------------five : I want to hurt you just to hear you screaming my name

    The next six months were a blur of work and Crawford.

    Rosenkreuz remembered what had happened when Crawford had taken Alex's position as high advisor. The Council and Five watched Asia carefully in the weeks following Crawford's ascension, expecting another collapse. Instead Asia kept ticking without a misstep. It was a credit to Crawford's leadership that Asia was such a well-oiled machine, and more than one of the Five commented on it. Perhaps there were personality conflicts as teams readjusted to having a hot-tempered telekinetic in charge, but on a professional level, they were still the best.

    Despite that, making time to see Crawford grew increasingly difficult. Crawford had been stripped of his rank. He was still technically part of Jonas' sector, but he was not an advisor who had to file constant reports with his Five. In his early days back at Rosenkreuz, the only reports he filed were to the head instructor. He was always busy with curriculum and classes and teacher meetings. There was never a reason for him to cross paths with Jonas.

    Crawford's ambition was what brought them back together again, though it drove them apart at the same time. Two months after Crawford began teaching, he'd taken the head instructor position. It put the Rosenkreuz school in Jonas' jurisdiction, which made him the Five responsible for everything the school did. Jonas was amused by how predictable Crawford was, but he simply didn't have the time to pay attention to the school, not when Estet's Elders were starting to take an interest in his teams and sector. Instead he gave Crawford full authority to run the school how he liked. He even gave Crawford a copy of his seal so Crawford could sign off on everything himself.

    "You're still training him to be a Five," Adrian accused him when he found out.

    Jonas wouldn't confirm or deny it. "I have no time to waste on students."

    That wasn't a good enough answer, but the Five didn't argue. Outrage faded to discomfort before twisting into cautious interest. They'd been dealing with Jonas' obsession for almost eight years by that point, always wavering between amusement and exasperation. Every time they expressed doubts in Crawford's abilities, he exceeded their expectations. Crawford was winning them over without knowing he had to try, and Jonas took great pleasure in the Five's slowly-shifting opinions. Even Adrian was starting to second-guess himself when it came to Crawford.

    Crawford was a blind prescient, but neither his handicap nor his power slowed him down. Like Ricard had figured out, Crawford ran the school as if it was his own private sector. He rearranged the teaching staff, rewrote curriculum, held regular meetings with the teachers, and still made it to his classes on time. On top of that, he had regular meetings with the Five in regards to their students: both those that were not yet thirteen and those that had already been slotted into their sectors. He saw potential in almost every student, and the Five slowly learned not to question his advice. At the start, they wondered if he would be biased more toward Asia, but Crawford made it clear early on that his work was done for all of Rosenkreuz. He kept the sectors evenly balanced and took extra steps to make sure each child was set up to succeed.

    "A school is not the same as a sector," Ricard said one day, out of the blue.

    Jonas did not argue. He didn't have to. It didn't matter what Ricard said; Jonas knew the Five were thinking about it. He said less and less about Crawford as time went on, not because he was thinking less of Crawford—because he wasn't—but because he wanted the Five to decide on their own. Besides, the only thing he thought about now was something he wouldn't share with them.

    Crawford had changed.

    In all the years Jonas had known him, Crawford had never once hesitated to answer Jonas' summons. Crawford was just as quick to respond these days, but there was a new distance between them that Jonas could feel. Crawford still respected him, but the clinical edge to it said it was only due to his status as a Five. Beneath that unwavering loyalty and unquestioning obedience was a gnawing discontent and growing dislike. Crawford answered Jonas' calls promptly, but he did not want to.

    Jonas was irritated at first, but over the months he talked himself out of that. He chose to be entertained by Crawford's ongoing conflict and made time to see Crawford outside of work hours, missing sleep here or skipping a Five meeting there. Sometimes he did nothing, content to leave Crawford on edge for what wasn't going to come. Sometimes he pushed Crawford flat against his desk or his bed and left him in bruised pieces. Through it all Crawford struggled to keep both feet on the ground and his control in check. Jonas took his delight in leaving Crawford reeling, and his pleasure in destroying Crawford's treasured control.

    And so time passed, mostly uneventfully, until the day Nikolai died.


    Crawford was back in Rosenkreuz six months when he warned the Five that things were about to change drastically. He wouldn't explain how or why, leaving them to draw their own conclusions. Jonas was fairly confident in his own guesses, as there was only one subject Crawford was close-lipped on. He felt justified the next morning when Ahmed called on him to bring Crawford to the Tower.

