Part Eight

Interlude – Kyoto

    "We shouldn't have come."

    Crawford glanced over towards the pale Irishman from where he was setting their wake-up call for the following morning. With the curtains drawn back, Farfarello had a good view of the city that was still wide awake this late at night. From across the room and with the lights on, all Crawford could see was the room reflected on the glass- and Farfarello's tight expression.

    "We needed to talk to Kritiker," Crawford answered, hanging up the phone. "We need work, even if it is from them."

    "We," Farfarello emphasized, "shouldn't have come."

    "Schuldich will be fine."

    Farfarello sent him a cool look over his shoulder. He didn't have to say anything; the accusation in his gaze was enough. Crawford met that stare easily, ready to accept the accusation but not the blame. "I am not going to tell him," the former precognitive said. "Not yet. It won't do him any good to know."

    Farfarello reached up, giving the curtain a hard yank to pull it shut. "You can't watch him."

    "I wouldn't have brought you this far away if I thought his mind would collapse. I wouldn't risk that. But he needs to learn how to focus on his own or you're going to tear yourself apart trying to hold both of you up."

    Farfarello said nothing to that. Crawford pulled his glasses off and set them on the nightstand. The room was in perfect focus around him even without them, a disorienting thing to see after years of being plagued by blurred sight. The precognition his mind had wrapped around had forced him to choose mental sight over physical, but after Schuldich's gift had exploded across the bonds, Crawford's gift had broken. Whether it was just being suffocated by the other's mind and his shields' strengthening in reaction to that mental blast or whether it had been snapped completely, he didn't know. He hadn't seen anything since he'd woken up in the hospital and it was more than a bit unnerving- especially when Schuldich was so unstable.

    Perhaps it was better that it was gone if it had failed them so thoroughly at the tower. He should have seen things going wrong. He should have seen that Nagi—

    Farfarello was still watching him, enough of a distraction against such thoughts. As a precognitive and Schwarz's leader, he had failed his team. He had brought them to that tower with the promise of success and it had all fallen apart around them. They were still falling, tumbling further down, as Schuldich's mind shifted and collapsed in on itself, but Crawford knew they could fix it. They had to. Schwarz had lost enough. Whatever it took, they would hold onto what they had left.

    And that was why they were here, wasn't it?

    "I should have stayed in Tokyo," Farfarello said, starting across the room at last.

    "We have to give him room or he'll just dig in tighter," Crawford told him. "If we take just the smallest misstep, we could destroy everything."

    "Then I should have stayed," Farfarello insisted.

    "I won't let him collapse," Crawford told him, catching at the Irishman's arm as Farfarello went by.

    "Neither will I," Farfarello sent back.

    Farfarello had joined Schwarz only three years ago, but he and Schuldich had taken all of two days to get past the initial distrust and disdain and decide that they worked really well together. Schuldich's gift and sadism with Farfarello's skill and cruelty made them the most efficient pair within the team, and Crawford had come to dread the times he'd realized they'd both disappeared somewhere. It tended to cost a lot of money to clean up behind them.

    He had been certain, for a long time, that they would fall in with each other in more ways than just blood and business, but that had changed when Nagi had shown up a year ago. It had taken three weeks for the entire balance of the team to change, and as Crawford had started reconsidering his predictions for the middle two, he'd started realizing why Farfarello was never bothered with his teammate's fascination with the telekinetic.

    It had taken one day- just one day- for the entire team to fall completely apart.

    But blind, and bruised, and cracked as they were—they were alive. And they were going to keep living, one way or the other.

    "We'll fix this," Crawford said.

    He couldn't linger over thoughts of Nagi's death or feelings of guilt and inadequacy for so easily tearing apart Rosenkreuz's top team because there wasn't time. Every second they had, they needed, or they were going to lose this race. He had to fix it, because a leader who failed to keep his team alive should at least do anything it took to pick up the pieces.

    Less than two months later, he'd start realizing just what "anything" really entailed.


    Present Day

    Dinner is a silent affair that night and I'm in bed long before I mean to fall asleep. With the lights off and the door shut I let myself hide in the shadows, thoughts turning in bitter little circles. Farfarello and Crawford are still in the kitchen when I go to bed and I know that they must be talking by now, must be talking about how they're going to get rid of me. There's nothing else for them to talk about, and no other course of action to take. Crawford said that Farfarello's mind is being destroyed along with mine, which means that unless he comes to his senses and fixes his priorities, he's going to choose Farfarello over me and there'll be nothing else to do but kill me. That's how it goes, isn't it? When one of the pack is going mad, he isn't sold out to someone else- the group takes care of its own from sanity to madness to death.

