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On to Part 12.

Disclaimer: Weiss and Schwarz do not belong to me. I'm borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Warnings: Yaoi. Swearing. References to past child sexual abuse. Nonconsensual sex. Bondage. Although I'm setting this a couple of years past the main series, Nagi's age combined with his actions may squick some people. Also, I'm ignoring Gluhen and the drama CDs, so don't expect this to be consistent with them.

Rating: NC-17

Pairings: Nagi x Yohji. References to Crawford x Aya-chan.

Author: The RCK
Last updated: 30 December 2003

Thanks to Amy the Evitable, Hope of Dawn and Tritorella for beta reading, suggestions and general support.


rhe-o-tax-is: the tendency of an organism to move in response to the stimulus of a current of water, either with the current or against it

Part 11

Yohji watched the door slide shut behind Ken. He's so angry and confused. It's like a knife in my head-- He drew a ragged breath and acknowledged silently that his own rage was the only thing keeping him from panic. He shot a quick glance at Nagi. I can't afford to give in to either emotion right now. He let himself slide off the couch and curled himself into the tightest ball he could manage.

Hurts. Hurts. Hurts. "Did you get what you wanted out of that, Nagi-san?" The calm bitterness in his own voice startled Yohji more than a little.

"Yes, I believe so." Nagi's response sounded absent, but Yohji could feel the other man's fierce satisfaction.

A bit of a relief after how Ken burned... "I think--" Yohji fought to stop the words then suddenly surrendered. If I'm going to survive at all, there have to be parameters. "That was the cruelest thing you've done to me." At least, I got Ken out of here. Nagi won't hurt him this time.

"Was it?" Again, Nagi's words sounded casual.

Yohji shuddered as he felt himself become the focus of Nagi's attention, of Nagi's concern. Well, he damn well ought to be worried. It's just too late. "Did you expect me to enjoy the macho posturing and how you were both keeping score by slicing off pieces of me?" Or did you even realize you were doing it? That's worse, Nagi-san.

Nagi moved to sit on the couch behind Yohji. "I thought you'd want to see him, Yohji-kun." He put a hand on Yohji's shoulder. "I know you miss them."

Liar-- That's not why you did it. No, be careful. He's still jealous. The fight wasn't enough. Yohji forced himself to take a deep breath. "It's good to know he's alive, but--" I didn't want him to see me, to know-- I don't like being reminded-- "I can't deal with his judgmental shit right now. What I do is no business of his." I'm a whore. I'm your whore. Yohji clenched his jaw against a surge of anger that blurred his vision for a moment. You're so fucking clueless, Ken. What would you do to survive? And what the hell did you really think you could do about this?

Nagi began stroking Yohji's hair and neck. "You have nothing to be ashamed of."

Yohji stiffened. Bullshit. And you know it, too. You're taking such pleasure in owning me. He took another deep breath and raised his head a little. "May I ask you two questions, Nagi-san?"

Nagi's hands stilled momentarily. "If you come back up here."

Yohji lowered his head and sighed. Then, feeling weary and brittle, he unwound himself and pulled his reluctant body back onto the couch. He couldn't quite force himself to look at Nagi.

Nagi put his hands to either side of Yohji's face, turning it until their eyes met. Then Nagi ran his thumbs along the arches of Yohji's cheekbones. "What are your questions?"

I am owned. Yohji swallowed hard, opened his mouth and found that nothing would come out. God-- "Do you want to destroy me?" He couldn't manage more than a whisper, but, to his horror, the full weight of his agony seemed to come out in the words. I didn't mean to do that. I didn't mean to ask that. Not really. Not--

Nagi's eyes seemed to be searching for something in Yohji's face.

What do you want? I'll give it to you. Even if the answer's "yes," I'll... Yohji closed his eyes. He's hesitating. He wants... many different things. Possessiveness. Challenge. Cruelty. Curiosity. Tenderness. Even... I bet that's as close to love as he comes.

Nagi pulled his hands back. "No."

Truth. Almost not but... True this time. You're torn, and you don't much like it. Which possibility do you like less, Nagi-san? Yohji released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. I bet his hands are shaking. All of those emotions were... intense.

"You're safe enough on that count, Yohji-kun." Nagi injected a note of dry humor into the words.

Not really. You hesitated, Nagi-san. Part of you wants to do it, wants to know what it's like. And I bet caring about me scares the hell out of you.

"Out of curiosity," Nagi went on, "what would you have done if I said yes?"