    He collected Crawford from his classroom and brought the precog across Rosenkreuz grounds to the Council's chambers. Mosuli had an elevator waiting on them, and they took the lift to the top floor in silence. Jonas let his gift drift between Nikolai and Crawford, feeling the hate in one and the calm determination in the other.

    The chamber doors opened at their approach. Jonas stopped just inside the door, but Crawford continued halfway across the room. "Councilmen, I have come as requested."

    Nikolai didn't look pleased to see him, even though he'd been the one to demand the meeting. He rapped his fingernails on his desk in an uneven rhythm, staring hard at Crawford. Jonas couldn't feel Nikolai's gift, but he felt Crawford's pain and knew the telepath was testing his broken shields.

    Jean flicked Nikolai's hand a rude look and shoved him a glass of water. Nikolai offered it an ugly sneer but picked it up and took a long swallow from it.

    "The Council has a long list of projects to take care of," Nikolai said, scowling over the glass at Crawford. "I want to know if it is worth it for me to get involved. Malachi cannot see the when, but he finally saw something this morning and said the Council would change soon. How soon is soon?"

    Crawford gives a slight tip of his head in apology. "Councilman, I must respectfully refuse such a question. There are consequences for knowledge such as this and I have seen what would happen to the Council if you were to find out."

    Nikolai's irritation was to be expected. The white-hot shock that followed right on its heels, however, was something new. Jonas' gaze jumped from the back of Crawford's head to Nikolai. Nikolai's glass fell from his hand and shattered against the floor. Nikolai didn't notice; he was staring at Crawford with a too-blank look on his face.

    "Councilman Chekov?" Crawford asked.

    Fury, betrayal, hate—Nikolai's gift struck Crawford's mind hard enough to send Crawford to his knees, hard enough that Jonas tasted blood. His empathy burned under the weight of Nikolai's anger and Crawford's pain.

    "Nikolai, enough," Mosuli said, bored by his colleague's lack of control.

    When Crawford's mind gave a vicious shudder, Jonas knew that it was more than enough. "Councilmen, his shields are breaking."

    The Council's annoyance immediately sharpened to alarm. "Nikolai," Ahmed said. "Stop this at once."

    Nikolai wasn't listening; he was staring over his desk at the collapsed prescient. A second shield broke, and a third right behind it. Jonas lifted a hand, and Ahmed gave an impatient beckon. Jonas crossed the room on long strides, hurrying for his fallen prescient. The rest of the Councilmen were arguing with Nikolai, trying to get him to listen to reason. Jonas wanted to say that Nikolai was past all reasoning, but he kept his mouth shut and his eyes on Crawford. A fourth shield gave way, and Crawford gasped for breath. The wet choking sound he made told Jonas that air hadn't made it to his lungs.

    "Enough," Mosuli growled. Jonas heard the thud of impact and the crackling of bones, and Nikolai's mind was gone. Jonas looked up, startled, as Nikolai collapsed against the desk. Jean slammed his fist on the desk, warning Jonas to turn his attention back where it belonged. Jonas dropped his gaze to Crawford again and hit the precog square on the back. Crawford's arms almost gave out at the fierce hit, and then again as he finally managed to cough the blood out of his throat and lungs.

    "Fix them, Oracle," Jonas said flatly. "Fix them!" Crawford was still struggling for breath, too weak and in too much pain to remember how to breathe. Jonas forced his power into Crawford's mind, trying to put it back in some semblance of working order, but that was the straw that broke the camel's back. He felt it as Crawford fell away from him, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. "Oracle!"

    Crawford was already gone.

    The remaining Councilmen were on their feet before Crawford hit the ground, alarm and outrage stinging Jonas' gift. "Hoffmann," Jean said, a demand for good news.

    Jonas crouched by Crawford and pushed him, rolling him onto his back. He forced Crawford's eyelids open and stared into the precog's eyes. He found the answer he needed in Crawford's blank stare. "He's unconscious, Councilmen," he said, letting go of Crawford's face. "He's not lost."

    He pushed himself slowly to his feet and looked at him. They stared back, and a strained, jagged silence passed between them. Jonas carefully did not look at Nikolai where he lay dead. He didn't look at a fourth chair that needed a new owner. He didn't have to look. He saw it on the Council's faces as they stared back at him. They'd all known for years that Jonas would replace Nikolai, but they'd expected the transition would happen a little more gradually. They'd expected to have a little more time.

