Part Eight

    Takatori has taken Crawford on a two night trip. Crawford left yesterday while I was out wandering the city. He dropped me a small heads-up before he left but I’m still discontent. None of our previous employers ever required any of us to be on the road so much. Of course, a year ago I might not have cared if Crawford frequently vacated the Schwarz household. Things are a bit different now. I have come to like the feel of another body in the same bed as me. The extra body heat is nice.

    But Crawford is gone, and he’ll be back sometime tomorrow. I suppose I shouldn’t whine…Months ago I complained that our employers were boring. Now we’ve been tossed into a situation that can’t be described as such. With our betrayal of Estet and Rosenkreuz on a near horizon and several lives to orchestrate, there’s always something to be done. But I can’t have my cake and eat it too; a more entertaining employer means an empty bed. I think I preferred it when it was boring, except at the end of this path lies the possibility of one day looking over my shoulders without seeing a pair of icy blue eyes.

    I take the last swallow of my coffee, not caring that it’s too late to be drinking such a thing, and set the mug in the sink for Nagi to take care of later. There are some things Crawford wants us to accomplish while he’s gone- mainly, he wants us to work more on Schreient and he wants me to work on Farfarello. Whatever Hoffmann did to Farfarello has a strong impact on the way our future twists, though neither Crawford or I can explain exactly what or why. I know that his abduction of my teammate helped give me the extra push to want to strike out against the Council, but the ramifications of Farfarello’s abuse go much further than that.

    “You’re always so troublesome,” I muse, though Farfarello is nowhere around to hear the words.

    Well…First things first. I lower myself to a crouch, folding my arms on the counter and propping my chin on them. Schreient is going to take quite a bit of work to figure out. Part of that is because they don’t know everything. Granted, neither do we, but we don’t have to. They’ve sworn their lives and affections to a man who creates monsters, the ultimate mad scientist who is searching to create an elixir of life of sorts. How much of them do they understand and how much of their understanding- like their emotions- has been twisted by the Council?

    And Tater Tot… The only way I can figure her out is to go the round about way. My dip into her mind showed me that Hoffmann guards what little is left of her consciousness with empathic shielding; she is not interested in understanding or remembering more because of his layer of apathy towards it. I cannot discover her through her, so I am left with the dead ends inside Chizuru’s mind. It’s such a bloody waste of my time, chasing after some hollow-headed twit. Scanning Chizuru’s past has only turned up memories that dryly amuse me. For entertainment I sought out the last time she and Crawford crossed paths… She had quite a thing for him back then. She was also more attractive when she was younger, though apparently not any brighter.

    At least Crawford turned down her advances. I would be…disgusted with him if he had lowered himself so far to accept her flirtations.

    Disgusted _is_ the word I’m searching for…I think so, anyway.

    It was so many years ago…Who she was then and who she is now is ultimately different. Rosenkreuz has so carefully orchestrated her life. She’s known Masafumi for many years. Estet has known for a long time now that the Takatoris will be useful to them, though it seems that their original focus was on Takatori’s deranged son. The father was the second to fall into favor, mostly due to his political ambition, I assume. Takatori doesn’t know how long Estet has had an eye on him, so I can’t pinpoint all the dates.

    Those old bastards are craftier than I thought. This really has been a lifetime long effort on their part. Is it possible for us to tilt over decades of work in just a handful of months or less? Sometimes the enormity of what we’re attempting to do hits me, and it takes me a moment to recover and reassure myself of the strength of my team’s gifts. I wonder if it ever bothers Crawford, if he ever has to sit down for a moment, if he ever thinks “My God, what am I doing?”

    I wonder if Crawford ever feels insecure.

    With a snort, I decide that it’s unlikely. Clairvoyants tend to be more self-assured than telepaths, and with Crawford ranking so high in the Council’s eyes due to the strength of his gift…I don’t think Crawford will ever second guess himself.

    I am distracted by thoughts of Crawford yet again. With a small snort, I turn and let myself sink to my rear on the ground. I erase my lover’s face from my mind, seeking out Schreient. The tags I’ve laid in their minds helps me to find them almost immediately, and with just a handful of mental swaps I’m sitting on the edges of Chizuru’s consciousness.

    Interesting…They’re fighting against our modern samurai’s group. I seek out the mind of the one who is unconsciously helping us craft our freedom. Do they have a name for themselves, I wonder…?

    I laugh when I find the answer, highly entertained, and lean forward so that my hair falls into my face. I grin through my bangs at the floor. Weiß, is it? It seems fate has a sense of humor.

