Part Two

    My teammates are already in the living room when I shuffle in the next afternoon. I don't know when I was in the room last. I've been pretty much sticking to the kitchen, bathroom, and my bedroom. It's partly because of my instability and partly because Farfarello spends so much time in here. I've done enough to destroy this team; the least I can do is give him someplace to retreat to when he's sick of cleaning up behind me. I'd let him keep just his bedroom, but Crawford and Farfarello never enter each other's rooms and this gives them a place to come to together when they want to talk.

    I wonder if they ever talk about how I'm too much of a liability.

    Farfarello's sitting in Crawford's chair for some reason, leaving Crawford to sit on the couch. There are two chairs and a couch in here and Farfarello and Crawford have always taken the chairs that sit at opposite ends of the couch, half a room between them but still facing each other. It's a bit disorienting to see something different and it's enough to stop me in the doorway.

    "Why are you sitting there?" I ask, but I'm not sure which one I'm talking to: Farfarello, for sitting in Crawford's chair, or Crawford, for sitting on my cushion. Nagi and I always took the couch, Nagi at Farf's end and me at Crawford's, with a cushion to spare between us so we weren't too close.

    Nagi's sitting on his end of the couch and he beckons for me to come in. I stand my ground, and he flickers in and out, a ghost image of something that doesn't exist. I give my head a hard shake and dig the heel of my hand into my temple. I stare at Nagi's empty cushion, unable to drag my eyes away.

    "Don't flicker," Crawford tells me, and he pushes himself up from the couch. "Focus."

    Focus on what?

    Nagi's curled up on his side on the cushion, head propped on the arm of the couch. He looked like such a kid when he was asleep; it always made me wonder how much it cost him to keep his "I don't give a shit" face on when he was awake. He fell asleep out here a lot. I always thought it was weird, since we tended to stay up later than him. Somehow he always slept through the sounds of us watching TV or talking.

    "He's dead," Farfarello tells me flatly. "Stop it."

    I can feel my gift spazzing but I can't calm it. I still feel the microwave button against my finger and I see the door swinging open to reveal a coffee mug that flickers in and out. Am I in the kitchen? I twist my head away to check, but instead of the kitchen table it's the entertainment center. The TV's off and then on, but the sounds are muffled and unintelligible.

    Crawford's hands touch my face, warm against my cheeks, and he's in front of me without me ever seeing him cross the room. He turns my head back towards him. "Don't flicker," he tells me. "Focus."

    I can't I can't I can't

    "Focus," Crawford says again, firm but not hard, and I dig my fingernails into his hands. I focus on his eyes as they bore into mine, focus on the feel of his shields that both trap and protect what's left of my gift. I use it as a weight and block out every thought of mine, refusing to think, refusing to do anything but feel that steady silence. For a minute I do nothing but breathe and feel, and then Crawford lowers his hands.

    "Good," he tells me. "You're going to be fine." My first time into the living room in who-knows-when and I've already brought my sanity issues with me. I start to turn to leave but Crawford catches at my elbow. "I called you here," he reminds me. "We need to talk."

    We need to talk about how I'm a liability, about how I'm too much of a liability. I can't exist without them. They can exist without me. All it takes is a well placed shot from Crawford's gun and then they'll be free of my madness.

    I wonder if death tastes like salt water and sand.

    Sand sand sand-

    A cushion creaks, and I look past Crawford to where Farfarello has moved himself to his own chair. He's sitting sideways in it, arms folded over his chest and legs bent over one of the cushioned arms to dangle towards the ground. I can't read anything in his stare or mind and I don't bother to try. All that matters is that the room has been set to rights and I can feel my heartbeat calming down.

    "Is that what you want?" Farfarello asks, and I wonder about the edge to his voice. "Is that what you need, is for us to sit stagnant forever?"

    "Shut up," I warn him.

    "Just sit down," Crawford says, and he moves to his chair. I sit on the couch and the cushion's warm from Crawford's body heat. Crawford gives me a moment to get settled and then considers both of us before relaxing further against the cushions of his chair. "We're going to sell Schwarz to Kritiker."

    "We're going to—" I can't get the rest out.

    "No," Farfarello says flatly. "We aren't."

    Crawford is calm in the face of my surprise and Farfarello's disapproval and drums his fingertips lightly on the arms of his chair. "Schwarz can't exist like this," he tells us. "We haven't had a job in over four weeks. We need money. Hospital bills took most of what we had in our accounts and if we want to be able to stay alive, we need more. The rent, the groceries, the bills…" He gives a dismissive flick of his fingers. "After what we tried to do to Estet, we've lost that entire ring of potential employers. With Schuldich's gift destroyed, it would not be wise to go anywhere near anyone with connections either to Rosenkreuz or Estet. Kritiker is all that's left."

    "They won't hire us," I tell him. "We're Schwarz."

    "They won't turn us down," Crawford answers. "They can't afford to."

    "I'm not working for them," I insist.