Yohji opened his eyes and looked directly at Nagi. Tried to see what I could get out if it, what you might pay me for the privilege. But that's not the right answer. He smiled, letting a little of the feral animal out. "I certainly couldn't stop you, if that's what you wanted to do." He parted his lips just enough to let his teeth show. "But I think I could hurt you along the way." He sighed and let go of the momentary wildness. "It's easier to have the question settled."

Nagi laughed.

Yohji stared at him. That's not irony. There was a sudden surge of... affection and... lust. He barely managed to avoid a shudder. No. Don't let him see that.

"Who'd have thought you'd be so pragmatic? That's definitely not reflected in your Kritiker dossier."

He expects me to share the joke. He's proud of me. Yohji managed a wan smile. It's just not very funny. At least, he's in a good mood now.

"So, what's your other question?" Nagi's expression became more serious. "It must be a big one to come after that."

No, it just wouldn't matter if you'd said yes. I wouldn't bother asking then. Yohji looked away then down at his hands. His fingers clenched over one another. Stop that! You'll look weak. "What am I now, Nagi-san?" He pulled back a little from Nagi. "What am I to you? I'm not your friend. I'm not your lover. Am I a toy? A pet? A slave?" I need to know. Just what do you expect of me?

"Technically..." Nagi's hesitation was almost imperceptible. "Legally, you're a slave."

Uncertainty. Embarrassment? Yes, that's it. Anger. Yohji shuddered. He doesn't like not being sure. I... shouldn't have asked. No, I need to know. He worked at keeping his voice and his gaze level. "Legally, Nagi-san? There's not a nation on earth where slavery's legal." And yes, I do know how little those laws actually mean, but... "I think I deserve a better answer than that." Even if you don't want to look at what giving me an answer would mean.

Nagi took hold of Yohji's chin. "I'm not joking. The Taisken-- that's what our employers call themselves-- have their own legal code." He shrugged slightly. "I doubt they much care that no nation on earth recognizes their... code, and under that code, your status is fairly clear. At least, now, at least, here."

Yohji blinked. What? A code? "Sort of like the Yakuza?" he ventured. But he's happier going off into technicalities. Why didn't he want to answer? Because he thinks I'll spot weakness?

"Something like that," Nagi responded, "but not exactly." His face showed a hint of a smile. "Correspondences are never that exact, are they?"

He wants me to let it go, to give up on the question. Yohji bent his head forward, letting his hair fall over his face. But... No, let it go. If I piss him off now-- He shuddered. Why is it weakness?

"Yohji-kun?" Nagi's hand hovered millimeters from Yohji's head. "What is it?"

He really is concerned, protective even. Yohji felt his body shake again. "I--" What do I say? Lying's a bad idea, but... "I just keep getting hit by how little I know about all this." He kept his head bowed and looked up at Nagi through a screen of hair.

"Crawford gave Hidaka some informational documents about the Taisken. I'll see if I can get copies for you."

He's relieved that it's so simple. Good. I guessed right. "Thank you." I think he's seeing less of me now, understanding less. Of course. He's emotionally involved now, not detached. He wants my reactions to come for the reasons he wants not... not the real reasons. And then he wants something else, something contradictory. Right. He's not seeing me because he can't look at himself. Is that a good thing for me?

Yohji sighed audibly and let his body sag as Nagi drew him into an embrace. Yohji pressed his face against Nagi's shoulder. He likes that. Why? "I'm not a whore," Yohji said. Doesn't matter why. Just give him more.

Nagi ran his hand down Yohji's spine in a gentle, comforting stroke. "No. No, you're not. Hidaka's an idiot."

Yohji bit his lip as he felt a sudden surge of doubt equally suddenly repressed. He's not so sure Ken's stupid, but he wants him to be. So he won't look at it. Now what? Nagi's self-satisfaction wrapped around them like a blanket. Yohji laid his head on Nagi's shoulder. Powerful. That's how he feels now, and he likes it. He likes having the power to protect me and comfort me. If Ken had stayed longer, said what he was feeling-- I think Nagi'd have killed him. Yohji shuddered. He was that angry, needed to demonstrate his power that much.

Nagi tightened his arms around Yohji's shoulders. "Don't worry about him. I won't let him hurt you again." Nagi's voice became hard. "I shouldn't have let him in to begin with."

Then why did you? I bet you had a choice... But you're glad you did. You like this. You like it too damn much. So are you going to look for ways to get other people to hurt me so that you can step in? Yohji managed to suppress another shudder. Or are you going to cut out the middle man and hurt me yourself? Which will fuck me up worse? "Ken doesn't matter." I will not let you hurt him out of jealousy. "I don't want him in here with us." I've got to make Nagi believe it. Got to.