    For now, that’s all I’m interested in retrieving from his mind, and I lay a small tag there before bouncing back to Chizuru. I do a quick sweep of her team, but a fight is not the best time to collect information and rummage. I’ll come back later when the eight are done playing with each other.

    I draw back, raking a hand through my hair to pull it out of my face. I’ll have plenty of time later to investigate them, and now I have our little samurai to add to the list. I can’t deny an interest in him, in this person that our hopes rely so carefully on. It’s strange, the effect a giftless can have on our future. He is a key to the door of freedom, and we must figure out how best to use him to get it open. When I can find him by himself and have a good chunk of time to myself for concentration, I will find out everything I wish to know about the little red-headed man who wields the sword.

    Speaking of sharp objects…I feel a small weight in the back of my mind, the feeling of one of my teammates slipping into our space room. I know immediately that it’s Farfarello. Nagi isn’t overly interested in the bond; he has no drive to escape into it. Crawford and myself, who have it sitting in the back of our minds at all time, can usually come up with a reason to slip inside to think or talk. Farfarello instinctively knows that there’s a sort of comfort there- he doesn’t understand it until he’s inside and he can remember what we’re doing. He has been frequenting it at least three times a day, popping in and out randomly for odd lengths of time. Now he is there again, and I decide it’s a good enough time to judge his mental status.

    I close my eyes, lacing my fingers together in my lap, and vanish into the depths of my gift. Farfarello is sprawled on his back on our floor that isn’t really there when I arrive, and I tower over him with my hands on my hips. The first thing I notice is all of the blood that laces his front. His shirt is gone, somewhere else in his room, and the pale skin of his chest and abdomen oozes blood from slashes across it. I scowl down at him and he gazes back, unbothered by my obvious displeasure. I flicker out of the bond briefly; touching both reality and the room so that my figure above him looks like a hologram as I look around the kitchen. I find our medical kit for Farfarello in the cabinet and wander down the hall to Farfarello’s room, letting myself inside without knocking because Farfarello is too gone to notice my entrance into his room anyway. I let myself back in the bond, lacing our mental images of ourselves to our physical ones tight enough that what I see myself doing is what I’m really doing. My image fills in and I lower myself to my knees beside him. Farfarello, in turn, rolls onto his side to face away from me.

    I reach out and grab his shoulder, pulling him back so he is lying on his back once more. I lean over him, knowing that as I do so the ends of my hair are trailing in the blood on his chest. It’s not the first time I’ve had Farfarello’s blood on me, however, and my vanity is set aside in my general annoyance and unease over my teammate’s behavior.

    “You just killed the other day,” I inform him, “and the way you took him apart should keep you sated for a while. You can’t just go around cutting yourself up when you want to see blood. If dogs shit themselves every time they wanted to go outside we’d have killed them long ago or permanently locked them out. Keep this up and Crawford’s going to have you in restraints in between our outings.”

    “Mm,” is all he says.

    “Feh,” I respond, and I set about cleaning his wounds. I don’t bother to be gentle; tenderness is something that was lost to us long ago and Farfarello can’t feel the pain to protest. I scrub his skin clean roughly with a wad of gauze, counting the cuts and measuring their depth with a sharp eye. “Just be patient. The future is littered with people to die.”

    “I don’t want them,” comes the response.

    I glance at him but don’t answer for a moment, waiting to see if he’ll continue on his own. Farfarello has never been much of a conversationalist but what we’ve gone through and what we’re going to face requires some sort of input from each of us and interaction between all of us. Farfarello’s sixth sense has been useful to us in the past and we’ll still need it now. We also need him to be focused, but he seems forever distracted now.

    I set about bandaging him, and, deciding Farfarello needs another prompt, speak. “Then I suppose you want the Council.”

    Lips curl in disgust; the nonexistent walls around us swirl with a dark sort of crimson, a splash of color and light, before he answers. I glance towards the walls even though the images are gone, knowing that they were an echo of whatever flashed through my teammate’s mind. “Not all of them.”

    He rolls away from me again even though I am not done. Before I can yank him back once more, he sits up and turns to face me again. This time a knife is in his hand; he brought it into the bond from his cell. He shows it to me, shows me the crimson-streaked edge. “Most associate blood with pain,” he informs me, leaning forward to close the distance between us. The edge of his blade touches my bare shoulder. I say nothing, letting him take this little conversation where he wills it. There is a bit of a manic gleam in the back of his eye, a light that has been there since he was returned. Before there was the glow of madness, of battle lust. This is a demand for some sort of answers, and it glows brightly now. I know then that they’re not answers I can give him.

