I don't look up when Crawford enters the room from our private bathroom. His
clothes are set out neatly on the bed, save for the suit jacket that hangs on
the closet door. I am sitting beside his pants, legs crossed Indian style as
I gaze at the mirror on the far wall. I don't need to look at him to know
what he's doing; I know the order he gets dressed in. It's just another one
of his routines, an unvarying part of his day. I watched him the first three
days after I moved in with him just because it was amusing. I took his socks
once to try and screw it up, but he fetched a new pair before going further.
When I stole his comb- his only one- he waited until I gave it back before
continuing. There are some things Crawford is just anal about.
His pants will come first, followed by his dress shirt, which he won't tuck in
yet. He'll fasten all of the buttons on his shirt save for the top three,
which come later for reasons unknown to me. Next are his socks, and then his
shoes. He'll fix the cuffs on his sleeves then. He'll tuck in his shirt,
finish his buttons, and put on his tie before combing his hair and donning his
glasses. The last thing is his jacket, and Crawford is ready to take on the
world with us behind him.
I trust him to follow this routine today and for the most part ignore his
presence to study the far wall. I stare at the mirror without really seeing
it. I am not completely here; a part of my mind has been vacant since
Farfarello was taken from us last night. I cannot hear him. I haven't been
able to hear him or sense him since they took him. It is unsettling to have
him gone…He has always been the loudest mind on the bond. It is strange to
not hear the curling whispers of half-formed thoughts, the flickers of voices
along the inside of his mind, and the chorus of hate and death that lights his
soul. It is strange to not feel him there, when I am so used to having three
minds permanently attached to mine. He has been with us for years and I have
never lost touch of him like this. My mind feels empty and very quiet. It
doesn't help that Nagi is thinking quietly today and I can never hear Crawford
unless he wants me to, not to mention that there are few people within my
I keep reaching out towards him, keep shoving my mind in the direction the
Council has gone. I cannot hear anything of him through them, but I keep
reaching out and circling around their shields to try and get just a sense. I
have been trying it off and on all night.
That's all I want, is a brush to know that he's all right.
I believe in Farfarello's immunity to pain. I've worked with him enough years
to have faith in it.
But I also have faith in Hoffmann's cruelty. Hoffmann has spent thirty of his
forty-five years with Rosenkreuz. He has had a third of a century to develop
his gift and figure out all of the nuances for it. He is one of the Council
of Rosenkreuz and the highest rated Talent there is a record of. Everyone
fears him, whether they know him or not. Anyone he passes can feel the malice
and cruelty that he is blanketed in. The only one to ever be hateful to him
after they were taught their first lesson was me, seven years ago.
My reward was that, instead of being immediately handed over to Crawford as
his subordinate, I was kept. For one year I belonged to Hoffmann and no one
else, hanging in limbo between student and reject. Crawford was handed a job
as a precognitive trainer while I was Hoffmann's possession. I do not
remember most of the year. What I do remember comes in blurry chunks. I do
know that the two telepaths at the time had to be brought in to try and clean
up some of the mess. In the end they repressed most of it. One died a few
days later and the other gave into his gift a year later.
Hoffmann does not tolerate defiance.
The fact that Farfarello _glared_ at him without being hurt is going to make
him doubly set on teaching my teammate a lesson. Farfarello is a madman, but
he is still that: a man. It is his greatest flaw. He is merciless, he is
cruel, he is the best god-damned assassin without a Talent and finds a greater
joy in death than most _with_ Talents…But he is a man. He's human, if he is a
bit twisted, if he does have a broken soul. Humans are home to a wide range
of emotions…Hoffmann can touch all of them. He does not need Farfarello to
feel pain to get his point across.
Distracted by my thoughts, I slip too close to Hoffmann's shields and feel it
pulling at me. I give a startled lurch backwards, both physically and
mentally, and find myself steadied. I gaze up at Crawford's face for a few
moments, then down. I would have fallen off the bed if he had not caught me.
I have no doubt that he caught me only because I would have complained about
the hard landing if he had let me fall. I sit up and turn, letting my legs
dangle off the side of the bed.