    Mosuli was the first to move when he sat back down. "Take your precog to the ward and leave him with Ikida," the telekinetic said. Jean and Ahmed followed his lead and took their seats again, faces once more calm. Jonas felt the lie behind their expressions, but he said nothing of it. "Then you will return here. We have some things to discuss."

    "Yes, Councilmen," Jonas said, knowing it was the last time he was ever going to say such words.

    Mosuli pulled Crawford to his feet with his power. Once the precog was off the ground, it was easy for Jonas to take hold of him. He carried Crawford out of there and all the way to the medical ward. Ikida was in the middle of suturing a student's arm, but Jonas took precedence. Ikida had one of his assistants take over and immediately cleared a room for Crawford.

    "You will be very careful with him," Jonas said as he watched Ikida hook Crawford up. "Nikolai broke his shields."

    "I will tend to him myself," Ikida promised.

    Jonas nodded and left. Reassured that Crawford was in good hands, he turned his thoughts and feet toward the Tower. He stared up at it as he crossed Rosenkreuz grounds toward it, feeling the way every step brought him closer to his destiny.

    The Councilmen were waiting for him on the ground floor. They said nothing to him, nor he to them. They bypassed the elevator and took the stairs up. The first floor was only a lobby, and the second and third were empty. The archive started on the fourth floor and continued to the thirteenth. The circular rooms had nothing but shelves and filing cabinets, stuffed to the brim with information on every psychic, team, and job since Rosenkreuz's creation. Jonas felt the weight of the school's history as he followed the Councilmen from one level to the other.

    The fourteenth floor had been Seraphim's quarters, and the fifteenth was the reading room Jonas had heard rumors about. Every prediction and vision the Council's Eyes had ever made was stored on that floor. A desk sat in the middle of the floor and bookshelves had been built into the circular walls. Half of the room was devoted to written prophecies; the other half archived tapes where blind prescients had recorded visions they were unable to write down.

    The sixteenth floor was Ahmed's, the seventeenth Mosuli's, and the eighteenth Jean's. The nineteenth had been Nikolai's. The twentieth was the Council's private conference center. Like the reading room and the chambers, the entire floor was one big room. A circular table sat in the middle, with four chairs set around it. It put no man at the head of the table and allowed those seated at it to see each other easily. Jonas half-expected them to stop there, but they continued to the twenty-first floor.

    Jonas followed the three into the Council's public chambers. He felt a little disoriented seeing the chambers from this side of the room, but beneath that was a rush of satisfaction. He paused in the doorway and stared out at the room, thinking of the slow climb from the lobby to where he was now, thinking of everything he'd seen along the way. He was no longer a Five, with his eyes trained on Asia's successes. Once he entered this room, he was a Councilman, with all of Rosenkreuz beneath him. The little details were no longer his concern. He had a world to think about.

    Jean sat first, with Ahmed not far behind him, and Mosuli took his seat last. Nikolai's body was gone, but the smell of burned flesh lingered in the air. Jonas inhaled as deeply as he could, trying to taste Nikolai's death on his tongue, trying to taste his own long-awaited future.

    "Do you understand?" Jean asked without looking back.

    "I live and die for Rosenkreuz," Jonas said.

    "Then sit, Hoffmann," Mosuli said, lifting a hand to indicate the empty seat at his side.

    Jonas crossed the room to the desk and sat, and the Council was whole again.


    The Five were summoned to the chambers not even an hour later. There would be a ceremony that evening to announce Nikolai's death and his successor, but the Five had to be the first to know. Miguel was the first to arrive, and he came without expecting to find Jonas sitting in Nikolai's seat. Brown eyes and blue met across the room, and Miguel couldn't look away in time. Jonas' power took him off his feet in one fierce pulse. The telekinetic gasped for breath as Jonas drew back.

    "Councilmen," he managed, voice hoarse. "Councilman, my apologies."

    "Don't make the same mistake again," Jonas advised him.

    "Yes, Herr Hoffmann," Miguel promised, forcing himself back to his feet.

    It did not take the other three long to arrive, and they were unfortunate enough to make the same mistake Miguel did. They paid for their indiscretion. Once Jonas had made his authority clear, the four were called to the center of the room. They stood side by side, not quite close enough to touch, and offered congratulations for Jonas' ascension. The Five were summarily dismissed: first to call the school into an assembly, and then to message their teams while waiting for Rosenkreuz's residents to gather.