"He was family," Nagi responded softly. "That means his opinion mattered to you. I'm just... I'm sorry he rejected you."

No. You're damn well not sorry. Not in the slightest. "His loss." Yohji didn't bother trying to keep the pain out of his voice. There, Nagi-san-- Something else to comfort me about. That's what you want, isn't it? I'm sure I can keep feeding that-- Something else I have to do. I can do it. I don't have a choice.

Nagi's cell phone rang.

Yohji couldn't stop a flinch as Nagi's sudden spike of irritation hit. Puzzlement and suspicion-- Comprehension. Yohji sighed.

"It's all right, Yohji-kun; it's not aimed at you." The phone rang again. Nagi pulled away from Yohji and stood. "I left the damn thing over here somewhere... Ah." He snapped it open. "Naoe."

Yohji curled himself up against the arm of the couch and watched.

Nagi frowned.

Irritation growing but curiosity's there, too. Yohji carefully controlled his expression, letting just a little anxiety show as he kept his eyes on Nagi. But what does it mean for me? He had to fight the urge to lower his head to his knees. No, keep looking at him. That has to be someone important or he'd be letting that irritation out. He leaned his head against the back of the couch. I need time to think. I need it badly. But he's not going to give it to me, not if he's smart.

"I don't see what you think I can do that they can't," Nagi said. He paused, apparently listening to the person on the other end. "You're going to have to trust them some time, Crawford-san." He gave an exaggerated sigh.

Whatever it is, he's pleased to be asked. Yohji closed his eyes just for a moment. There's some doubt, too, but... I should pay more attention. Whatever this is could be important. He opened his eyes again.

"I know, but-- You must understand that I don't know these systems as well as--" Nagi's expression tightened. He looked over at Yohji and gave an exaggerated shrug.

Yohji raised his eyebrows. Oh, yes, Nagi-san, I'm interested. I'm sympathetic.

"Yes, I do understand how much we rely on the computer. I've been here the past year, too." Nagi rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'll be down. Just give me a bit of time to get things settled here."

He's leaving? Yohji's body tightened as he fought panic. No. Calm down. That could be good. More than good-- But he won't-- No, he might. If I play it right.

As he shut down his cell phone, Nagi gave most of his attention to Yohji. He's exhausted. I really shouldn't have let Hidaka visit. A brief smile touched his lips. But Yohji chose me. Me, not Weiss. He can't undo it-- Hidaka won't forget. The small surge of triumph disappeared. Not like he had much damn choice. Kudoh Yohji's one hell of a pragmatist. Why am I unhappy about that? He set down the phone and moved back to the couch.

Nagi sat down close to Yohji and pretended he didn't notice the other man's rapidly controlled flinch. I shouldn't be so upset. It took me work to get that reaction. He laid a hand on Yohji's cheek. Yeah, but it wasn't what I was aiming for. "I have to go out for a while."

Yohji's body seemed to contract, and he met Nagi's eyes directly for a moment before looking away. "And what about me? I mean..." But apparently he couldn't say what he meant. Instead he bowed his head, looking at his hands.

He's in no shape to be left alone. I don't think Schuldig can get in. He probably won't try. Probably. But... He sighed. Yohji can't even order himself a meal, and he's... He's very vulnerable right now. Nagi ran his fingers through Yohji's hair. That feels nice... I think the Kritiker files were right about that much. He needs people. He tightened his hand then forced himself to relax when Yohji responded with a small whimper. I'm sorry, Yohji-kun. I just don't like thinking of you with other people... "You'll be fine here." I hope. I shouldn't leave him alone, but I can't take him with me. Nagi sighed. "I'll send Telat in as soon as I can." I'd rather keep her far, far away, but I don't have a better option.

Yohji twitched under Nagi's hand. "I don't need a babysitter." He sounded bitter.

"Humor me, Yohji-kun." Hell, he's got to know I don't want her here. "You're still not well." I think it's not just physical. No. I know it's not just physical. Nagi brought his hand down to cup Yohji's chin, raising it so that he could see Yohji's face. "Just relax. Watch a movie. Read a book. Take a bath." Not with her watching. I'd have to kill her then.

"A bath..." Yohji's expression went vague. "Yeah... You said something about that last night, didn't you?"

Nagi resisted the urge to pull Yohji into his arms. He's very... vulnerable. I... What do I want from him? "I showed you the bath this morning, remember?" He kept his voice calm and patient. Does my voice matter when I'm not shielding my emotions? Why haven't I started doing that? It's not like I don't know how. He frowned, vaguely disturbed by the direction of his thoughts. He pulled back from Yohji and stood up.