I fix my attention on Crawford to help center my thoughts again. His hair is
spiky and messy from rubbing it with the towel and his glasses are absent,
giving him a youthful and definitely unCrawford-like look. He is fixing his
cuffs now, and the unfastened buttons allow me to see a sliver of skin. His
shirt hangs loose about him, not yet tucked into his slacks.
I like this stage of his dressing; it is my favorite. I have dubbed it The
"Stay away from them," he says simply, reaching up to fix his buttons. I
reach up with an arm, batting his hands away to trail my fingers down his
throat and onto the bit of chest I can see. It is something physical, helping
root me here. Mental sweeps can be dangerous for telepaths. When pushing
through a crowd, every brush is an exchange. You leave a bit of yourself
behind and pick up a bit of them so that your mind quickly becomes an echo of
the crowd you have just passed through. It's not hard to fix the mess when
you withdraw, whether it's a quick retreat or a lazy one, as long as you know
how to get back what has been exchanged. One of Rosenkreuz's telepaths in
training has a tendency to get lost along the way…He won't survive much
longer. A fast retreat like the one I just pulled leaves a few moments of
dizziness and the sensation of being unreal in its wake.
I withdraw and he finishes his buttons. "He _will_ be Farfarello when they
bring him back," I tell him. The 'or else' is left unspoken; it does not need
to be voiced. I realize then that I truly mean that threat. Hoffmann ruined
me and left a mark on Crawford. We worked for years to keep our teammates out
of the Council's clutches and failed last night. First Farfarello, then what?
Nagi? I don't think so. If the Council hurts my team, I will retaliate with
full force. No one else should ever go through what I went through…No one
else should ever be the focus of Hoffmann's attention.
It is both a frightening and thrilling feeling, to sit here and know that I am
_ready_. The Council has screwed up for the last time. I am ready to fight
with Crawford, to find this crack and widen it until the ground falls out
beneath both Estet and Rosenkreuz. I will pay them back for everything
they've done to me, everything they've done to Crawford, for wanting to just
give up on Crawford, for taking Farfarello, and for the possible threat of
touching Nagi. For the first time in seven years, hate has won out over fear
in a fierce landslide. I can feel it burning in my veins, a welcome heat.
I can hear Hoffmann's voice from so long ago- ~"Six years ago you swore you
would die for no one, not even the Council."~ Now I am sitting here, realizing
that I have fully broken my own vow. When he made this comment it was when I
was sacrificing everything for Crawford. Now it is for myself and my team.
In a way, it's irritating; I wasn't ever supposed to care about the rest of
them, and for a long time really didn't.
Crawford studies me for a few moments as he finishes his tie, searching my
gaze. He finds what he's looking for; he sees the battle light and the fierce
determination glittering in my jade eyes.
"Your redhead will win tonight," I say.
"Yes," Crawford answers, "he will, and the crack will grow."
"Not a crack, but a splinter?" I wonder.
"Thread," Crawford corrects me easily. "A splinter is smaller than a crack."
"Bite me," I mutter. "Details, details. Details aren't important."
"Here they are," he says, moving away in search of his comb. "Every detail is
going to be important. We must work in both the present and the future. One
wrong turn could bring everything down on us." For the first time when
referring to a dire punishment from the Council, I feel no uneasiness. What a
feel is a bolt of scorn for them. We will not stumble. Crawford and I would
never let us stumble, not when dealing with this. Any anxiety over the matter
is gone, replaced by a restless anticipation. "As long as we move carefully,
however…" He looks back at me.
I feel my lips curve into a wide smirk. Crawford's own lips twitch in
response, and we would be a frightening sight to any fool unfortunate enough
to see us.
There are two places set for lunch. I stare over my plate for a moment from
where I am sprawled lazily in my chair, meeting Nagi's gaze. Crawford ate
breakfast with us- he was finally able to get away from Fatzoid to eat with us
and there were _still_ just three faces- but he and Takatori had business
discussions for lunch. So Farfarello is kidnapped away, Crawford is tending
to our client, and Nagi and I are having a stare down over our meal.
I haven't had to stare at just one other person in years, not since it was
just me and Crawford in Schwarz. It's weird.
I say nothing, though, and Nagi says nothing. We merely stare at each other.