    When the door closed behind the four, Ahmed sent Jonas a meaningful look. "You have twenty-four hours to name your Five," he said, "or we'll choose your successor for you."

    "I have already chosen."

    "We refused that nomination."

    "I remember." Jonas propped his elbow on the table and perched his chin on his hands, relishing his newfound power to treat the Councilmen as equals. He'd spent the last sixteen years dipping his head and nitpicking his words. Now he could say whatever he liked. "That doesn't mean anything. You do not trust him enough to make him your Eyes, so I will keep him for myself."

    "Twenty-four hours," Jean said, sensing that the argument could go in circles indefinitely. He got to his feet and started for the back door. Ahmed followed him out, leaving Mosuli and Jonas alone.

    Jonas thought Mosuli would be soon behind them, but the African only got more comfortable in his chair. Mosuli was the second-youngest of the Councilmen, only eight years older than Jonas himself. He was also the youngest to ever be named Councilman, ascending when he was twenty-two. Ricard, who fell under his jurisdiction, was several years older than he was. Jonas wondered if their close ages would help him here; Jean and Ahmed were twenty years their seniors. It was an entire generational gap.

    "You will not change your mind?" Mosuli asked.

    "No," Jonas said.

    "You cannot name a Five without a unanimous vote."

    "I will not change my mind," Jonas said, and they left it at that.


    The next afternoon, Crawford came to the Tower of his own volition. Jonas gathered the Councilmen when he felt Crawford's approach, but none of the four were ready for what Crawford brought to their chambers. He'd gotten rid of the black uniform Rosenkreuz's blind prescients wore, and instead was wearing one of the off-white suits he'd brought back from Beijing. There was only one reason for the abrupt change, but none of the Councilmen were ready to accept it.

    "Councilmen," Crawford said, "I have come to pay respects to Herr Hoffmann on his ascension to the Council's table. I am aware I missed the ceremony last night."

    "Something tells me you're wearing that suit for a reason," Ahmed said slowly, not really wanting the answer.

    "It seems that Herr Nikolai's breaking of my shields managed to fix whatever broke when I changed rankings, Herr Ahmed. When I woke in the medical lab my vision had been restored."

    "That's impossible," Jean said. "A precognitive who loses his sight cannot gain it back again."

    "I gave my students that lesson yesterday morning, Councilman, and I was assured by Malachi that it was permanent."

    Ahmed stared hard at him, alarmed and suspicious. "How convenient for you, that you managed to gain your eyesight back where we lost one of our fellow Councilmen."

    There was an accusation in that, but Crawford didn't get a chance to respond. Jonas started laughing, and it was hard to stop again. Six months ago, Crawford had gone blind and effectively shattered Jonas' hopes for him. Jonas knew he'd spent the past half-year trying to get his eyesight back, but he hadn't expected anything of it. To think Crawford had accomplished such a thing was grand enough—realizing that his eyesight put him officially back in the running for the Five was the icing on the cake.

    His colleagues stared hard at him, refusing to share in his amusement, but Jonas ignored them. "That's incredible," he said. "What balls it must take to help orchestrate the death of a Councilman."

    "I saw it coming, Herr Hoffmann. I do not consider myself to have orchestrated it."

    "You had something to do with it," Jean said acidly. "For that I'd vote for your death."

    "Oh, sit down," Jonas said when Jean started to stand. "You can't seriously be considering executing him. If he has managed to retain his level eight ranking even with his eyesight back, then he's worth the aggravation of keeping him alive. Besides, the mere fact that he regained his eyesight puts him down in Rosenkreuz history."

    "That doesn't change the fact that he was behind Nikolai's death."

    "Nikolai died because he tried to break through the Oracle's shields," Mosuli said. "He wouldn't listen when we told him to stop."

    "Just because he withheld the date-" Jean started.

    Mosuli shrugged. "Nikolai was dying anyway. He was useless to us, too concerned with his own life and death to work on any of our projects. It is better for us that he is gone. You are dismissed, Oracle. We have nothing more to say to you today."

    Crawford bowed and left. Jonas waited until the elevator doors closed behind him before saying, "I want him as my Five."

    "He killed Nikolai," Ahmed said.

    "I killed Nikolai," Mosuli corrected him.

