Well I’m not paralyzed
But I seem to be struck by you
I want to make you move
Because you’re standing still
If your body matches
What your eyes can do
You’ll probably move right through
Me on my way to you

      "Home sweet home again, hmmm?"

      "How do you say that with a straight face?"

      "Years of practice."

      That earned him a small snort and a sideways look. It was just a glance, but Schuldig felt it just the same. He'd briefly distracted his teammate from their destination and that sudden, brief shift of thoughts from Rosenkreuz to himself sent a prickle through his telepathy. It was gone as soon as it had come and the men fell into silence once more to stare over the ridge.

      Rosenkreuz sat a good thousand feet below, frozen in time as much due to the mountain range conditions as to the powers of the people living inside. A sprawling complex with a dozen metal buildings, it looked as terrible and uninhabitable as always. In just a few weeks, it would be completely buried under snow drifts, and it would remained buried for eleven months. The psychics couldn't make snow, but they could sure as hell keep it in place once it fell. August was the only month the cabinet gave the order for the school to surface again. As such, it was the busiest month of the year for the school. The month was swamped with meetings, field tests, runaways, hunting parties for said runaways, supply replenishment, and the annual check-ins of every field team.

      And, perhaps most importantly: the Auction.

      The soft press against his mind was all the warning he got before a woman's voice demanded, Announce yourself.

      The message had gone out to all seven of them, but no one dared answer before Schuldig did. Dolch reporting from Africa, he answered, and his telepathy felt it when the guard zeroed in on his mind. Seven-man team. 50617 Schuldig vouches for Dolch and accepts all responsibility of the team while on Rosenkreuz grounds.

      You will, was the easy agreement. She said it conversationally, but she meant it as a warning. Estet is present for the Auction. Your team will obey or your head will roll.

      No one that made it to team status was suicidal enough to try anything against Rosenkreuz, especially not at the school itself, but she wasn't talking about that. For the academic year, there were few rules. Those that were enforced were mostly those that stressed obedience and respect to the teachers and cabinet. August changed things. August was when Estet made their yearly appearance, and the cabinet kept the school under stricter conditions than ever until the elders left again. Rosenkreuz relied so heavily on the funding Estet passed down the lines that they couldn't afford to offend the three. Schuldig wasn't particularly worried.

      Warning noted, Schuldig said.

      Recognized and recorded, the guard answered. We are clearing the road.

      She drew back and Schuldig turned to gaze down the road. A telekinetic-induced landside had blocked the path to Rosenkreuz with several tons of rocks and rubble. It kept the panicked students in and any stray tourists out, but any telekinetic worth his salt could pick it up to let authorized visitors in. As he watched, the pile started to groan and tremble.

      "We're going," he said, and he and Spence got back in the first car. Most of his teammates had chosen to stay in the cars to wait, not wanting to step out into the cold, but Schuldig liked the view. His favorite memories of Rosenkreuz were those where the school was at a distance. His team was only supposed to be here for a few days before shipping out again, but by the time he could check Dolch out again, he was likely to have forgotten what the real world looked like. Rosenkreuz sort of did that to a man.

      He'd had their driver leave the engine running so that the heater would stay on, so the car was ready when the pile of rocks sailed up into the air. He pressed his hands against the vents on the dashboard as Spence got in the backseat, and both cars headed down the road. Rocks rumbled behind them as the pile was put back in place, effectively locking them inside the school grounds. He had two telekinetics on his team who could easily let them out again, but no one was stupid enough to enter or leave without going through the cabinet's guards. Students who tried were put to death on the spot, no questions asked. Schuldig could remember three classmates who'd done it just for the quick death.

      They were driven all the way down to the main hall and dropped off in front of the door. The drivers waited until all seven had gotten out of the way before leaving again, off to wait at the airport until the next team landed. There were only ever two cars on Rosenkreuz grounds, since there wasn't really room for cars in a school that was buried most of the year. Those two were stored in the warmest building in the entire compound: the armory, which couldn't afford to freeze solid. Two were plenty for picking up visitors and taking the cabinet where they needed to go. If they should ever need more than two, they could send extra drivers out and rent more from the next city.

