Part Nineteen

    Farfarello looks up when I step into his room. I study him for a few moments in silence, lingering in the doorway as I contemplate how exactly to tell him that something is ultimately wrong with his relationship with Aine. It’s going to be an ugly conversation. I don’t need to be a precognitive to know that. I told Crawford I was going to talk to him and Crawford had studied me in silence for several moments before finally nodding and saying it was for the best. I don’t know how exactly Farfarello is going to react- I’m going for somewhere between fierce denial and murderous rage.

    Finally I shut the door behind me and cross the room to him. Blood is leaking sluggishly down one arm. The knife he was using to cut his skin still rests against his bicep, stilled when I enter. He considers me for another moment before finishing the cut and starting another. I stand before him, staring down at his shaggy white hair, and slowly lower myself to sit in front of him.

    “We need to talk,” I tell him.

    He isn’t surprised. I think he’s been waiting for this since the day we went to the chambers. He knows something changed that day. He and I were never much into socializing with each other but I’ve said almost nothing to him since then. It’s been several weeks now. I brush my hair over my shoulder, waiting for him to respond somehow. Finally he licks the edge of his knife clean and sets it down, rubbing his fingertips up and down over the gashes on his arm. It makes my nerves cringe to watch it; they’re shallow cuts but he’s forcing them deeper with the way he’s pressing against them like that. Shallow cuts always hurt the worst. Bullet grazes and Nagi’s gift I can take. Paper cuts and the like piss me off like nothing else.

    Finally he slips into the bond, and I follow him there. He licks his fingers clean and turns his attention on me, leaning back to prop himself up on his arms. There is a swell of blood at the way such a movement twists his wounds, and I watch the blood as it makes its way down his arm.

    “Aine wouldn’t be happy with you,” I remark at last. Farfarello gives me a bland look in response. She was always on his case for cutting himself up, telling him that it was better to kill other people than to take his knife to his own skin. He would listen to her chidings and then go right back to it, at which point she would give an exasperated sigh and give up.

    Silence falls between us as I consider the best way to go about this. Finally I decide that there’s no point in hedging around it and lift my green eyes from his arm to fix him with a steady gaze. In the back of my mind, I see bright blue eyes, wet with tears and slowly coloring red. Crawford hasn’t had anything else other than that half-second of a vision surrounding this, but it was enough. It was enough to tell us that there isn’t a chance, that there’s no hope. Knowing the truth about Aine only cements such knowledge into place.

    “You’re going to have to give her up,” I tell him.

    That’s not what he expected to hear from me, and he blinks, considering me for a long moment before responding, “No.”

    I half-wish I’d made Crawford come do this instead. I’ve sat in Farfarello’s mind for years, I’ve watched his broken mind and soul batter this way and that. I saw what Aine did to it, I’ve seen the changes she’s wrought in my teammate. To think that she could have touched him and changed him and that it doesn’t mean anything in the end leaves me with the taste of bile in the back of my mouth. A year ago it wouldn’t have mattered so much. In these moments I wish I’d never started looking over my shoulder to make sure my teammates were still there, to make sure they hadn’t started falling behind. Things were much simpler when none of us gave a damn.

    “You can’t have her,” I say. “Give her up and never see her again.”

    He tilts his head to one side. The look he turns on me is cool. “Why should I?” he wants to know.

    “She’s one of the Five, Farfarello.” I reach out, toying with his knife. He reaches out and takes it away from me. Despite his bland face and a look that almost cool enough to be indifferent, the movement tells me my words have agitated him. He’s gazing at me in silence, his eye demanding me to tell him why such a thing is important. “She is one of their most trusted.”

    “So is your precognitive.” He lifts a shoulder in a shrug, dismissing that.

    “She won’t pick you.” The words are quiet.

    He frowns at me, eye narrowing slightly. I gaze back at him steadily, face emotionless, words soft but still firm. “When it comes down to it, she isn’t going to pick you. Schwarz is turning on Rosenkreuz; we are trying to take the Council apart. When we finally have our chance, Aine isn’t going to stand with you. She’s going to stand with them.”

    “You don’t know that.” He shifts; fresh blood trails down his arm.

    “I do,” I insist. “It doesn’t matter that she’s fond of you. As soon as we stop pretending and we let them know what’s happening, she will try to kill us- all of us. It is what she was trained to do. Her soul belongs to the Council and nothing you say or do with her will stop that. She is theirs. She wouldn’t be a Five if they didn’t trust her, if she hadn’t proved her loyalty and worthiness countless times over.”