"Do what you want to in here, Yohji-kun, but don't try to leave." His body felt stiff, and he knew his expression had flattened. "You might well be able to get out." His hands started to clench, and he forced them to relax. He looked back at Yohji. "I'd just... advise staying in. My people might not find you first."

Yohji met Nagi's eyes, his expression offering no promises.

He's less broken than he thinks. Nagi felt his lips start to twitch into a smile. "You're doing a lot better than you were yesterday, but..." You don't speak the language. You have no shields. You're only about half recovered physically, and it shows. "Schuldig's not the only predator out there, and you're not up to dealing with any of them." He let his smile widen a little. "Once you are--" He shrugged. I so want to see that.

Yohji looked away. His body tightened slightly at the mention of Schuldig's name, but he didn't respond otherwise.

Nagi sat down next to Yohji and pulled him in close. "Just for today, Yohji-kun. We can renegotiate tomorrow when you're feeling better and know a bit more about what's going on." Just have to get you the language. Wait. Nagi went completely still as a new and unpleasant thought struck him.

Yohji, who had begun to relax against Nagi, stiffened.

He's so sensitive to my moods. "It's okay," Nagi said soothingly. "It's not you. I just... thought of something." I am not going to hook him up to a machine controlled by a computer that's having seizures. He doesn't need the language that badly. I'll just get a few minions programmed with Japanese. I don't care if their brains get scrambled. They're replaceable. He smiled. I'll start with Telat, make her a bit more useful.

Yohji relaxed again under Nagi's hands. "Just for today," he whispered.

I wonder if he's telling the truth...

Yohji sat, frozen in disbelief, for a long moment after Nagi left. He didn't-- There's some trick. There has to be some trick. He turned his head quickly, trying to see all of the room at once. He's still watching. He'll wait until I'm doing something... stupid, then-- No. He didn't feel that way. He was telling the truth. Just like he was telling the truth about us having privacy in here. He buried his face in the cushions. The faint scent of dusty upholstery calmed him a little. Private until he brought in Ken. Ken. Could this get worse? Well, it could have been Ran. No, Ran already knew. But Ken... No, Ken'll cool off. He has to. Why? I may never see him again. Won't if Nagi has anything to say about it...

He sat up then pushed himself to his feet. I'm not doing that. It can always get worse. He walked to the door and put a hand on it. It looks like wood, feels almost like but... not. He scraped the surface with his fingernails then pulled his hand away as the tactile wrongness increased. He tried tapping the surface. It's not metal, either. What-- No. The lock. Look at the lock. Could I get out? He leaned against the wall. Fuck. I'm in no shape to go anywhere. I bet I can't even explore this side of the door before I fall apart. He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. He'll trust me more if I wait. And Schuldig's easily distracted-- He might not be looking for me tomorrow. Hell, he might not be looking for me now. I'll wait. I'm being smart, not-- Not cowardly. Not weak. He straightened up and found himself swaying a little. I should eat some more.

He put his hand on the door one last time, trying to evaluate the wrongness. What is that made out of? I'll find out. We need intelligence anyway. I'll just see what I can find out in here. It makes sense. This is Nagi's private space. It makes sense. He felt a creeping sense of shame and tried to push it aside, but it clung like a stubborn cobweb. It makes sense. I'm being smart. I'm not surrendering. I'm not.

He turned away, looking toward the rear of the apartment. Food. I was thinking of food... And I can tell a lot about a person by looking at his kitchen. He took a deep breath. At least, I don't hurt so much any more. The polished wood felt cold under his bare feet as he walked. Would socks be too much to ask? Yes, or I'd have asked. At least, I've got sweat pants and loose shirts in a variety of colors. Even though it's just us in here... Only he gets to see my body now. His lips pulled into an ironic smile. Then he frowned slightly as the movement pulled on muscles that were still sore. The bruises are taking longer to heal this time... Schuldig nearly killed me.

He hesitated in the doorway. That's the kitchen. He told me it was the kitchen when we passed-- But-- It looked wrong, and he couldn't quite articulate why. The floor changed from wood to what looked like white marble. Got to be linoleum. Got to be. But white? Who the hell would use-- Never mind. The line between the two was only visible because of the difference in coloration. It's not the floor that's bothering me. That's a distraction. He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to release the sudden tension. It's just a goddamn kitchen.

Yes, but it's his kitchen.