      Schuldig slid a hand around his neck and flipped his hair out away from him, an attempt to get stray strands out from under his coat collar. Icy wind stole its way across the bared skin and prickling shivers down his spine. Students who survived Rosenkreuz developed a high immunity against cold weather out of necessity, though years working overseas could wear that down. A good portion developed a phobia of cold places, as it just sent their minds back to years and years of this place. Schuldig had taken the far better route: he'd let the ice take him over.

      "There's no fire in hell," he murmured, earning a questioning look from more than one teammate. He didn't bother to explain himself but started up the stairs for the door. One of the telekinetics had it open before he reached it, pushing the one-ton door like it was nothing. They brought the cold into the school with them, with the coldest piece the chilling smirk on Schuldig's mouth.

      There were only a few people in the front room and those were all students. The small, colored badges on the front pockets of their uniforms were all that differentiated their gifts. That was all that mattered about them; age and names were unnecessary. The four had stood at the first creak of the door opening and now greeted the returned team with salutes. It was a wasted effort, for they were so far beneath Dolch's time that none of the seven so much as noticed their appearance. To let a greeting slide, however, was grounds for serious punishment.

      Schuldig led the way across the lobby to the second set of doors. These he could get on his own and he pushed both open, measuring the force so they didn't bang against the walls. A hallway continued right in front of them, but he took a slight turn to the right to find the stairwell. The team moved up it in single file all the way to the fourth floor. An empty chair was parked outside a lone door. Schuldig turned and sat in one lithe move, sliding onto polished wood and tilting his head back to rest against the wall.

      It only took a second. There was the slightest brush of another mind against his and then the door swung open. Schuldig pushed himself up and wheeled around it to head through the doorway. The door slammed right behind him, effectively shutting Dolch out of this conversation. Teams weren't welcome in these chambers. Only their leaders could stand in front of the cabinet and their most esteemed guests.

      It was only Schuldig's second time in this room, as he'd only been leader of Dolch for a little over two years, but he wasn't worried. This should only take a few seconds. He just had to check in with Estet and Rosenkreuz to confirm that his team had made it in one piece and then he could escort his team to their rooms. He hadn't forgotten what to do. He still remembered where the exact middle of the room was and he stopped there to salute six unsmiling faces.

      "Lords and Ladies," he greeted. "Dolch has come home seven-strong and healthy."

      "If it's you they're following, they're bound to be strong and healthy," the little old lady of Estet's elders said. She offered him a crinkled smile and he half-expected a plate of cookies to follow. She looked like someone's grandmother when she smiled like that. Wrinkles and dimples did wonders to mask a wicked old bitch. "Schuldig, isn't it?"

      He was surprised she remembered his name, but he knew it had to be a good thing. His lips twitched into the hint of a smile as he tipped his head to her. "Lady Estet," he said in simple affirmation. She nodded a bit and tapped her fingers together, seemingly pleased that her memory hadn't failed her. It was a funny little game: her pretending to be simple-minded and him pretending to be polite. They were better at it than anyone had a right to be.

      "We have been reviewing Dolch's reports," one of the other elders said. That was unexpected, more so than the wrinkled bat remembering his face. Schuldig wasn't pleased anymore. Estet bought the teams from Rosenkreuz, sure, but it left the school to act as middleman between teams and masters. They'd had to sign off on Schuldig's accession to leader of Dolch, so they'd had to take an interest in the team's progress two-and-some years ago, but for them to go digging now was unusual.

      "I hope they were satisfactory," Schuldig said, not quite sure where this was going now. "More than satisfactory, I should say, because it is a waste of your time for me to hand in only 'acceptable' reports."

      "They were," the woman answered. "More than satisfactory, that is. Your team has done very well since coming under your leadership. As I'm sure you know, Africa was meant to be a temporary assignment lasting no longer than one year. There is no need for Infiltration teams to stay that long. In fact, it's dangerous for them to spend so much time in one place, no matter the size of the continent." She waited until he inclined his head in understanding before continuing. "Instead, you've secured the foothold enough to justify staying there so long. You've worked with three other teams while on assignment there and their leaders have all turned in positive reports regarding your team's contributions."