    "He manipulated the Council for his own gains," Jean said, furious. "I will not excuse that."

    "I was there when he saw Nikolai's death," Jonas said, leaning forward to stare down the table at Jean. The fifty-seven year-old pryokinetic, the Council's eldest, glared back at him. "If he had had his way, he would have come before the Council immediately. Seraphim is the one who ordered him to keep quiet on the matter. She knew Nikolai would not survive the news. She sided with Crawford then. We are obligated to side with him now."

    "Your opinion is compromised," Jean said. "Just because you're fucking him-"

    "That is none of your business," Jonas cut in. "Just because you're afraid of what he's capable of-"

    "I am not," Jean said hotly.

    "Don't lie to me," Jonas warned him.

    Ahmed broke in before it could escalate. "Seraphim filed a report with us regarding Nikolai's death," he pointed out, sounding disgruntled that he had to take Jonas' side. "She said it would be dangerous to the Council's health should Nikolai get his answers."

    "Nikolai's madness made him dead weight on the Council," Mosuli chipped in. "The Oracle rid us of a nuisance. I will not punish him for that."

    "That's not the point. Nikolai was a Councilman, and Crawford profited from his death," Jean said, still glaring at Jonas. "You are mad if you think you can trust him, especially after a display like this. If he killed Nikolai to get his sight back, what will he do to you for what you're doing to him?"

    "I have told you once already to stay out of it," Jonas said. "I will not say it again."

    "It is our business in this situation," Ahmed said, but the distaste in his thoughts said he wished it wasn't. "Your lack of control has put the Oracle in the hospital a dozen times these past six months alone. You will have to learn restraint if you expect him to ascend. A Five cannot work if he is too injured to focus.

    "A Five who does not want to be a Five is equally useless," Ahmed continued, holding up a hand when he thought Jonas would interrupt. "Everyone knows the Oracle does not want to stay on Rosenkreuz property, but the Five are bound to these grounds. No doubt he expects you to reward this latest trick with freedom and a return to his former position in Asia. If you force him to stay here with you, he will be too busy despising his cage to succeed."

    "He will not refuse me," Jonas said. "He never has."

    "I am not questioning his obedience," Ahmed argued. "I'm questioning his humanity."

    "Crawford will have no masters but the Council," Jonas said. "He will choose to stay, regardless of what it means for him. He does not know how to walk away from power."

    "Make him prove it, then," Mosuli said.

    "But how?" Jean demanded.

    "Let him choose by the same terms he applied to the telepath. Give him the option to go. If he chooses to stay despite the consequences, we'll know he is more concerned with Rosenkreuz's future than his own well-being."

    "This," Ahmed said with a nod.

    Jean glowered at Jonas as he weighed this option. Jonas stared back with hooded blue eyes. Finally Jean scowled and looked away. Mosuli gave them all a couple seconds to make sure they were through before turning the Council toward the work Crawford's visit had interrupted.

    It was hours before they called it a night. The looks on the Councilmen's faces said they knew where Jonas was going even before he stood up. He didn't care.

    Crawford had his bedroom door open when Jonas arrived. Jonas planted a hand against Crawford's chest and pushed him backward into the room. His other hand caught the doorknob as he passed through the doorway, and he yanked the door closed behind him. The room went dark; blind prescients had no lights installed in their rooms. There was enough light coming in from under the door, however, that Jonas could see Crawford's face.

    "How much of that did you see?" he asked as he locked the door.

    "The date, Herr Hoffmann, and that it would somehow be because of me."

    "And your sight?"

    "Your remark on my shields was the last trigger to explain what I had to do to get my eyesight back. I didn't fight Herr Nikolai when he crashed into my mind."

    "The most likely outcome would have been your death."

    "I'm still seeing years down the road to my future, Herr Hoffmann. I thought it was perhaps worth the risk."

    Jonas had never forgotten how arrogant Crawford was, but this particular display got him hot all over. He didn't bother to keep such an emotion to himself but let it hiss across Crawford's nerves. He moved behind Crawford and slid his arms around to Crawford's abdomen. Pressed chest to back with Crawford, he couldn't miss when Crawford tensed. Power was bleeding through his fingertips to burn the precog, but Crawford wouldn't say anything about the pain.

    "I suppose that means you want to go back to China. Such a thing would be nearly impossible after six months' absence, but there are other places that can make use of your talents if you're going to kick and scream about it."