    Fingers toy restlessly with the knife; he fidgets with it even as his yellow eye narrows. “You don’t know that.”

    “It’s the truth.”

    “He’s one of their Five,” he says, giving a sharp tilt of his head to mean Crawford. “He is doing this.”

    “This was my call,” I say to Farfarello. “Not his. He gave me the choice.”

    “But he’s doing it.”

    I wonder why I feel sick suddenly, and I study Farfarello in silence. My expression is still smooth. Farfarello, on the other hand, is glaring at me. His thoughts are tangled, harsh with denial and protests. He doesn’t want to listen to me. He trusts me but he doesn’t want to believe me on this. He wants to believe that I’m wrong, that there’s still a chance. Maybe if Aine wasn’t their Five I would let him have that hope. If she wasn’t one of their top Talents, if she wasn’t their executioner, I would leave him be to do as he likes with just a mere warning. But I can’t afford that. Aine is who she is, and as unwelcome as such a revelation is, it’s the damn truth. It _doesn’t_ matter that she was sprawled against him, touching a kiss to his shoulder, just a few weeks ago. It doesn’t matter that if she were to come back and visit us she would be as lighthearted and easy to get along with as she always was. When she finds out that Schwarz is destroying Rosenkreuz, Aine will vanish and Prometheus will face us, and she will try to kill all of us- Farfarello included. Her heart will cry later but in time she will convince herself that it had to be done, for Rosenkreuz’s sake. That is what Rosenkreuz did to her; that is what they made her into.

    “Let her go.” Resentment burns in my heart. Women are more trouble than they’re worth. First there’s Tot, dragging Nagi’s attention away from us and pulling him tighter into herself. There’s Fujimiya Aya, who has a tight enough hold on her brother’s attention that he will go to hell and back for her. And now there’s Aine, who so freely tended to Nagi while she was here, the only person who ever will understand Farfarello so thoroughly, someone he is forbidden to have. We will face her one day on the battlefield, and she will fight us to the death. I see her bloody eyes in my mind and I know that it’s true, know that nothing between her and Farfarello will be enough to save them.

    It’s almost funny, in a sick sort of way.

    “I won’t.”

    My hand snaps out to close around his collar. Fingers tighten over it and I use it to yank him forward. He has gone rigid, and I can feel the warmth of blood on my throat. He has his knife to my neck and his yellow eye is narrowed to a slit, a venomous warning. I ignore it, tightening my fingers around his collar. He wants me to let go, but I refuse to.

    “This is why you can’t have her,” I tell him. “There has never been a reason for her to turn against them. Rosenkreuz beat her down and broke her to pieces and put her back together and she’s theirs. She’s their pawn and their puppet and she will fight and die for them because it is all she knows to do. What she wants come second. It always has. That means you. When we turn on them, she will take their side. If you want her so badly, let me know right know and we’ll release you. You can go to her and you can stand alongside Hoffmann and face down Schwarz. It is the only way you can keep her.”

    “It isn’t true,” he snarls.

    “He made you scream,” I tell him simply, and the soft words have him flinching away from me, his eye widening briefly before narrowing again. I feel the knife cut deeper into my neck and I ignore it, turning a cold look on my younger teammate. He is shaking in barely controlled anger, in the sheer need to not believe me. “He found something that everyone else overlooked and he pushed and prodded and twisted until he got what he wanted. It’s what he does. It’s what he was raised to do. He has been doing it for over thirty years. How long did he have you, Farfarello? A few days?

    “You want to know why we can turn against them when she can’t. You want to know why it’s possible for Schwarz to spit in their directions whereas she will give her life for them on their command. He had you a few days. He is my _uncle_, Farfarello,” I can dimly hear the strangled sound of surprise he makes at such words, “and I’ve known him my entire life. He had me for a whole damn year. Every day, for a whole year, as he took me completely apart over and over. It took two telepaths to put me back together, and they died from the efforts just a short time later. You want to know from where I can scrounge up enough hatred to want to kill them? I have a year’s worth of hatred and nightmares. You have a few days. Aine has nothing. She has nothing, Farfarello. Once they shoved her into who she needed to be they left her alone, and she is one of their favored Five. She has no reason to ever turn against them, could never find the strength to break the training they put her through. You mean nothing, in the end.”

    He is staring at me in silence, yellow eye wide and almost vacant, as my soft, cold words drive home.