      Schuldig hid smug satisfaction behind a murmured, "I am relieved."

      "We are, therefore, putting you up for bid."

      Schuldig's mouth was open on an automatic response, but the words died in his throat as he registered just what the woman had said. He stared blankly back at her, struggling to find his mental footing again. The man at her right gave a flick of his finger to snap Schuldig's mouth closed.

      "Do you understand?" the woman asked.

      "I- Yes, Lady Estet."

      "The team leaders will hear of it at tonight's meeting. You are dismissed until then."

      He saluted and turned away, despite every bit of him that wanted to stamp his foot and demand answers. It wasn't completely unheard of for field psychics to switch teams at the bids, particularly when it came to juggling those from Infiltration ranks, but it was very uncommon. And for them to actually put a team leader up for bid—

      He made it out of the room and down two flights of stairs before losing it and punching the wall. Dolch had been following right on his heels and Spence had to take a quick step to one side to avoid running into him. Schuldig could feel their eyes on him, could feel the faint alarm in the thoughts that swirled through his gift. They thought Estet was unhappy with their team; they had a right to be upset. It would just be a passing concern for them no matter what. Team leaders took full responsibility for their teams' results. If a team wasn't up to standards, it was because the leader wasn't strong enough to cut the players that couldn't keep up. The leader took the lashings and the rest of the team was left alone.

      Team leader; the thought had a sardonic smile twisting on his lips. Not anymore, hm? Not anymore. Once he was put up for bid, he'd be bought as just a damn pawn again. He'd had eight years of strict Rosenkreuz schooling, one year of being at someone's beck and call in Demolitions, and a year and a half of following yet another man as part of Dolch. He'd finally made it up on his own two feet to seize control of Dolch and the two and a half years of being the one in charge had been liberating. He'd still had people to report to, but they were here in Europe and he'd been in Africa. For the first time in his life, he'd actually had real choices. Now he was going to be kicked down a rank again because his team was doing too well-- what sort of congratulations was that?!

      "Schuldig?" Denzel asked.

      It took effort to get the words out. "They're happy with our work."

      He could positively feel their relief in the way their thoughts flickered against his and he tried pulling his gift in close around his head. A shoe tapped against the stairwell as one of them moved closer. "Then what is the problem?" Deanna asked.

      Schuldig turned on Spence and stuck a finger in his face. "You're nominated," he said, trying not to sound so sour about it. Spence frowned at him, not understanding. "I have to go to Auction," Schuldig said, annoyed that they couldn't follow his train of thought. He hated having to actually say it. Seeing and hearing their startled reactions didn't help any. Dolch worked too well to be broken up like this and they all knew it, no matter what their personal opinions of Schuldig might be. "They're moving me out of Dolch."

      "You're not serious," Spence said flatly.

      "I'm nominating you for leader," Schuldig said again, "but the final say isn't mine."

      "Shit," Deanna said with feeling. She planted her hands on her hips and drummed her fingers in an agitated rhythm. "Where are they expecting you to go? You can't go back to Demolitions; it'd be a complete waste of Estet's time if they actually let the boomies bid on you."

      "There are thirteen other Infiltration teams," Marianna pointed out.

      "And then there's Subterfuge," Denzel added.

      "What about us?" Deanna demanded. "We're losing a telepath and switching leaders. You know what that's going to do to our team rankings? I wanted my goddamn Christmas bonus this year."

      Schuldig's gut twisted at the thought. The number one team in each of the three divisions was given twenty thousand dollars to divide between its members and a week completely off-duty. That week was the only thing close to a vacation they could ever get- and the only time Rosenkreuz didn't even try to track them. They could go anywhere and do anything, and Rosenkreuz didn't care. They didn't have to worry about the psychics defecting; people couldn't get anywhere near being the best if they had even the slightest of doubts in Rosenkreuz.