    "If I had a choice, Herr Hoffmann, I would stay on here for a little longer."

    Victory was an all-consuming rush. Jonas began prying at the buttons on Crawford's jacket. "Oh?"

    "I can see that child in my future, Herr Hoffmann, the child in Germany. He and I are going to be important to each other. He's the reason I lost my vision in the first place."

    Mention of Alessa's child was almost enough to sour Jonas' mood, but he refused to let it. "So your mother died because she saw you would cause Nikolai's death, and you lost your sight because of one bastard child in Germany. Your whole bloodline is screwed from the get-go, Oracle, but if you want to stay here and wait it out, then that's your own grave to dig. How long until we have him?"

    "Next month, Herr Hoffmann."

    So soon; so far.

    "Good enough," Jonas said, wishing the child had died at birth. "Good enough." He knotted his hand in Crawford's hair and yanked the precog's head back. "I suppose this is where I offer you gratitude? Your greed for your eyesight killed a Councilman and I finally have been given what I'm due. In return I'll let you stay here and the child will fall under your authority when I'm through with him. You can make of him whatever you wish."

    "I will make of him what Rosenkreuz needs, Herr Hoffmann."

    "I know you will. I know you will." Jonas raked his fingers through Crawford's hair and smirked. "And tomorrow morning you will be appointed as the missing Fifth. I'm sure you will appreciate working with Elizabeth and Adrian one-on-one. We have a lot of work to do to get Asia up to speed for what Rosenkreuz and Estet want of it."

    Crawford wasn't quite expecting that; he knew as well as anyone did that no prescient had made the Five in forty-some years. "I will do my best, Herr Hoffmann."

    Jonas laughed. "I know, because you know what I would do to you if you ever gave me anything less."

    It wasn't a question, so Crawford didn't respond. Jonas stood pressed against him for a few moments longer, reveling in everything they'd accomplished thus far, flying high on thoughts of where they would go from here. "Bed," he finally said, drawing back. He followed Crawford toward the bed and had the precog strip. He left his own shirt on; Crawford had no right to see the scars on his back.

    Crawford had known this was coming, had expected it since he'd walked into the Tower a few hours ago. That didn't make him any readier for the pain, and Jonas loved showing him exactly what he'd agreed to by deciding to stay at Rosenkreuz.

    Jonas remembered Ahmed's warning about Crawford's increasing number of hospital visits, but it was an uphill fight to keep his power from bleeding over onto the physical realm. His fingernails wanted to leave gashes behind where they dragged over Crawford's skin, and they did so whether he wanted them to or not. His gift was hardwired for pain.

    This isn't working, Jonas thought, annoyed, as he tongued at one of Crawford's cuts. He needed something that didn't leave marks, something that wouldn't bruise and bleed and leave Crawford off-balance during the day. Crawford wasn't a teacher anymore. He was a Five. There was truth in Ahmed's accusation: Crawford would fail as a Five if he couldn't concentrate.

    He pushed himself up on his arms and gazed down at Crawford, thinking. The prescient didn't know why he'd stopped, but he wasn't going to question it. He was too busy trying to breathe around his pain. Jonas studied sweat-beaded skin and closed eyes and lips that were swollen from bites and kisses, and the sight was almost enough to distract him from his brainstorming.

    Oh, Jonas thought. Such an obvious answer?

    It was worth a try, anyway, and nothing said he had to stick with it if it proved boring.

    That in mind, he used his gift to erase Crawford's pain. He couldn't do anything about Crawford's injuries, but the cuts meant nothing to the precog when he couldn't feel them. Jonas had had Crawford lie with his arms stretched over his head and his fingers curled around the headboard. His knuckles had gone white a long time ago, but now Crawford finally relaxed his grip.

    "We're going to try something new today," Jonas said.

    Saying so, he pressed his hands against Crawford's stomach and hit him with something he'd never thought to use on another human being: pleasure.

    And oh, the reaction made the experiment well worth it. Jonas' lips parted on a silent breath and he drove his gift deeper, letting his own hunger and lust bleed over into Crawford. His hands mapped out the length of Crawford's body, dragging his gift with it, and he leaned down to kiss Crawford. For the first time in six months, Crawford returned it, and the pressure of another mouth against his sent an odd shudder through Jonas' gut. He buried his hands in Crawford's hair, holding his head still so he could kiss him again. He followed the kiss down to lie on top of Crawford, and Crawford couldn't stop himself from leaning up into Jonas' weight. The friction was unexpected, and Jonas' instinctive reaction was to push back.