A smirk has curved my lips, an instinctive expression, and Nagi's blank face
gives away nothing. His thoughts are still quiet, though he cannot keep them
quiet enough when we have just five feet between us. They're a whirlwind of
confusion, of impatience, of curiosity, of dread. He has had nothing to take
his mind off of what happened last night, and the silence from us on the
subject has eaten away at him. He knows that Farfarello's abduction is a
terrible thing, but he cannot comprehend just how horrible it is for our
I remember a time when it was hard to separate worry for Schwarz and worry for
_Schwarz_ in his thoughts. He always could keep an indifferent air to his
thoughts or his words, he always could blend business and personal together.
Before us, there was nothing but a dismal, lonely existence on the street.
Crawford plucked him from the alleyways and deposited him into our flat,
throwing him from one twisted life into another. He opened a way for Nagi to
learn to control the gift that had made him a reject, gave him a way to act
out on the anger and disgust for the world. Although the fire of hate died
long ago to a small burn of contempt, Nagi was permanently bonded to us.
Schwarz, as a unit and as individual people, was fused into one thing in his
Since Crawford's fall, however, he's been much easier to read. It's getting
easier to see that Schwarz moved from being business-heavy to personal in his
Crawford's sickness changed a lot of things.
"Screw this," I announce to Nagi, rising from my seat. I pluck up my plate
and start for the door.
"Where are you going?" Nagi asks, but he already knows the answer. There's
really only one place to go on this hall since Crawford would kill me if I
brought my lunch into our bedroom.
I cast him a glance over my shoulder, lifting an eyebrow at him and not
deigning to answer. There's not really an "I" to it. Nagi will follow me.
Indeed, I hear the soft scrape of his chair as I step into the den. I slouch
on the couch, setting my plate in my lap and reaching for the remote. Nagi
settles himself in the chair, looking a bit out of place. A TV meal isn't the
sort of thing Nagi is used to…He's used to routine, to order and discipline.
Crawford made him that way. Years of my work, pulling Nagi in the opposite
direction than the path to what Crawford has become, have had little success.
He's a lot like Crawford in some ways, but markedly different in others. The
differences are both due to my meddling and his age. Nagi is, after all, a
teenager. He lives as both a teenager and an adult, a strange and complex
twist of personality. He is mature and reserved, he has seen too much, done
too much, but he can still have the frustrations of an almost sixteen year old
There are plenty of soap operas on, I know, catering to the many housewives in
need of entertainment. I ignore them today, however, and can't help but grin
at Nagi's relieved thoughts. They don't make good lunch time shows. I manage
to find some action flick on a channel and let the remote drop from my hand to
the cushion beside me, plucking up my fork. We've missed the beginning, but
it's just ten past the hour, so we might be just a little bit in.
Nagi, after some hesitation, begins to eat. His eyes go from his plate to the
door to the television and back again for a good five minutes, as if he's
still uncertain about eating lunch in front of a movie. After a while he
resigns himself to the cruel fate I've assigned him with a small sigh and
focuses his attention on the television screen.
It is with some amusement that I note he stays behind after we've both
finished eating. Our plates float out of the room during one of the
commercial breaks but Nagi makes no move to follow them out; it's almost an
absent cleaning of the room.
Without the movie holding my focus as the moment, my thoughts slide inevitably
towards Farfarello. Crawford had told me to stay away from them, but how can
I press myself outwards, stretching my mind in the direction of the Council.
They haven't moved from one area since I first started tagging them. I
suspect it's probably the same place they stayed last time they were here,
that fancy hotel. It's about the right distance away. I brush past the minds
in my way, sliding through the web of voices in an attempt to find the
silence. Every foreign thought I brush against suddenly seems more important,
as if it were one of my own. I feel my mind fracturing, a soft cracking in my
sense of self as the swapping of minds begins. The thoughts traded for mine
are pushed to one side as I continue my search.
I reach them at last, and all thoughts fade away as their shields come into
touching distance. In my mind I can see them, three white and one jet black.