      Rankings weren't only figured out by successes on the field, but on their mentalities. While they were here, they would have telepaths and empaths watching them. When they were out on the field, they were visited four times by a telepath-empath pair. They never saw the two and never knew when they were going to come. The pair just came as close as they needed to be to do a reading, stayed for a few days, and went on to the next set. It wasn't just watching for dissent, but keeping an eye on teams to see the balance and the straining on them. That helped decide when teams needed to shuffle locations, since leaders weren't going to complain up the lines that their teams couldn't handle the conditions of their current projects.

      As it stood, Dolch was currently in second place in Infiltrations, with three months left to go to edge ahead of the highest ranking team. That reward was so close they could all taste it, and now- now they were losing it, because Schuldig had been too damn good at his job. He'd gotten them from seventh to second in two years, and that had taken serious work. All wasted, he thought, annoyed.

      "Bid on a new telepath," Schuldig said, tapping his fist against the wall to try and work off some irritation. "You're going to need one by the time November rolls around. Housou's project can't work without one."

      "So we lose our bonus and our checks," Deanna grumbled. "What the hell is going on? Are we being punished for being good?"

      Those were Schuldig's thoughts exactly, but he couldn't let her say that- not out loud, not here. "Rosenkreuz has a reason for it," he snapped at her.

      "We can still make it," Spence said, looking determined. "We still have three months. We'll figure it out."

      "Let's go," Schuldig said, not wanting to hear anything else about the bonus. He pushed away from the wall and started down the stairs on quick, angry steps, and his team followed close behind him. 'His' team. He had two more days before the Auction, two more days for the rest of the teams to make it back to Rosenkreuz, and then they wouldn't be his anymore. They'd be Spence's, and he'd be elsewhere.

      Demolitions? He'd already graduated from them. That factor was mostly for new graduates from Rosenkreuz, a wham-bam way of getting used to using their powers outside of school grounds. They were all required to serve at least one year on a Dem team to make sure they had everything under control, and then the better ones were cycled out to other factions. As a telepath, there was no reason for him to go back to a team like that.

      Infiltration? He was part of that already. He knew all of the teams in his division and he wasn't particularly interested in any of them. Unless the number-one team decided to bid on him, it was a waste of his time to consider the rest. He was part of a good team, so it'd be a double slap to the face to move down both in rankings and position. Even still, he liked Infiltration work. It was sneaky. It was diverse. The teams worked semi-independently, the loosest of any of the divisions, and worked their way up in the ranks of whatever company or military they were assigned to. Sometimes they just wanted to influence the leaders; other times they wanted to slowly change the rankings and the policies and push for their own agendas. It was time-consuming as hell and they always had a part to play, but every assignment meant something new. There was something fun about pretending to be so thoroughly devoted to a cause he had absolutely no interest in; it was a game of deception both inside and out. It was familiar.

      Subterfuge was… Well, if it was them, maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but they rarely bid at Auction. They combined Demolitions and Infiltration in tight-knit teams, flying up through the ranks as fast as possible with the sole intention of destroying their host or as many people around it as possible. Years ago Schuldig had thought it would be fun, but four years of the careful manipulations of Infiltrations left him with a rather unpleasant opinion of Subterfuge. Maybe they could wreak more damage, but his team left the longest-lasting impressions and changes.

      They made it to the base of the stairwell and turned onto the hall. The second and third floors were full of meeting rooms. The first floor was the most important, as most of the doors on the hall opened up into tunnels that led to the other buildings. When the compound was buried, it was the only way between the buildings, and at some point in every day, everyone passed through the center building and under the cabinet's watchful eye.

      He led them through the second door and down the hall to the teams' dormitory. Rosenkreuz had twenty-five rooms and fifty-seven teams, but not all fifty-seven would pass through at the same time. Auction was the most important, which meant teams had to start making reservations months ago to get one of the twenty-five spots. No other teams could check into Rosenkreuz for their annual visit until there were rooms for them, which was another reason to push and get in there early.

      There was a plaque with Dolch's name on it hanging on one of the doors, and Schuldig pushed it open to let them into the room. It was longer than it was wide, with four sets of bunk beds and one desk. Each bed had a bag on it with generic clothes and toiletries. They hadn't packed anything for their stay here, knowing it would just get taken away from them. Rosenkreuz didn't advertise diversity. They'd all come in matching outfits, and for their stay here, they'd be wearing the same uniforms as every other team.