    I'm not the one that should die. Nagi died for us at the sea so that we could live. If I'm the only one who has any second thoughts over his death, then I'm the only one who understands that sacrifice. I'm going to live because I'm meant to live. And Crawford… Crawford is mine. I choose him, and Farfarello can rot in hell somewhere.

    You can't pick him, Crawford. You can't. You're supposed to pick me. We've been teammates for seven years.

    It's an hour before I hear footsteps in the hall. I'm starting to drift off but at last I hear them: two sets of footsteps getting louder. Only one door opens and shuts.

    The one month abstinence is over and they've gotten back together just like that, easy as cake. Crawford should have come to his senses after not having Farfarello for a month. He should have figured out along the way that I'm the one getting stronger while Farfarello's getting weaker. He should have walked away. Fucking traitor.

    There's too much space between my bed and Farfarello's to hear anything, but I can imagine. Fingers against hard skin, fingernails counting out paths they've memorized already, a struggle for control that has to find a compromise somewhere. I press my hands to my ears but I can imagine the curses as one wins the struggle, using a dirty trick or exploiting a sensitive spot.

    I want to get up and kick down the door again, but I don't want to see it. I don't want to see Crawford in bed with that thing, don't want to see him eliminating our team so easily. How easy is it, I wonder, to just pick apart a team? Crawford decided he likes Farfarello best and he's easily cut Nagi and me out of it. Fucking asshole, fucking traitor. He destroyed this team, so he should be putting it back together.

    It must have been Farfarello's idea.

    I want—

    No. Don't think about it. Don't fucking think about it because that fat bastard is listening in.

    That thought is enough to bring a sharp smile to my face, and I wonder how he likes getting fucked with my hatred and disgust ringing in his head. I wonder if it's enough to ruin the mood and I tear him apart in my mind, watching skin give way the same way he showed me on a victim some years ago. We'd started arguing about how frail the human body is, me pointing out that humans can be killed by things as simple as falling down the stairs, and Farfarello insisting that it was stronger than that. He proceeded to show me just how much a body could take. It was informative, and it's useful now, because I put him in that place and watch it all fall apart.

    I know he has to hear it, but Farfarello doesn't come to tell me to stop.

    It is a long time before I go to sleep, and I hold onto my hatred all the way there.

    I wake up just a few hours later, choking on sand and salt and blood, and Farfarello is there. I feel his hands on my shoulders, hands that were just working their way over Crawford a short time ago, and my skin crawls at the feel of them. He pulls his hands back just as I tense up and I hear glass slide against wood as he picks up a drink.

    I just eye the glass, watching the way the dark juice distorts the line of his hand, and gaze past it to the sleeping pants he's wearing. Black overly large sleeping pants, because he has no reason to fight us.

    It makes me smile.

    I lift my gaze to his and I can see when he senses a little something off, hears a little something out of place. Even in these shadows I can see him tense, and he lets the cup fall out of his hands. It's the second cup in just as many nights to break on my floor and make a mess, but I don't care. Juice runs faster than blood and it's much colder than his will be.

    "Don't do it," he warns me quietly.

    "Don't do what?" I ask. "I told you not to fuck him, Farfarello." He just stares at me, watching, waiting, trying to figure out what's off. I feel my smile widen at his suspicion. How well-placed it is. "Are you afraid of me, Farfarello?"

    He doesn't answer that; the silence is scornful enough. "Are you afraid of death, then? Were you so afraid you'd lost him when the tower fell? Was it a horrid wake-up call to see just how fragile even Schwarz could be?"

    "I'm leaving," he tells me.

    "Don't walk away from me. I asked you a question."

    He doesn't listen; he just turns and walks away.

    Stupid, stupid Farfarello.

    My hand finds the gun under my pillow a little too easily and I don't need light to aim it at my teammate's back. I just grab the weapon and point it in his direction and fire. It catches him in his hip, knocking him off balance enough that he hits the doorframe. He doesn't look back but rolls himself around it easily into the hall, and the smell of blood and gunpowder is thick in my nose. I'm already out of bed and running out of the room after him.

    I catch up to him in his room, the closest place he can go that has one of his weapons, but I see Crawford before I see Farfarello grabbing a knife from its hook on the wall. The American is on his feet near the door, alerted by the gunshot that something has gone horribly wrong, and as Farfarello turns towards me, hand up with his knife, I turn on Crawford.

    He has his gun in hand- loaded, no doubt, with at least one of the bullets meant for me after he cleaned it earlier- but I'm faster than he is. I have the gun shoved into his throat in a heartbeat, and in an instant, the room goes still.

    I can feel my heartbeat pounding in my throat and chest and beating against the finger I have hooked around the trigger. It's racing, either from exhilaration over hitting Farfarello or from this small chase. Maybe it's from having Crawford at gunpoint and feeling that itch, that need, to just fire.