    “Crawford has found us a possible way to freedom, to a life without the Council. If you want it, then give her up. Give her up and be free of Rosenkreuz and Hoffmann forever. If she’s worth it, if she’s worth throwing Schwarz away, then let me know now and I’ll have Nagi kill you so we won’t have to face you on the battlefield when you show up on Hoffmann’s right.”

    His eye slides closed in defeat, and I let go of his collar. He leans back away from me, his knife lowering to the ground. I reach up, testing the wound, and decide it isn’t serious enough to worry about. Green eyes study my teammate’s bowed head.

    “It’s a lie…” he whispers brokenly, but I can hear in his mind that he knows it isn’t. He uncurls shaking fingers from his knife and lifts his hand to his stomach, leaning forward until his face is just a few inches from the ground. “It’s a lie…”

    Something gives a violent twist in his mind, something deep and dark and old. I feel a warning sizzle across my nerves and I lean backwards away from him, eyes narrowing suddenly as I study his hunched form. He lifts his free hand to his mouth, his eye tightly closed. “It’s a lie…” It’s barely audible, muffled through his hand. Something twists again and the walls flicker around us with ghosts of images. I see a woman’s smiling face, her eyes warm with approval and a deep love. A little girl is singing, running ahead with a tapestry trailing out behind her. And there are three adults standing around a young Farfarello, their faces solemn and sad as they tell him something he never wanted to hear.

    A lot of screaming, a lot of blood.

    And something inside of Farfarello explodes.

    His mind hits me with a force that’s physical, searing across the telepathic bond like molten lava. There is a sharp, violent edge to his mind that I have never felt from him before, something very painfully familiar but not something I ever expected to feel from him and something I never wanted bonded with me. Hot power threatens to swallow me whole and I’m not even aware that I’m screaming, my hands tangled in my long orange hair as I struggle to get that mind out of mine, struggle to get that power far away from me.

    I am only distantly aware that I’m back in Farfarello’s room, that I’m struggling to get to my feet and retreat from his still cowering form. I’m only barely aware of Crawford’s hands on me as he tries to get me to calm down, as he fights with me to be still. Then there is the thud of an impact against flesh and Farfarello is unconscious. The power burning into my mind falls away and I take in a ragged gasp of air, fingers digging into Crawford’s arms as I allow him to haul me to my feet. He pulls me backwards out of that room and I let him, taking stumbling steps as he drags me. Nagi is in the hallway, staring at me with wide eyes.

    Even with the power gone, I can feel Farfarello’s mind on the bond. My stomach heaves inside of me at the way Farfarello’s mind feels. I yank out of Crawford’s grasp only to stumble forward into the wall and I lean against it for balance, planting my hand against my mouth as I struggle not to get sick all over the place. My teammates watch in silence as I wait for the rocking nausea to fade. I manage to fight it back. Black sparkles dance in front of my vision and I still feel sick to my soul, but I don’t think it’s about to turn physical any time soon. Finally I turn around, pushing at the wall with shaking arms, and sag to lean my back against it.

    I ignore Nagi, my horrified green eyes going straight to Crawford’s face. “He’s an empath.” It’s a hoarse accusation.

    “What?” is Nagi’s blank response.

    “Explain that to me,” I demand of Crawford, reaching my hand up to my temple. The feel of that much hated power lacing through my mind makes my skin crawl, and I dig my fingernails into my forehead as if I could claw it out. “Explain to me how the hell that’s possible.”

    “I’m not entirely sure,” is Crawford’s unhelpful answer.

    “They checked him out!” I snap savagely. “They said there wasn’t anything there, that at the most he could be a low level Sensitive.”

    Crawford just shakes his head at me, a silent repeat that he has no explanation for this. I tangle my fingers in my hair and give the locks a savage yank, drawing in an uneven breath. This isn’t possible. This can’t be. They told us he was nothing. They told us that they couldn’t find anything. I’ve been bonded to him for years. There’s never been anything unusual, never been a hint that he had a power.

    My mind unhappily offers up the countless times that Farfarello noticed something that none of us did. And there were times Crawford and I knew something because of our gifts and Farfarello knew it too. He’s been doing it for years. It’s why we made Rosenkreuz check him out. We submitted his broken mind and soul to them and they couldn’t find anything. But I can see Farfarello glaring Hoffmann full in the face, the Soul Shaker’s gift unable to tear his soul apart with pain. I can see Farfarello in one of his fits after being returned for me, insisting in a strangled voice that it used to hurt. He had been trying to make it hurt again. I hadn’t understood it then.