      "Change out," he said, and they moved to claim beds and bags. Deanna and Marianna took their bags down the hall to the communal bathroom to change. Phonesia didn't care enough to go elsewhere. She was Spence's, and that was enough to make sure Denzel and Calvin didn't linger too long on her curves. Schuldig didn't even try to sneak a peek; there was nothing there to interest him.

      The others, of course, were fair game. Blue eyes flicked to one side, taking in scars and hard muscles. Spence caught him at it and sent him a hooded look. Schuldig answered it with a smirk and let his gaze flick to the next person. He didn't even slow in his changing and tossed his jacket up onto his bunk. Denzel knew enough to change with his back facing Schuldig and Schuldig would have to twist too far to see Calvin. He swallowed a sigh and cast his gift out instead, looking to see which teams were nearby.

      He found what he was looking for in Albtraum, just down the hall, and his mouth pulled into a wide smirk. Wesley was the only one in their room now, but the others wouldn't be far. Shane was here somewhere, and Schuldig remembered him well. He remembered hard skin and rough lust even better. It sounded like the perfect cure for this burning resentment curling in his stomach, so he tugged on his shirt with new energy.

      The twins didn't take long to return and Schuldig surveyed his team with a quick glance. "Right," he said, flicking a hand in dismissal. "Get in trouble while we're here and I'll kill you. You're still mine for two more days, and trust me when I say that's enough time to make your lives living hell."

      He let them leave ahead of him and gazed at the closed door in silence. Feeling the last of their minds slip out of his range was the trigger that made him snap and he lashed out, slamming his boot hard into the base of his bunk bed.


      He paced in a sharp circle and raked his hands through his hair. "The cabinet knows what they're doing," he told himself. It was a familiar mantra, one he'd said over and over until his tongue accepted it as truth. Funny how one could be so truthful and devoted to something they didn't believe at all. It was the only way to survive in a world like this. "This is for the best. Rosenkreuz wants to improve, so they wouldn't actively punish me for helping them achieve that goal."

      He muttered to himself until his thoughts calmed down again, until that familiar ice worked its way through him. He felt the tension ease away, replaced by cold surety, and let his hands fall to his sides.

      Wesley, Wesley, how very good to see you again, he drawled.

      Fuck off and die, telepath.

      Someone sounds jealous about being passed in the rankings. Where's your kinetic?

      Find him yourself.

      Schuldig pulled out and left a headache in his wake. He grabbed his badge off his coat and attached it to his uniform shirt. It was the only marking he was allowed while on Rosenkreuz grounds, but it was enough. The red stripes on it declared his status as a team leader and meant people would be quick to get out of his way while he was here. He pressed his hand against it, imagining losing it in two more days, and choked on the ice in his throat.

      "Hail Rosenkreuz," he murmured. It tasted like devotion on his tongue and acid in his brain. He was smirking when he pushed the door open and went in search of the missing telekinetic. There were a few others in the hallway and another team on the stairs where they'd just arrived. He sent them the barest of glances in acknowledgement as he passed and kept his gift out and open for familiar minds.

      It only took a minute before he locked on, and he turned his feet in the direction of the cafeteria. Dolch had eaten on the flight up from Abuja, so he wasn't hungry, but it was lunch time here. The compound had set meal times, with classes rotating in and out to keep the students spread out. When the teams were at Rosenkreuz, they were allowed use of the cafeteria whenever they wanted during meal hours and given as long as they wanted to eat. They were also spared the trouble of waiting in line, as no student was stupid enough to fuss if a field psychic cut ahead of him.

      He could hear the meal chatter as he headed down the hall towards the open doorway. August was a noisy month, as the students couldn't help but be excited by seeing sunlight for the first time in a year. Throwing in returning teams and the prospects of being bid upon at Auction to join said teams just meant they were rowdy and almost out of hand. He had absolutely no interest in entering such a noisy room, but it was just a quick stop. What he had to offer Shane had to be worth more than this disgusting food.