    "You smell like sex," I tell Crawford.

    "Schuldich, drop your gun," he says in response. "You're not thinking clearly."

    "Why hasn't Farfarello killed me yet?" I ask Crawford. "Don't you suppose that he could aim well enough that I'd be dead before I shot you?"

    "Schuldich, drop it," Crawford warns me, and I reach out with my other hand to grab hold of his wrists. I can feel the cold metal of his gun behind the warmth of his fingers and I dig my fingernails in, looking back for just a moment to see the way Farfarello has gone absolutely still. There's already a small puddle around his foot, and although the room and his pajamas are too dark to see it, I know there's a thick trail of blood running down his leg. I offer him a wicked smirk and look back at Crawford.

    "Are you going to die tonight, Crawford?" I want to know. "If you'd seen it coming, you would have killed me earlier, so I guess that means you already know what I want from you. Have you told Farfarello yet?" I shove the gun harder against his throat and smile at the way he has to tilt his head back some to keep from choking. "I told you that you had the power to change what happens to this team and you walked out on me. I'm going to give you that choice again."

    "Schuldich, drop it," Farfarello warns me.

    "I won't," I tell him. "Crawford, drop your gun. I can turn around and drop him before you can get that gun where it needs to be to kill me. You know it. You know I've always had the best aim out of everyone on this team."

    He doesn't move immediately. "Crawford," I warn him, and at last his fingers relax. The gun clatters to the ground by our feet and he reaches up instead, clenching his fingers around mine and my gun.

    I jerk the gun just a little and fire, and Crawford goes stumbling back as a bullet digs home in his shoulder. He tries to wrench my hands away but one arm isn't moving right, and I slam my free fist into the injury. It's enough to distract him and I shove my gun back into his throat even as I feel cold metal dig into my throat. Farfarello has crossed the room just like that and he's almost leaning against me he's standing so close.

    "Don't do it," Farfarello warns me in a low voice, right by my ear. "Don't do it."

    "Stop me," I invite him, and he says nothing to that. "You don't care that Nagi died," I accuse Crawford. "So why should you get to keep Farfarello? He's just a dumb fucking madman. He doesn't need you, not like I need you. I told you that we can fix this. All you have to do is give him up."

    Crawford's expression is tight and I wish that stupid mask of his would crack so I could see the pain through it. "I'm sure Nagi would be pleased that you got over him so easily," he says in a low voice.

    "Don't fucking push me, Crawford. You're mine now."

    "Schuldich, drop it," Farfarello warns me.

    "And let you kill me?" I ask. "I don't see things turning out that way. Give him to me, Farfarello."

    "I won't."

    "Then he'll die," I tell him. "I get him or no one does."

    "*Drop* it," Farfarello says again.

    "Do you want Crawford to die, Farfarello?" I want to know.

    "I'll kill you."

    "Fat lot of good it'll do you when he's dead, too. Tell him to choose me, Farfarello, or I'll kill him. It's going to happen," I tell him. "Crawford wouldn't have let it come to this if he didn't know we were all going to walk away. He didn't see himself dying."

    "He can't see anything," Farfarello says flatly, voice twisting over the words. "Your gift saw to that."

    "Ahh," I murmur. "So you didn't see this at all."

    "Schuldich, put your gun down."

    "Don't tell me what to do, Crawford."

    I feel Farfarello's knife dig in a little deeper, just enough that the skin breaks enough to bleed, and I smile up at Crawford. "Tell him to let you go," I warn him. "You said we would fix this. We. You and me. Schwarz. This is how you fix it, so are you going to do it, or are you going to back away?" He doesn't answer that, and I can feel myself getting annoyed. "Farfarello," I say flatly. "Is he going to die tonight? Tell me."

    Farfarello doesn't answer, but I can feel his knife shaking slightly against my throat in his restrained need to cut my throat open. His fingers twist in the back of my shirt where he's holding on and the smell of their blood is thick in my throat. Blood and salt and sand.

    "Don't," he warns me.

    "Is he going to die?" I demand. "Someone fucking answer me."

    Crawford looks past me at Farfarello. "Yes," he says at last, and I just stare up at him even as I feel Farfarello's hand flinch against my back.

    "You're a fucking idiot," I tell him. "We could still fix this."

    "No," he answers. "We tried, and we failed. Farfarello."

    Farfarello says nothing but I hear his breath hiss through his teeth.

    "Go ahead, Farfarello," I tell him. "He's going to die whether you slit my throat or not."

    "Farfarello," Crawford says again, still looking past me. He says nothing else, but I can see his expression relax. He says nothing else because he doesn't need to, and I can't stand it anymore. My finger's moving on the trigger and I hear the gunshot echoing in my ears.

    It's the last thing I hear.

The End.
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