    The blade slides down, and skin gives way beneath it. Farfarello and I gaze down at the blood that now slides down my bicep.

    “I don’t,” he answers.

    That’s true enough…For one who has never felt pain, Farfarello cannot fully understand what we do about getting hurt. He is closed off from this part of us. I don’t understand what he means by bringing this up, nor do I understand why he is cutting himself. If it is an attempt to feel pain again, then why? Why is it something he would want back? He should be thrilled that he can’t feel it when Hoffmann’s got his eyes on him.

    “Fire,” I tell him, reaching up to slide my finger down the cut. It stings but I ignore the pain, pressing harder with my fingertip as I arch down the slash. Farfarello watches me, reaching out to take my bloody finger in his hand. He studies it, studies the smear I’ve made on my flesh. “It’s a sort of fire.”

    I can’t explain it to him. I can’t teach it to him, what it means. My best explanation for it does nothing- a reference to fire registers as being related to Aine in his mind. The walls flicker again at my words; I recognize the drab gray of her shirt among the colors that swirl ever so briefly there.

    I turn my eyes back on Farfarello, searching his gaze. “You can feel it, but in diluted forms,” I tell him. “Aine,” I tell him, gesturing towards the walls again. It’s a very strange conversation to be having with Farfarello. On one hand, I can’t understand why I’m allowing it to continue, why I’m pursuing it. On the other hand, I know that there is something missing in Farfarello that has to be replaced before he’s fully ours again. Crawford wants me to fix Farfarello. If that means speaking of something I’ve never had a conversation on with anyone else, at least it’s done in the bond where no one else can hear us. “You feel something when she’s gone, don’t you?”

    He studies me in silence- not in refusal to answer, but in thought.

    “I have no clue what exactly you feel about her absence, but magnify it by a couple hundred times, and that’s pain.”

    He considers this, studying his knife again. It gives him some small bit of satisfaction, I suppose, to work with an explanation he can understand. I am absently amused that it was so effective; it seems Aine touched him deeper than I was previously aware of. I wonder how she managed to do it…I can’t help but be curious. Farfarello has been on my team for years but that bizarre woman stepped in for just a couple of months and she broke right through Farfarello’s defenses.

    Women can be dangerous things, I decide.

    Chizuru’s face flits through my mind and I hide a derisive snort. Well…Not all of them. Some of them are just pathetic.

    “He hurts you.”

    Farfarello’s words draw me from my thoughts and I know instantly who he’s talking about. Hoffmann has been in the back of Farfarello’s thoughts since he was returned to us. I hold Farfarello’s steady gaze the best I can even as the walls flicker blue around us. I don’t know which one of us the color is coming from, but I don’t like it. I hate that shade of blue.

    “No metaphors could ever explain that sort of pain to you,” I say, almost without thinking. It comes out more of a whisper than anything else. With anyone else, I might not have answered, I might have just shrugged it off or told them to mind their own business. But right here, with Farfarello in this room, I acknowledge my devil.

    It is Farfarello that looks away; his yellow gaze flicks to the wall that is still discolored. “Maybe,” is all he says in response. Then he fades from the bond, and I know our conversation is through. I remain where I am for a moment, gazing at the spot where he just was.

    Our strange conversation has given me few answers, and even more questions.


    I ignore Takatori when he comes home; my green eyes go straight to the form behind him, to the tall form that is closing the front doors. I am propped against the stairwell balcony, my arms crossed and resting on the railing. I let Takatori’s words bounce off of my ears; I’m not interested in whatever he has to say. Nagi is off to one side of me, drawn here by my sudden fascination with the front door. He acknowledges that Crawford is home in one breath and what that means in the second, and he makes a soft, exasperated sound as he brushes his bangs from his face.

    “Shut up,” I tell him.

    “I didn’t say anything,” comes his response.

    “You made a noise,” I answer.

    He flicks me a Look and I smirk back at him. “You’re just jealous that everyone has had someone except you,” I tell him.

    “Farfarello never ‘had’ Aine,” he responds coolly.

    “How do you know?” I ask, even though what he says is true.

    “Because it’s a horrendous mental picture and I don’t want to consider it,” he answers easily, his dark eyes warning me that if I even _think_ about sending such an image to him he will send my ribcage out my back. I bare my teeth at him in a grin, straightening as Crawford starts towards the stairs.

    “Go entertain yourself with internet porn or something,” I tell Nagi breezily, reaching out to give him a pat on the head.