      He zeroed his gift in on Shane's mind and the telekinetic recognized the feel of a telepath's touch. Dark eyes raised from his plate to skim the room, wondering who dared touch his mind. Schuldig headed straight for him, a smirk on his lips, and it didn't take Shane long to notice him. He felt the ripple in the other man's mind as Shane recognized what he'd come here for. The telekinetic smirked back, expression half-buried behind his jerky.

      Schuldig went around the table to stand behind him, taking in Shane's company with a quick look. He recognized a few of them; the rest didn't matter. He didn't see any badges, which meant he had no use for them. They were equally uninterested in seeing him, though they remembered to tip their heads in respect for his rank before going back to their meals. He put his hand on Shane's head and leaned down, smirk stretching wider across his lips.

      We're going.

      You ordering me around, field leader?
Shane asked.

      Shut up and fuck me, peon.


      Schuldig entertained the thought and lifted his gaze, sliding it across the crowded dining room. Wouldn't that offend their delicate sensibilities.

      Who at Rosenkreuz has delicate sensibilities anymore?

      Quit fussing over the details,
Schuldig advised him. He counted four teams in attendance that he knew and another two that he didn't. Their uniforms were all that set them apart from the rest of the crowd in the cafeteria, but there weren't any distinguishing marks to say which faction they belonged to. They had to be Demolitions or Subterfuge; he kept a close eye on the teams in his division so he could make sure his team was ahead. He considered them with a critical eye, hating that he had to size them up as potential future teammates.

      Hurry it up, he ordered Shane. It's fucking noisy in here.

      One of the psychics at the other table stood. The movement was enough to distract him and Schuldig slid his gaze that way just as the man turned. He saw a striped badge first, red on white just like his was, and glanced up at the man's face.

      Golden brown and icy blue met across the room, and Schuldig—froze.

      Glasses were supposed to make people look geeky. Apparently they'd forgotten their purpose, because the face they sat on looked scarily intelligent. Raven hair was mostly slicked back out of the way, but a few pieces had fallen into his face. Fine nose, perfect mouth, and features that said he hadn't been European in a couple generations. And those eyes.

      The fuck?
Schuldig thought numbly. The man had to be a snake in disguise, because Schuldig couldn't move. All he could do was stare, one thumb jammed into his pants pocket and the other hand on Shane's head. Maybe that second hand was all that was keeping him on his feet. He grasped desperately for his smirk, but his expression had gone completely blank and he couldn't even blink.

      Look away, he ordered both himself and the other man, but the dark-haired psychic seemed content to gaze back at him. Schuldig slid his gift that way, but he couldn't find himself in anyone's thoughts but Shane's. This man's mind was absolutely nowhere on his radar and that sent a chill down his spine.

      Shane reached up and pushed his hand away, and that touch was the distraction Schuldig needed. He jerked his attention away from the stranger to look down at his current target. The telekinetic hadn't finished eating, but he'd apparently had enough. He was piling his garbage back onto his tray and he offered Schuldig a lazy smile over his shoulder. Schuldig's return smirk was automatic, but he felt absolutely nothing behind it.

      "Be right back," Shane said, picking up his tray to carry it over to the counter. Schuldig waited at the table as he started away and couldn't help but glance back towards the other table. The stranger wasn't there anymore. Schuldig choked his initial reaction, rejecting the thought that it was relief. Now that the other man was gone, he was starting to get angry all over again. He hadn't frozen like that since he was a student here at Rosenkreuz, faced with the professors' vicious punishments. For him to be stopped in his tracks by a look was appalling.

      The fuck was that? he demanded of himself, drumming his fingers on Shane's empty chair. What kind of idiot two-year old are you, gaping at people like that? Christ.

      "You must be Schuldig."

      Schuldig went perfectly still for all of a second, furious thoughts grinding to a halt at the cold realization that someone had actually managed to sneak up on him. He twisted his lips into a smirk and forcibly relaxing his death grip on Shane's chair. He turned around and found himself staring into brown eyes once more. He slid his hands behind him to hold onto the back of Shane's chair and refused to think he was using it as support.

      Reaching out with his telepathy was instinctive- and a serious mistake. The man's mind was just too strong for him and his inquisitive poke was crushed before it even made it past the stranger's shields. He felt suffocated by it, completely surrounded by it.