    Now, I think I do.

    “I can feel it…Fuck.” I yank at my hair again. I can’t stand the way it feels, the way empathy feels tucked up against my mind. “_Fuck_.”

    “How could they have missed it?” Nagi wants to know, looking from Crawford to me.

    I laugh, a bitter, cynical sound. “She was a broken doll, broken by a strange power too great for her to handle that rests in her soul,” I say, quoting Hoffmann from his most recent visit. Nagi frowns at me, not understanding. “I didn’t know she had power,” I say, burying my face in my hands. “She was too broken. You couldn’t feel it in there. It was too strong…It had taken her apart. They only knew it was her because a precognitive told them to watch out for her. God _damn_ it.”

    Crawford is frowning, a ghost of an expression, as he studies me. I part my fingers to glare at him through them, an acid look. “It used to hurt,” I quote Farfarello, sneering into my palms. I think of the dull hints of pain Farfarello felt when Aine had first vanished. It hadn’t been pain but an offspring of the emotion: loneliness. She reappeared in his life and they were attached at the hip while she was here. Today I told him to give her up, told her that she is going to die soon and we are going to kill her. The images that had danced around us were familiar; Farfarello thinks of his murdered family frequently.

    “It used to hurt,” I say again. “But then it stopped.”

    But now, it hurts again.

    I hear a strangled voice lurching through my mind, twisting under the rush of power that had threatened to consume me just earlier, a voice screaming that it wasn’t true, that it was a lie, that it was all a lie…The day a boy saw everything he believed in fall apart. So many years later, so many years of solitude and hatred, and he took a chance to start believing again. Today I crushed that, just like they did so many years ago. The pain that day had been too much; he had refused to be hurt ever again and somehow he had managed to swallow the power, breaking himself even further as he did so. He had sworn he would never be hurt again but today’s words cut him deep when he was finally starting to untuck from himself again. And something he thought he killed a long time ago is wide awake again, fully noticeable now.

    I shove away from the wall. The abrupt lurch upright makes me dizzy but I refuse to slow, taking long strides towards my door even with a haze of black swimming before my eyes. It clears as I step into my room and I slam the door behind me, sagging to the ground with my fingers tangled in my hair. Nagi’s mind is roiling with confusion. All I get from Crawford is the cool touch of his shield. But Farfarello…

    /What the hell have you done?/ I demand. /What the hell _are_ you?/

    ~Nothing,~ I think I hear him respond, even though he is unconscious. In my mind I can almost see his mouth curving into a strange, hollow little smile. ~Nothing at all.~


    When Farfarello wakes again, his power is tucked down inside of him. I can’t feel it from him; the only way I know it is still there is because he is so tightly embedded in me. I’m waiting for the Council to show up on our doorstep and demand an explanation for that sudden, ferocious burst of power, and then I remember that the Council has gone to see the Elders to talk about Fujimiya Aya and the near completion of the tower and chambers. There’s a chance they missed it. No, they had to have missed it, or Hoffmann would have called us.

    I chew on these thoughts as I stand in Farfarello’s doorway. He’s curled up on his side in bed, staring through Crawford as the precognitive stands before him. Nagi is halfway between us, dark eyes considering Farfarello with confusion and uneasiness.

    We have known Farfarello for so long, but this is not something we expected from him. Our bloodthirsty teammate is an empath. He isn’t Talentless; he’s got a Talent strong enough that it broke his soul and in so doing couldn’t be detected by anyone in Rosenkreuz. I try to figure out what this means but I can’t focus on any good side of it, not when I can feel that empathy crawling through my gift. My fingers tighten on my arms and I lean against Farfarello’s doorframe, uneasy green eyes studying Farfarello. His expression is almost serene, even if his thoughts are tangled and laced with bitterness.

    “We need to talk,” Crawford says.

    Farfarello flicks him a glance, yellow eye cold. “No,” he says simply. He’s still reeling from the last talk. I can feel it violently twisting inside of him, the cold truth that the Irish woman that was laughing and talking with him just a short while ago will be someone Schwarz will fight down in a short while. I let his thoughts run through me, forcing myself to hear them even if they come with that edge of power that I despise. I find it amazing that Aine was enough to wake something that has been lying dormant for over a decade, amazed that my words to him were enough to do this. Amazed- because it wouldn’t have done such a thing if he had picked her over us.

    It hurts him because he won’t- and that, I think, rocks me deeper than anything else, that she could mean so much but he would still pick us.