I give up a bit more of my physical self, trailing along the outside of the
shields without touching them. They would feel a mental brush and would not
appreciate the inquiry at all. I'm not interested in them; I'm looking for
This time is like all the rest; I cannot sense him here. He is between their
shields, his thoughts cut off my them so I cannot pick them up. Frustration
is sharp, anger is fierce. Farfarello is twisted enough as it is- he doesn't
need their meddling and punishment to break him further.
Stay away, Crawford had said, but I'm moving closer. There is room between
their shields, and I wonder if I can get through. I take a deep breath,
loosening the grip on myself I have just a little bit further, trying to
sharpen the image of their minds as physical barriers I can move around rather
than lights and presences in my mind. I can hear nothing, I can feel nothing.
It is complete silence, a complete numbness. I am trying something I never
have before, something I have never felt the need to try before.
The largest gap is between Hoffmann and Jean. I approach the two shields,
keeping my eyes trained on Hoffmann's to make sure I do not get too close.
Feeling has returned enough that I can sense it pulling at me, trying to suck
me in. I am right next to the shields, and I reach out slowly, carefully,
trying to slide my arm between them without brushing either.
/Farfarello…/ I call. /You have to be in here _somewhere_…/
A slight tilt forward, fingers stretched and almost desperate. They said they
wouldn't kill him, Hoffmann said he would return him, but what have they done
to him? I am starting to lean towards Hoffmann's shield and there is a faint
stir of panic as I keep myself from lurching backwards. The shields are close
enough together that a fast retreat would make me touch one of them, and if I
were to touch Hoffmann's…I don't even want to think about it.
It hits me unexpectedly. I've been trying for him since last night but the
sudden touch of his mind is enough to catch me off guard. It is a flurry of
thoughts, a fierce whirlwind with a flavor that is distinctly Farfarello's.
But none of them are _coherent_, none of them are much more than a jumbled,
rapid mumble. In the distance I can hear the chorus of hateful voices
shouting out, furious and strangled. It is going from silence to a tornado of
thoughts, and I thrive under the familiar noise.
And out of the mess and chaos comes his voice. ~Schuldich-~
There is a startled edge to his voice, and something else stains it that I
refuse to name right now. But I feel no relief at hearing him; any that might
have been there when I managed to touch him is washed away in a fierce wave of
He said my name.
Farfarello has never said my name on the bond; he has never said any of ours.
He tosses thoughts and comments out for anyone- usually me- to respond to, but
he has never used our _names_ when speaking to us on the link . I can feel
him, I can feel his thoughts beating against me, but it's slipping away as one
of the Council members moves around him.
/Farfarello-/ I lurch forward without thinking, struggling to keep hold of
The ground gives out beneath me; part of me has fallen into Hoffmann's shield.
A bolt of condescending amusement laces through me- Hoffmann has sent the
emotion at me. He knows I'm here- and he knows I've gone too far. There is
no hate for his amusement at my expense; there is just a rush of panic as I
feel myself falling deeper into his shield. Physical sensation returns with
the harsh feeling of something tearing, of being burst apart. I struggle
fiercely even though I know that that will just pull me in quicker, trying
desperately to free myself. There is nothing I can do- nothing nothing
Everything goes black around me.
I wake feeling sick to my stomach and with one of the worst headaches of my
life. The voices are there before I even realize I'm conscious and I utter a
low curse, reaching up to press the heels of my palms to my eyes. It takes a
few moments longer before I realize that I know who I am. A faint frown
creases my lips and I give myself a mental once-over, checking on my identity.
It's intact…mostly. There are a few new gaps near the ones I've had for
years, a lingering feeling of something missing. It's a side-effect of
touching Hoffmann's damned shield.
I lower my hands, looking around. I have to turn my head slowly because of
the fierce pounding in it. I'm in my bedroom. Through the window I see a
black sky, and I ease myself into a sitting position gingerly to look around
the dark room. Crawford's alarm clock shows it to be four thirty-five. I
press my fingers to my temples, sullenly wishing the voices would back off.
Everyone is supposed to be asleep right now, and the nice thing about sleeping
people is that their thoughts are more muddled then. These ones, however, are
clear and energetic.
They are also, I note with a sick sort of surprise, on repeat.