    He doesn’t lower himself to responding, but his thoughts are disgusted. I roll my eyes, wondering when Nagi’s going to ever mature enough to be interested in anyone else. He doesn’t really understand relationships. He does on one level just because he’s more adult than others his age; he’s dealt with enough people to have seen the many types of relationships. But he cannot fully understand them because he is too young for any serious ones, and his age makes his view of what Crawford and I have vary between bland acceptance, mild disgust, and an odd sort of curiosity all in the same day. He’s never had the chance to consider them, not in a secluded group like Schwarz. They’ve been something for him to observe at a distance. Then, within the span of a couple months, he watched Farfarello and Aine’s odd courting and saw me and Crawford fall into the same bed. It confuses him.

    “You’re such a kid,” I tell him, and an invisible foot smashes down on mine in retaliation. Nagi turns on his heel and vanishes down the hall, going to hide himself as far away from my bedroom as possible. I can’t hide a grin at his tiny outburst.

    Crawford reaches the top of the stairs and my grin takes on a different edge, more expectant than amused. Takatori is still within view but he is facing a different direction, belting out orders and the like to a servant. I hook my finger in Crawford’s tie and drag his face towards mine, knowing that the servant is going to see us as we kiss. I hear his clipboard hit the ground; dimly I hear him scramble to pick it up again and pay attention to what is being said. Takatori notices that the man is gaping off behind him and turns, but by the time is he looking up the stairs Crawford and I have already moved out of view towards our room.

    It’s the little things that make life worth living, really.


    He dreams of flowers and a festival.

    I lie awake after Crawford has gone to sleep, half sprawled atop Crawford’s form to soak up his body heat like a rock soaks up heat from the sun. My arm stretches across him so that my fingers dangle off the side of the bed, and my cheek rests at the base of his ribcage. He breathes slowly and evenly in sleep, and I allow myself to rise and fall with him. I am dimly amused that he is able to fall asleep so easily. Crawford is an early riser so he is able to will himself to sleep, taking care to get enough rest to function. I, on the other hand, prefer the night hours and so have forced my body to learn to deal with odd sleep habits. When people are asleep, they do not bother me as much. I can think what I like. Many months ago, I used the night time hours to wander the streets. The night is more fun than daylight; cruel intent and pleasure twist more obviously than these polite Japanese are willing to show when the sun is out. When the sun sets, the masks drop and the bowing gives way to a more primal sort of lifestyle.

    He dreams of a girl’s laugh…

    I let my eyes drift closed, though it makes no difference if they’re open or shut. The darkness of our room is merely replaced by the darkness of the inside of my eyelids. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, curling my mind slowly closer to my current target.

    He is resting uneasily; in the background of his dreams I can sense a small bit of terror, a great bit of denial. He has dreamed this dream many times, and he knows where it is going. A small caress across the vibrant emotions tell me that this is not just a dream, but a memory.

    The day a boy’s life fell apart…

    He dreams of gold earrings.

    I stand silent observer as the dream moves around me. This man, this Fujimiya Ran, laughs and smiles with his sister as they make their way through a festival. This is several years old; there is a stark difference in the way he looks in this dream and the way I glimpsed him in Crawford’s visions. He’s not old enough for the difference in appearance to be this great…

   Watching everything you cherish be destroyed does wonders for breaking the body and soul.

    They have arrived home; I do a soft mental sweep to confirm that they are related. Apparently she is his younger sister. The girl goes racing inside first and Ran and I both hear her scream. Ran runs in after her, calling for her, and the scenery moves around me to bring me up behind them. They are both staring down at the stretched out bodies of their parents. Their eyes are rolled back in death and they are lying in a pool of blood.

    Either I miss what happens next or the memory is clipped in the mental and emotional trauma it inflicted on the boy, but Ran is on his knees then and ordering his sister out of the house. His head is turned; he has seen something but I don’t have time to locate it because things go to hell in the next couple seconds. The girl obeys instantly and has just barely cleared the doorway when everything explodes.

    I am standing alone, and I look around to place the siblings. I spot the girl first; she is lying in the street where the blast threw her. A groan to one side helps me locate my samurai. He is trapped under some debris and is struggling without much luck to get free. The girl is pushing herself up on shaky hands when suddenly she is outlined by bright white lights. Everything in the dream slows down; I hear Ran screaming in the background as a car plows right into his sister. Her body goes flying. She lands in the muddy street with a sick thud and rolls.

    Ran hasn’t stopped screaming and has renewed his struggles to get free. Further down the road the car stops; I glance in that direction to see if the driver is going to come back and help. Gazing out the back window, however, is a very familiar face.