      Power, his mind screamed at him.

      "My reputation precedes me. Unfortunately, you're still a nobody to me," he said.

      The stranger didn't look offended by that and instead considered him with distant interest. Schuldig could positively feel that gaze memorizing his face, and his jaws clenched behind his smirk. "This is the first time we've met," the other man said. It was true, but unnecessary to point out. Schuldig would remember a face like that, all kiss me fuck me fuck me over perfection. He'd remember a power like that, strong enough to crush his bones inside of him without leaving a mark.

      "I'd have your name," Schuldig pressed.

      Fine lips twisted into a vague, cold smile. Schuldig tried not to stare and had the distinct feeling that he was failing. "I'd have you on my team," was the stranger's calm response, and Schuldig's gaze jerked back up to those knowing eyes. "I look forward to bidding on you."

      Schuldig could breathe again and it felt like ice in his lungs. His smirk solidified into something real and vicious. Shane was back, but he kept his distance, knowing better than to interrupt two team leaders. Schuldig didn't- couldn't- look at him. He just stared back at the stranger. "On the ball, aren't we, knowing something the cabinet hasn't even announced yet? Good show, precog. I'll help your gift along with a little heads-up: I'm pretty fucking expensive."

      "I know," was the easy answer. He lifted a hand and held it out in offering. Schuldig didn't look at it, and the stranger didn't lower it. "I have taken that into consideration."

      "Of course you have," Schuldig drawled, voice dripping with mockery, and he finally let go of the chair. Instead of taking the proffered hand, he slipped past the other man. The stranger moved just in time, just a slight sway to one side so that their shoulders hit. It was just a brush, just the brief press of cotton and cotton with hard skin underneath, but Schuldig felt it all the way down. He refused to slow but stalked straight past Shane.

      Quick footsteps behind him said the telekinetic was following him. They made it halfway down the hall before Shane actually started laughing, and the low chuckles had Schuldig whirling on him and slamming him up against the wall. Shane didn't try to struggle; nor did he try and hide the amusement on his face.

      "Who the fuck was that?" Schuldig demanded, furious at how terribly that whole encounter had gone.

      "You don't know?" Shane asked, arching an eyebrow at him in surprise. "That's the ice man himself."

      Schuldig rocked back a little in surprise, his blue eyes narrowing in thought. "Schwarz? That was Schwarz?"

      "Crawford himself. How the hell did you get this far without ever meeting him face to face?"

      Schuldig relaxed his grip on Shane's collar and the telekinetic straightened his shirt. Schuldig stared down the hall towards the cafeteria door and the man he could no longer see. Schwarz was the number-one team in Subterfuge and had held that rank for seven years now, ever since a precognitive had taken over the fourteen-man team. Crawford had been several years ahead of Schuldig in school and, like the telepath, had graduated to field teams early, so they'd never had a chance to cross paths in the classrooms. That didn't mean Schuldig didn't know about him. Everyone knew about the ice man.

      He actually means to bid on me? Is he serious?

      "At least it proves you're human," Shane mused. "He gets to everyone. I just never expected him to get to you."

      Schuldig cocked his fingers like a gun and jammed it into Shane's throat. "Shut up," he said, and Shane heard the warning in that casual tone. The telekinetic didn't push it and Schuldig let his hand fall away. He was the first to turn away and he kept going down the hall. The other man followed behind him, keeping any further amusement to himself.

      Dolch's room was still empty. There wasn't a lock on the door, but that didn't matter. They didn't need locks- they needed a mattress. With seven psychics on the team and Spence and Phonesia sharing a bed, that left them an entire bunk bed. It was annoying fucking on a bed where someone could bash their head against the top bunk, but that was Shane's problem. Schuldig was working at the buttons of his shirt before the door had even finished slamming behind him and then Shane's hands were on him, pulling them hard up against each other. Schuldig counted the months since he'd last gotten fucked and found the number nauseatingly high. He had a few days to fix that, and more than a few faces here who wouldn't mind him stopping by.

      He just wished he wasn't seeing brown eyes every time he blinked.

Part 2
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