~I hope I can make it to the cleaners' before they go on lunch I hope I can
make it to the cleaners' before they go on lunch I hope I can-~ ~He loves me
he loves me not he loves me he loves me not he loves me he loves me not he
loves me-~ ~Will you please shut up? Will you please shut up? Will you
please shut up? Will you please-~ ~I'm starving, I hope the cafeteria has
I'm starving, I hope the cafeteria has I'm starving-~ ~I can't believe they
sold out already I can't believe they sold out already I can't believe they
sold out already-~
There are several dozen of them, all loud and on repeat, a moment frozen in
A moment- the moment I brushed them on the way to Farfarello and traded
thoughts in the process.
"Fuck," I announce to the room. I didn't come back from Hoffmann the way I
had gone in. I didn't make a normal withdrawal; the reverse exchange never
occurred. My mind is now home to whatever those I touched were thinking at
the time we passed each other, and they're bouncing around as clear as if they
were my own thoughts. This is not a good thing.
"You had better have a good reason for what you did," Crawford speaks up.
He's a light sleeper; my swear woke him up. Or perhaps he woke when I sat up,
because he doesn't have the "I just woke up" slur to his voice.
"Farfarello," I answer simply. It is the reason, and it is good enough.
For me, anyway. I gaze down at Crawford's dark form. I can barely make out
the outline of his face, but I don't have to see him to feel the disapproval
in his gaze. "I told you to stay away from them."
I don't bother to respond to that. I don't feel like getting into an argument
right now, not with my head pounding so badly. "What happened?" I ask
instead, pressing my fingers to my temples and trying to drown out the voices.
It works about as well as plugging your ears and chanting "La La La" to try
and avoid hearing someone; it drowns them out but just gives you more noise to
"Nagi felt the bond collapse and turned to find you staring into space. You
wouldn't respond to him, and when you started to panic, he had to find your
Athlon. According to him, if he had not had telekinesis to help him, he would
not have been able to get you to hold still long enough for you to take the
I have never been more grateful for those fast acting drugs of mine than I am
now. They were enough to knock me into a deep state of unconsciousness;
enough to shut me down before I completely fell into Hoffmann's shield. That
explains why I still have a grip on who I am. I let out a slow breath,
reflecting on my close call for a few moments. Crawford says nothing. He
does not have to chide me further; he does not have to lecture me on the
importance of following his orders. He knows that what I just narrowly missed
is enough to shake me.
To distract myself, I find a new topic. I missed out on the rest of
yesterday, so I slept right through Crawford's departure for Human Chess. "
How did your samurai do?"
"He performed quite well," Crawford answers calmly. "His tie to Takatori is
deep; it binds them together and can be broken only through death. He will be
very useful to us in the future."
Absently I wonder what some modern samurai would want with the fatty we're
guarding. It's something I'll have to look into later. He's one of the
threats the Council and Estet are carefully watching for, one of the people
that could send decades of planning and work all down the drain. The thought
amuses me, and I feel a brief stab of that hateful anticipation curl in my
gut. They'll all fall, and I'll piss on their graves one day. Maybe I'll
even pay for them to get buried with headstones, just so I have something
further to vandalize. They've handed us the key to their doom; he's sleeping
in a bed and snoring uproariously elsewhere in the house. It's hilarious,
Silence stretches between us as I entertain myself with such thoughts, but the
amusement fades as thoughts of them invariably lead to thoughts of my
After a few minutes, I speak up. "I felt him," I tell Crawford, carefully
easing myself back down to the mattress. My head has never hurt like this
after taking Athlon; I have to breathe through clenched teeth and it feels
like moving too fast will knock my head from my shoulders. At last I make it
down and rest my head on my pillow, staring up at the dark ceiling. "I heard
him for a moment."
Crawford says nothing. I continue my study of the ceiling. "Hoffmann knows I
was looking for him…" I say, though it isn't really necessary. Of course the
bastard knows, if I felt into his shield. I remember his amusement. It
wasn't only that I had slipped up, no- it was because of what I had found in
my teammate. Farfarello had been surprised to hear me, had been startled to
feel me touch him after my absence from his mind. He had reacted to my mental
brush by pushing his mind towards me; I had felt the chaos increase as he
joined my struggle to reconnect our minds from the other end.