    “How have you managed to keep such a thing from us?” I demand of him. He flicks his eye back to me, not really understanding. I scowl at him, uncurling a finger from my arm to point at him. “You’re an empath.” He doesn’t respond, just blinks at me. “How the hell did you manage to hide such a thing and why?” He still doesn’t answer. Mention of an empath just brings Hoffmann to mind and his thoughts swirl blackly around the man who has taken so much from him. His hand slides up the mattress where it was curled in front of him to close around the collar at his throat. “You’re damn lucky he’s preoccupied right now, Farfarello. If he’d felt your mind surging awake he would have been over here before you could blink to twist that power for himself.”

    Farfarello just frowns at me, and I realize he really doesn’t understand. “You’re a Talent,” I insist again.

    “No,” he answers, not a denial but a simple correction.

    “I can feel it.” I wave my hand at my head. “I can feel that damn power on our bond. You’re an empath, strong enough ranked that no one could find it before. Your mind works the same way Tot’s does. She has a power, but it is too strong for her and so has broken her mind and soul. The broken bits are why no one can feel it. We know she has to have it but we can’t sense it. It’s the same way with you- if I wasn’t bonded to you I wouldn’t feel it.”

    He just blinks at me before moving his hand back to its original spot and gazing down at his hand. “It’s why you couldn’t feel pain. You shut it off years ago. You can feel everything else except pure pain. Attacks don’t phase you and Hoffmann couldn’t touch you with it.”

    Hoffmann again; this time the reference makes his mouth curl back in a snarl.

    “But tell me now, Farfarello,” and I reach up to run my fingernails roughly over the tear on my throat. It hurts like a bitch but I knew it would and do it anyway. My teammate gives a startled little jolt, eye narrowing in surprise when his freshly wakened gift picks up on the sharp bite. “Can you feel that?”

    Crawford looks over his shoulder at me from where he has been studying Farfarello. “How strong?” he wants to know. “Can you rank him?”

    I touch his mind and shy away from it almost immediately. I look down at my hand and start picking blood out from under my fingernails, giving a sharp shake of my head. “Can’t.”

    “But you can rank Hoffmann.”

    I open my mouth to answer but the reply dies on my lips. I close my mouth and frown at Crawford, studying him across the room. We stare at each other in silence, turning over this unexpected revelation. Our teammate is a Talent; he always has been but he never knew it. The things he could pick up on before were due to his gift, though they were muted because he shut his power down at a young age. When Hoffmann targeted him Farfarello unconsciously started searching for it. The best way to fight empathy is with empathy but Farfarello had shut his gift down when he refused to be hurt ever again. He didn’t know why he needed to hurt again but he struggled for so long to find the pain. And now his power is wide awake again, and strong enough that no one else should be able to feel it. No one else but us…

    My thoughts drift to the Council.

    Crawford looks back towards Farfarello, offering him a searching glance. “We are very lucky,” he says at last, “that they were preoccupied.”

    “Go away,” Farfarello says, not caring for our words and wonderings.

    Surprisingly, Crawford turns and starts towards the door. He beckons for Nagi to precede him and I move out into the hall so they can get out. Crawford shuts the door behind him and the three of us stand in the hallway for a few moments, thinking our own, wary thoughts. Finally Crawford reaches up, removing his glasses from the bridge of his nose, and studies the closed door in silence.

    “This could destroy everything,” I tell Crawford. These last minute surprises when we’re almost out of time are really starting to piss me off. I press the heel of my palm to my forehead, rapping it roughly against the skin. A fucking empath on my bond…My nerves are tingling in protest; my entire body is uptight. It’s waiting for the attack it’s sure to come following the first initial brush of empathy against me. But no attack comes- I just feel that touch as something constant, lingering in my mind. I can’t stand it.

    Crawford shakes his head, slowly turning back around to study me.

    “No,” he says. “This could be exactly what we need.”


    Not even a week and a half later we manage to really upset the other younger teammate. Farfarello has been ignoring us these last nine days, and hasn’t left the flat since he went on a killing spree and offed a bunch of clergy members and a nun six days ago. He’ll eat with us and sit with us when Crawford wants all of us present but he doesn’t listen and he doesn’t answer. He’s nursing a black wound of pain, betrayal, and resentment, and he’s not happy with any of us. We let him deal with it, not pushing him to get over it. I’m not entirely sure why Crawford tolerates it, but I know that I’m not going to do anything that might provoke a negative reaction when he’s got the Talent I hate the most. I’m still reeling from the news that he’s a Talent, and even though Crawford has said that this new surprise is what could mean the difference between life and death when it comes down to it, I still hate the way his mind feels. I’ve been uptight for nine days, and even though I try to hide it when I step out of Schwarz’s flat Ikida knows something’s up. He only mentioned it once. When I bit his head off for asking, he returned to just studying me with silent concern.