    “Takatori…” I murmur. It’s the koala himself, albeit a couple years younger. He has a satisfied expression on his face.

    Ran is staring in the direction of the car also, yelling for them to come help his sister. I ignore him, watching as another man approaches the car to argue with Takatori. It’s obvious that Fatty isn’t going to come back…It was a deliberate hit; this whole thing was obviously set up by him. I glance back at the furiously struggling Ran; taking in his horrified violet eyes, studying the blood that runs down his face. His screams are blurry in the background and I move away from him to stand over his sister’s limp body. The car drives away; it is just the three of us now. I crouch beside the girl, studying her. She is still breathing, but just barely. She must be alive still; she is too far away for Ran to know whether she lives or not, so this image of her breathing is enforced by future knowledge that she is alive. I press at his mind, wondering what state she is in now, and receive a flickering image of the inside of a hospital room and a limp body.


    Ran’s screaming dies out slowly; he is fighting to get his breath back and his struggles have exhausted him. The weight of the debris keeps him effectively pinned in place and the wounds gained by being almost crushed under the rubble are slurring his thoughts, and I watch as he gives way to unconsciousness. His fall into oblivion is where the Ran of today wakes up, and the images vanish in favor of racing thoughts. First there is a helpless sort of despair that edges his consciousness….Then it is replaced by an ugly sort of hatred.

    I leave him there, content with this for now, and open my eyes to the darkness of my room.

    This is why our samurai is so important to us…This is why so much hangs on the edge of his blade. This Ran is much like our Farfarello; his life has been warped by a sense of revenge. While Farfarello’s attention has wandered and faltered along the way, not in a lessening of his hatred but instead because there is so much else going on, Ran’s has remained sharp and unadulterated. Every breath he takes is in memory of his murdered parents, in vengeance of a sister who has been lying unconscious for three years. Takatori has destroyed Ran’s life and the redhead will stop at nothing to make him pay for that. The boy’s hatred of Takatori is fierce enough that he would defy the gates of hell for revenge. I have no doubt that Ran would even take on the Council…

    Ran is important because even if he understood everything going on behind Takatori- Schwarz, Estet, Rosenkreuz, immortality, world domination- he would still only kill the man for himself. No sense of responsibility for the rest of the world will guide his hand. He draws his blade for himself alone, for a life wronged. He will not rest, he will feel no peace, until Takatori is dead. There is a point when weaker men will let their thirst for justice fade away, when they fight an enemy far greater to them and still fall short time and time again. There are few these days who can fight for others with the strength of one man fighting for himself.

    “You’re a foolish boy,” I murmur. “His death will not bring any of them back to you.”

    It’s an idealistic dream he clings to; I wonder now whether to be amused by it or to regard it with an odd sort of respect, that his determination is so strong.

    “He is…your Hoffmann…” The words are more to myself than to the man who cannot hear me, who is sitting up in bed with his face buried in his hands just a few miles away. My eyes slide closed again; fingers clench in the bed sheets.

    I hate Hoffmann more than anyone else, and fear him just the same. I have every reason to want to kill him, and now I have the means to do it. But his death will do nothing for me than allow me a bit of satisfaction. I doubt I will ever be able to gaze at that shade of blue without thinking of him. What he did to me cannot be erased, no more than Ran’s life can be put back in order the way it used to be. The years of pain will remain; a death only promises that there are no more dark years to follow. But the memory remains… Before Hoffmann had even reinserted himself in my life Crawford was able to send my sanity toppling with a reminder of the German empath. There is no way Ran can deny what has happened to him; his way of life and his sister’s still form are just the sharpest of countless reminders that his life has fallen into a hellhole.

    He is your Hoffmann, little samurai.

    I will make sure that you deal the final stroke. I will make sure that he dies, and it will be at your precious blade.

    That way, if I die in this whole mess against the Council, at least one of us will have had a chance to spit on a grave.

    That is what I will give you, in exchange for this thread you have given us. It is all I can give you, all I can promise you, and it is a promise you will never know of or understand. It’s something I would offer no one else, something I offer to you only because I understand your hatred for him. It doesn’t matter if you don’t realize this gift… You have no clue about us. You don’t know what you’re doing for us, and you’ll never know. I’ll make sure Takatori dies…You just keep on this path you’re on, and make sure you don’t get yourself killed.

    These grim thoughts in mind, I let myself slide into sleep and the small relief that none of the dreams I might have tonight will be my own. There is a comfort in the insane curling of colors and voices that haunt me at night- I would take them over nightmares of a past any day.

    Are you jealous, little samurai…?

Part 9
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