A part of Farfarello had wanted to hear me; it had twisted his voice, had
"He called me by name when I touched him."
A part of Farfarello had needed to hear me.
A part of him had been hoping to hear me.
I feel nauseous, and I wonder if it is a side effect of the massive headache.
Crawford cannot fully appreciate what that means, to hear Farfarello call me
Schuldich, though he can tell by the way it affects me that it's not good.
_I_ know the significance because I have lived with Farfarello permanently
embedded in my mind for years. I have been tied to my teammates for a very
long time, and mental changes like that are a big thing. Farfarello had been
trying to reach me as I had been trying to reach him.
What that tells me, above everything else, is that Hoffmann is winning over my
Is winning, I wonder acidly, or has won…?
We lie in silence for a few minutes more. At last I cannot stand the headache
anymore and sit up once more with a disgusted sigh. I get to my feet
carefully and start towards the door. My stomach and my head do not
appreciate the movement and are quite happy to inform me of their annoyance.
I try to ignore them, walking with one palm pressed to my forehead. Crawford
says nothing as I go, and I mildly relieved for that. The hall light is off,
but the kitchen light is on. I make my way there and rummage through our new
medicine cabinet, searching for anything that will take the edge off either
the nausea or the headache. I can feel my heartbeat in my temples, pounding
I pick up my bottle of Athlon, considering it for a moment wistfully. They
would be perfect to get me back to sleep, no matter how sore I am. Of course,
I wouldn't wake up until tonight, and I have no interest in sleeping another
day away. With a soft sigh, I set the bottle back down and return to my
digging. I finally manage to find some medicine for my stomach and head and, not caring whether or not a mixing of the two kinds is allowed, pop some of each.
I lean against the counter, gazing at the floor as I try to think through the
pain and the chorus on repeat. The first thing I want is to get rid of these
damn thoughts, but the mental webbing has shifted greatly in the past sixteen
hours. It is near impossible to find someone just by the sound of their
mental voice, and that is about all I have going for me. Folding my arms over
my chest, I decide to try anyway, weaving my way outwards. I move slowly at
first, mindful of my headache, but the pain seems to fade the further out I
I feel my mouth twitch in an uneasy frown and my fingers tighten on my arms as
I fan myself out, stretching in hopes of hearing any of the voices. At night
thoughts are harder to hear, but I'm hoping it'll be better than trying to
search in the explosion of noise an alive Tokyo presents. The night would be
louder if we were positioned closer to the nightlife, but we are residing on a
quieter part of the city.
Colors swirl past me in lazy waves. I can hear dull murmurings, and now and
then can pick out a clear image. I touch the minds I find, looking for a part
of me left behind and lingering just long enough to break the contact fully
before moving on. It is slow work, but my headache is relaxing as I let
myself shatter softly among the dreamers. The people I touched could be
anywhere; they could reside here in Tokyo or live an hour or two outside of
the city. I can feel my frustration growing as time stretches on and my
search turns up nothing.
I have found nothing when Crawford enters the kitchen for coffee hours later.
I disentangle myself from the dreamers, pulling myself back to my own
consciousness. The headache returns, but it isn't quite as severe, and I look
up from the floor to meet Crawford's eyes.
He has not moved towards the coffee pot, which I just now notice has brewed.
He is standing a few feet inside the doorway, studying me. His eyes tell me
he knows something's wrong, but he doesn't know what. I don't bother to
explain; I don't want to. Instead I turn away from him, reaching two mugs
down from a cabinet. I fill them and hold one out in offering. He accepts it
and we stand in silence, holding our steaming drinks and studying each other.
~I know I didn't do well at all I know I didn't do well at all I know I didn't
do well at all-~ ~I'm not going to make it on time I'm not going to make it
on time I'm not going to make it on time-~ ~Wai~! All four of them are here
today! Wai~! All four of them are here today!~ ~Omi-kun loves me the
bestest, I know it Omi-kun loves me the bestest, I know it-~ ~Mmmm Pastry…
Good…Mmmm Pastry…Good…-~ ~I hope she was looking when I I hope she was
looking when I I hope she was looking-~
"So," I say, giving the thoughts a violent shove to try and shut them up. "
What happens today?"