    On the ninth day, Schreient finally takes a step in the wrong direction, taking Aya out from under Ikida’s care and running away with her. They bring Tot with them, too. They don’t have any clue what they’re messing with. They ceased being important enough to be clued in on what’s going on. But in one day they’ve vanished and taken both Estet’s precious vessel and the final key for the immortality formula. Ikida has some samples still, but the young Fujimiya Aya has not been injected with any of it yet. They don’t realize that they’ve done something unforgivable. They figure it’s their right to do with her as they want, and what they want is a confrontation with Weiss.

    Ikida reports the missing girls to Hoffmann and the second Ikida hangs up with him Hoffmann is on the phone to us, ordering all of Schreient dead and for Aya to be brought back to the hospital. All of Schreient means just two of them; Weiss did us a favor and killed Neu the other day.

    “And Tot?” Crawford wants to know. Nagi and I look up from where we’re eating our lunch, only half-interested in the conversation until he says that. There is a long pause before Crawford says, “Yes, Mister Hoffmann,” and hangs up. Nagi knows as soon as Crawford turns around that he isn’t going to like what the American has to say. Crawford’s wearing that patented blank expression of his and his eyes go past me straight to our youngest teammate. Nagi doesn’t even wait for him to say it; he just gives a sharp shake of his head. Crawford ignores the silent protest. “They have what they need from her,” he says. “They are not interested in her anymore.”

    Farfarello straightens from where he was resting against the doorframe. Nagi’s eyes bounce from Crawford to our teammate, who suddenly looks interested in something for the first time in nine days. “No,” Nagi says, not so much to Crawford but to Farfarello.

    Farfarello tilts his head to one side and offers Nagi that eerie little smile of his, lazy satisfaction in his yellow eye. “Farfarello,” Nagi starts, getting to his feet, but the Irishman has already vanished from the doorway. Crawford is at the table then and he reaches out, putting a hand to Nagi’s shoulder to push him back into his chair. Nagi lets himself be pushed and stares blankly off into space. His face is smooth, if paler than I have seen it before, and his thoughts twist in rapid patterns of denial and pain. I can’t make myself feel any of the sympathy I somehow dredged up for Farfarello. Aine and Tot are just too different. Aine I could tolerate and work with. Tot I’ve disliked and been disgusted with from day one.

    “Misery loves company,” I drawl, flicking my fingers towards the doorway, and promptly get a face full of milk as our resident telekinetic empties his cup on me. Nagi and I glower at each other and I push wet bangs out of my face. “You little shit.”

    “Why?” Nagi demands, a harsh edge to his voice.

    “She was just a temporary assignment,” Crawford tells Nagi.

    “But-” he starts to protest, but I interrupt him.

    “I told you we would kill her one day.” I rise from my seat and head over to the counter, rummaging around in the drawers to find a towel. “I told you not to get attached. You didn’t believe me then.” I mop at my hair, turning around to peer at him. Crawford is gazing down at him with a critical stare. Nagi doesn’t notice, as he is staring through his plate. This is what Crawford saw coming so long ago… This is where Tot challenges Nagi’s loyalties to Schwarz. No. This is where it would have. Crawford said he fixed Nagi the night Takatori took the golf club to me. If that hadn’t happened, what would happen today?

    “But…” is all Nagi can manage, the barest of whispers.

    “We’re leaving in half an hour,” Crawford says, turning away from Nagi and heading out of the room.

    “Good, that gives me enough time to take another shower.” I flick wet bangs out of my face, studying Nagi’s sagged shoulders for a moment longer. Then I turn my feet towards the door and follow behind Crawford out. I am at the doorway when Nagi speaks again, his voice barely audible.

    “Why should I have to give her up?” I hesitate, one hand on the doorframe, and look back at him. He doesn’t really expect an answer from me, and I don’t really have one to give him. “There has to be another way.”

    I consider him in silence for a moment longer before saying, “You keep thinking that, kid.” At last I pull my eyes away from my teammate’s bowed head and step out of the doorway. Behind me, Nagi draws up his mental shields to grieve in private.

Part 20
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