    "You're not in any shape to work anytime soon, anyway," is his calm response. It's enough to shut me up and he looks over at Farfarello. "Weiß has moved to Kyoto for the time being to get away from Tokyo. We will approach them there and make our proposal."

    "We," Farfarello echoes.

    "You are coming with me," Crawford tells him. "Our train leaves in the morning."

    "I'll stay with Schuldich," Farfarello says, turning his gaze on the ceiling. "He shouldn't be here alone."

    "These upcoming months are going to be hard on us," Crawford says. "We need to talk."

    About how I'm such a fucking liability—

    "I have nothing to say to you," Farfarello says flatly. "I will stay with Schuldich. He shouldn't be here alone."

    "I don't need to be babysat," I spit at him, though the thought of getting lost here without Crawford around to find me again puts a ball of ice in my stomach. I don't know why he's digging his feet in, anyway. I'm not stupid enough to think it's because of me. They both know the risks of me getting lost, but the edge in Farfarello's voice is more towards Crawford's apparent need to talk to him than the idea of leaving me here.

    "You're coming with me," Crawford says. "It's for the best. Trust my gift."

    "Your gift brought us to that tower," Farfarello points out, and Crawford says nothing immediately to that accusation. "We'll bring Schuldich with us."

    "As you've already noticed, he needs to stay in familiar surroundings," Crawford says, and I resent the fact that they're talking about me with me right here. "He will be fine. I have faith in him. It would behoove you to follow suit. He needs to learn how to focus without relying on us. Schwarz can't recover without that."

    Farfarello doesn't have a ready argument for that, but the set to his mouth is displeased. At last he slides off his chair and leaves. A few moments later I can hear the sounds of mugs clanking as he starts some coffee. It's a funny time for coffee, I think, and then I wonder if I'm right that it's the afternoon. I look at my wrist but there's no watch, and I scratch at imaginary scabs. "Why Weiß?" I want to know, struggling to focus.

    "Takatori Mamoru is inheriting leadership of Kritiker," Crawford tells me. "It's his favor we need to win."

    "Mm." I don't know what else to say. Crawford says nothing for a while, but I feel his eyes on me. At last I look up to meet his gaze. I wonder what he's thinking behind those glasses when he looks at me. I wonder if he resents me for what I've done to his team. A month ago I was strong, and today I'm hovering too close to madness. I've never felt weak before, but I'm…


    "You'll be fine," he tells me. I wonder if he sees that fear in my eyes or if he just knows to say such things after springing on me that he and Farfarello are leaving me behind for a day. I hate both options. I hate being weak. I hate being afraid. I hate—

    I hate that I can't change this.

    I know I'm not going to get better, and I can't stomach that thought.

    I don't answer him. I just get up and leave.

    There are three mugs on the counter in the kitchen and Farfarello is waiting by the coffeepot. He's leaning into the counter so that it digs a little into his stomach and he has an arm bent and propped up against the cabinets so he can rest his forehead against his forearm. He doesn't look up as I enter and I move to the fridge to check it. It's about the same amount of food that there was yesterday, and it calms a little of the sickness in my chest. I sit at the table and pillow my head in my arms as I listen to the coffee maker hiss a little.

    Focus. On what? On my breaths? On my heartbeat? On the gurgling as the coffee finishes, and the splash it makes in the mugs?

    Fuck you, Nagi. Fuck you very much for doing this to us. Fuck you for giving enough of a damn that you didn't want to risk us falling into the water unprotected. We might have walked away. Look at Weiß. They all walked away from it. All… four… of them.

    "Stop it," Farfarello warns me.

    "Shut up. I hate him."

    "You don't," he corrects me neatly.

    "I hate him. I'm so fucking glad he's dead. He's lucky he's dead or I'd be killing him."

    "You'd be sane if he hadn't died," he says. "If you'd survived the fall."

    "Shut the fuck up. I hate you too."

    "We're all you have," he reminds me.

    "I still hate you."

    "I don't care."

    The mug sloshes a little as he sets it down in front of me and I refuse to look up and find it. I just reach out blindly to catch his wrist. I miss and get his hand instead and I squeeze, wishing I could break the bones inside. I wish he would just shut up. I wish he wouldn't say these things that I don't want or need to hear.

    He pries my fingers free and puts my hand on my cup instead. His hands are as warm as Crawford's are. It's kind of funny. "You're going to have to get over him," he tells me. I think he means Crawford, but he corrects me in the next breath. "Nagi."

    "I hate him."

    "Stop being stupid," he tells me, and a hand in my hair pulls me upright. I try and resist because I don't want to look at him or his stupid fucking coffee, but he doesn't let me ignore him. My scalp is aching as he pulls my head up from the table and I glower up at him. He gives me a bored look before heading back towards the counter for his own mug. "Denial isn't going to help anything."

    "What am I denying, Dr. Farf?" I demand, pulling my coffee closer to me.

    He arches an eyebrow over his shoulder at me. "That you feel guilty that he died and you lived," he tells me.

