hisses out through teeth I did not realize I had clenched.

    Then he is completely in, and he stills to let me adjust to him. I slowly open my eyes and look at Crawford. He is watching me. Both of his hands rest on my waist. I lift my hands from the sheets to close my fingers on Crawford's arms. He seems to take this as a cue to move and pulls back, withdrawing from me almost completely before moving forward again. He hits something that causes the universe to explode before my eyes in a dazzling array of colors and I feel my back arching from the sheets as I utter a choked cry to the room. Reality is carried away as we move together, pleasure crashing in fiery waves against me. The whispers of the world's minds are silent, drowned out. I cannot think. I can only feel, and I exist to feel in these moments. I do not know where I end and Crawford begins as our hands sweep over slick skin. His hand begins to stroke me once more and I am caught between the two sensations, drowning in them.

    It is too much, it is not enough, it is everything I want and everything I need. It is Brad Crawford that is looking at me, not just Crawford and in no way Oracle. The shields from his eyes are gone as he allows his desire and lust to show, as he allows me to see _him_. I know my own eyes are equally unguarded. In these moments, the world is gone and it is just the two of us. We are not Talents, we are not pawns of the Council, we are not assassins. We are just us, bared to each other as we will never be bared to anyone else.

    And when we climax, we do so with each other's names on our lips.


    Crawford's chest rises and falls slowly beneath my cheek. I have an arm thrown across his waist as I lay on my stomach, sprawled against his side and spilling on top of him from my shoulders up. My eyes are half-closed as I slowly let myself sink into sleep. I am feeling utterly exhausted, but satisfied in a way I have never been before. One of Crawford's hands is tangled in my hair in his sleep. He drifted off quicker than I, perhaps because this physical exertion cost him more after so many months of therapy following his sickness. I feel a tired smile on my lips as I let my eyes slide closed the rest of the way, drifting off to the sound of his heartbeat.

    Somewhere, day has just begun. The sun is casting its bright light across the land, chasing away the stars and lightening the navy hues of night to a softer shade. People are stirring from their beds to seek coffee and begin their days, determined to get as much done now so they will be ready for the fun of twilight. On the other side of the world, the moon hangs high and the stars are twinkling pinpoints against a cloudless sky. The work of the day is over for the people here and they give in to the freedom of the night.

    And I think...

    Perhaps the world isn't such a bad place after all.

The End~

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