    There was a short sound from Crawford—the start of a moan he refused to finish. Beneath the lust Jonas was burning through his system was an almost ferocious denial, and Jonas could feel him fighting for control. Crawford understood pain. Jonas had seen that the first time he'd used his gift on Crawford—the precog hadn't been a stranger to abuse then, and his years with Rosenkreuz and Jonas were making him an expert. He could distance himself from an admirable amount of pain, and he knew how to recover from the worst bits. This? This was something entirely new. Crawford didn't even know where to start in fighting it.

    Jonas liked feeling him try, liked that vicious conflict, liked the flushed look of Crawford's skin as need ate him alive from the inside out. Jonas sat up a little, settling more fully on Crawford's lap, and began the pleasurable task of wearing Crawford down. He took his time relearning Crawford's body under these new rules. Crawford tried his damnedest to resist, but pride had nothing on raw need. In the end, his body betrayed him. Lust and self-loathing were the flavor of the day, and Jonas thought he'd get high on the cruel mix.

    Jonas reached up and caught one of Crawford's wrists. Crawford let go of the headboard with some effort, and Jonas pulled his hand down between his legs. Crawford instinctively tried to pull away from the evidence of his own need, but Jonas wouldn't let him.

    "It's an order," Jonas said. "Do it."

    Only after Crawford wrapped his fingers around himself did Jonas let go, and the empath sat back to watch Crawford get himself off. His gift had been in Crawford's system for so long already that it didn't take the precognitive long to finish. Jonas knew as soon as Crawford came that it was too soon, that he wasn't ready for this to end. Even as Crawford spilled into his hand, Jonas' gift spiked higher and brighter. He refused to let Crawford come back down from the rush of orgasm, and the sharp breath Crawford sucked in made him hot all over. Crawford's other hand snapped away from the headboard in an instant, clenching on Jonas' shoulder so tight Jonas thought it might bruise. Jonas was equal parts offended and fascinated: furious that Crawford would touch him in such a way, but excited to see Crawford's precious control break.

    He forced his hand between them, looking for softening flesh and grabbing it tight. His fingers slid easily along the slick length of it, memorizing the feel of it in his palm. He didn't know if it was agony or pleasure that twisted its way across Crawford's face. Not even his gift could tell the difference; all he knew was that it was thick enough to choke on. Jonas had to sear the edges of his own lust off, lest he lose all patience for this foreplay and bring it to an end. It was difficult to keep his own emotions on a low boil when he was staring down at Crawford, however.

    "Your hand, Oracle," he said, in a voice that sounded far too rough to be his own.

    Crawford tried to apologize, but only managed a short, painful gasp. He wrenched his hand away from Jonas' shoulder and moved it to his own face. He shoved the side of his hand hard against his mouth, but he couldn't smother all of a desperate noise. Jonas' head fell forward under the weight of that sound and he pulled harder at Crawford's skin. Crawford twisted beneath him, not fighting Jonas off so much as trying to get away. There was only so much a body could take and Crawford had crossed that line a while ago.

    Jonas' gift ate its way through oversensitive nerves, working them from pleasure to pain and up to something blinding and hot. Crawford cried out, choked and wanting, the sound ripped from him against his will. Jonas cursed as he lost control. He didn't have to touch himself; Crawford's voice was enough to send him over the edge. He caught at Crawford with his free hand, bracing himself as best he could. He gasped for breath, blinking quickly to try and clear his vision. He lost control of his gift, his concentration broken. He felt his power shatter and dissipate, leaving Crawford to come down on his own.

    The first thing Jonas saw when he got his wits back was Crawford's hand trembling; the other was blood where Crawford had bitten through the flesh of his thumb in an attempt to silence himself. The precog's eyes were tightly closed, and for now, the only thing Jonas could feel from him was a buzzed, hazy mess. Later, as the empathic overdose started to wear off, Jonas wondered what he'd find.

    "Oh," he said. "I think I like this new game."

    He considered leaving, but it was only a fleeting thought. He'd gotten too close to what he wanted to walk out already. Satiated—for now—he was free to turn his undivided attention on Crawford.

    "Again," he said, the only warning Crawford had before he started from the top.

    More than anything, he thought, he loved the sound of Crawford's voice breaking on his name.

Part 6