    "Shut up."

    I spill a little coffee on the table. Sharp pokes of my finger spell out the words that burn in my chest: 'I hate him.'

    I trusted my teammates with my life, my back, and my sanity, and Nagi just walked off and left us. We worked as four people. We were brilliant as four people. Maybe we lost our megalomaniacal plans for immortality but we could have found something new to aim for. We didn't need immortality to destroy the world. We could have found another way. Stupid, selfish telekinetic. What did he think he was doing? What gave him the right to blow his gift like that? We could have lived. Weiß made it. So could we. So like a kid to panic on a drop like that and think that we needed his help. We're Schwarz, for fuck's sake.

    We *were* Schwarz. Now…?

    He looked like such a little kid when he was asleep. I knot my hand in my hair and give it a hard jerk. It doesn't help, so I settle for burning myself on my coffee. It doesn't help, either.

    "He's holding you back," Farfarello tells me.

    "How many times do I have to tell you to shut up?" I snarl at him. "He took my fucking sanity with him. There's not much further back I can go."

    He just shrugs, and Crawford joins us in the kitchen. Farfarello points at his mug and moves away from it. I look from one to the other as Crawford collects his mug, not liking the afternoon's discord between them. I need them both stable to keep me stable, and for the past week, they've been doing well together. Farfarello and Crawford have always had a strange sort of relationship within the team, an acknowledging sort of indifference. It doesn't make any sense when I try and gather it up in a few words, but it's the closest I can get. They rarely interacted but they rarely needed to. Crawford led, Farfarello followed, and they knew exactly what the other expected.

    Maybe spending a day together away from their unhappy obligations to me will do them good.

    "You should stay a night in Kyoto," I tell them, running a hand through my puddle to send it scattering to the floor. I wipe my hand off on my thigh and drink more coffee. "Give Weiß a day to think things over." Take more time away from your fucking dead weight over here. "It'll be better that way."

    "Yes," Crawford agrees. "That would be a good idea."

    Farfarello says nothing but takes his coffee out of the room.

    "Why is he so pissy?" I want to know.

    Crawford gives me a slight shrug in response and brings his mug over to the table to sit across from me. "He and I have some things to work through," he tells me. "You know that of the three of us, the links between the two of us are the most unstable. We need to fix that just as much as you need to start having more confidence in yourself. You will be fine here."

    'Liar,' I want to say, but I settle for finishing my drink instead.


    When I wake up the next day, they're already gone.

    I wander carefully from room to room, steering clear of Nagi's bedroom, and end up in the kitchen. My skin is crawling at the idea of being in this house alone and I pick at the hole in the table where Farfarello buried his knife an unknown number of days ago. My fingernails click against the wood and I taste bile on my tongue. I wonder if they left this morning or if they left yesterday. I remember the talk as if it was yesterday, but that doesn't mean anything.

    I push myself to my feet and go to the fridge. It's full. Farfarello's out of those coffee drinks, and he seems to have eaten all of the peaches. I don't understand his obsession either with cold coffee or peaches, but it doesn't bother me enough to ever ask. If he wants to blow his money on overpriced fruit, more power to him. I consider the fridge for a moment and then push the door open the rest of the way and start rearranging it. When Farfarello gets back, he'll probably change it again, but for now…

    Focus. Focus on something. The milk and the juice and… I think it's green tea in this pitcher… they go here. Fruit goes in the bottom drawers, and I don't think I'll ever understand why Farfarello refuses to ever put them away in those drawers since they're there specifically for fruit…

    Focus. Focus on something, anything. Crawford's shields are on their way to Kyoto. If I lose it, he won't make it back in time.

    Shit, don't think that. I can see my hands shaking as they push things around inside the fridge. I want a cigarette. I don't smoke. I need a cigarette. We don't have any in this house.

    I close the fridge door and drag my hand down the front, sliding the magnets every which way. Crawford will fix them. When they're fixed, he's back. No. When they're messy, it's obvious he's not here. I fix them, setting each one back exactly where Crawford always puts them.

    I glance at the table. Farfarello's not there. I half-expected him to be. I look towards the microwave and start towards it on slow steps. My finger hesitates on the button to open the door and I just stare down at my hand. I need to open it to check, but I'm afraid of poking it open. Is there a mug inside or not? There should be. I put one there. Didn't I?

    No. I haven't had coffee since Farfarello made it. There's no mug there and I don't have to check.

    I push the door open anyways. There's not a mug inside; there's a piece of paper. I pull it out, wondering what would possess anyone to stick paper in a microwave, and then I spot Crawford's familiar handwriting.

    "Focus," it says. "You'll be fine."

    His shields aren't here, but he left a piece of him here just the same. I stare down at his message, wondering if it was his gift or just his own initiative that had him putting this here. Either way, it calms the twist in my stomach and I close the microwave door. I bring the note with me to the coffee pot and set it down on the counter as I set about brewing myself something to drink.

    I bring his note with me the rest of the day.

Part 3
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