He looked more carefully, trying to parse his uneasiness. The wall between the kitchen and dining room proved not to be exactly a wall. To the left of the doorway lay a counter a bit more than a meter high. A sliding screen constituted the rest of the wall, covering the distance from counter to ceiling. So the kitchen can be open to the dining room or... not. And he prefers it not. Why? He pushed experimentally on the screen. It moved easily under his hand. It didn't fold or roll but rather disappeared silently into the wall. He jerked his hand away and stepped back. How the hell? That wall can't be that thick-- No. That's irrelevant. And it's not what was bothering me.

He shrugged and looked around. At least there's nobody watching... I must look like an idiot. What would he think? Hell-- He grabbed the screen and tugged it back into place. If that's how he wants it, I'd better not-- He studied it for a moment, trying to decide if it was the same as it had been. I can't tell. Will he be able to? I wonder... The kitchen doesn't match the dining room. Is that why he keep it closed? I wouldn't have thought he'd care... One more data point.

He turned back to the doorway and squared his shoulders. Here goes. After all, I don't think he's got something in there that'll attack me. He walked briskly though the doorway, ignoring his body's complaints about the process. The floor felt hard, slick and cold under his feet, colder than the wood had. Doesn't he heat this place? He curled his toes a little. Not linoleum. He turned slowly.

The counter to the left of the door seemed set up to be an area for informal dining. A single tall stool stood next to it, and the countertop extended out from the wall, leaving space for knees. Underneath lay a footrest that seemed to be made of the same material as the floor. There's room for more than one-- Why only one stool? Because that's all he needs. He doesn't expect company. But... He turned and looked back at the dining room. That's a full formal set up, room for six, easy. And-- His eyes narrowed, and he leaned back against the counter. The stool doesn't match anything else in the apartment, not in color, not in style. It does match this room. His hand groped for a non-existent pocket in search of a non-existent cigarette. Three styles, here. No. Four. The furniture. The rare personal touches. The shell of the apartment, apart from this room. He realized what he was doing and clenched his hand into a fist. I'm never going to stop missing them, am I?

He looked around. And finally, this room. The décor sucks. Well... It doesn't quite suck. It's just weird. I wouldn't put these colors together; they're not.. comfortable together. Maybe it's just that they're not Japanese? He has spent time in other countries, right? Maybe he just doesn't care what the place looks like? Or didn't he get to pick? That thought rattled him. No. He's stronger, more important than that. I don't have to worry about that. He promised to protect me.

He gripped the counter in an effort to steady himself then seized on it as a distraction. He tapped it with one finger. Pale gray and feels like stone. What's holding it up then? It must weigh a ton. Is stone a status symbol here? Trailing his fingers along the surface, Yohji walked along the counter until it ended at the corner. He turned. That's a sink. Just like the one in the bathroom. He pushed a tentative finger into the shallow basin, feeling almost surprised at the lack of resistance. Of course there's nothing in the way. You're an idiot, Kudoh. It's just a sink. A ridiculously shallow one-- How could you wash dishes in it? He ran a finger over the side and along the bottom of the basin. No grease, no soap scum, nothing. Either he's obsessively clean or he has someone come in to clean for him who is. He frowned. Probably the latter. If he were obsessive that way, he wouldn't have had to search for his phone, and he'd have wanted to make the bed. Does that mean someone'll be coming in soon? Another thing not to think about...

He studied the faucet. Push that down for water... That lever for temperature. Push again for off. What the hell does that do? He touched the textured lump next to the temperature control. Probably push... Should I?

He pulled his hand back and cradled it against his body. Why not? He set his jaw. The damn thing's not going to bite me. It's probably just the garbage disposal. He gave the drain a dubious look. It's got one, right? Not all kitchens do, but this one... He looked around the room again. This place feels... new. It's really clean, even smells new. How long has he been living here? He set his jaw and reached out. The lump squished under his finger, feeling oddly rubbery even though it looked metallic. Ick.

The faucet spat a lump of wet crystals that glistened in the light. Crushed ice. The fucking sink does crushed ice? Why does he want a sink that does ice? Well, it is kind of cool. Assuming it is ice. He prodded the lump again. Then he touched the pile of melting fragments. Cold. And what else would he want coming out of his faucet? He picked up a sliver between two fingers, brought it to his lips and let it dissolve on his tongue. Yes. He blinked, a little startled by a sudden surge of satisfaction. That's out of proportion. I'm a bit... unbalanced, aren't I? That really should scare me... Fuck it. There's damn all I can do about it.

He pushed the pile of ice toward the drain. I've got good reason to be unbalanced. This... This situation's bad. I had to... alienate Ken. He was really pissed at me. No. It's Ken. He'll get over it. He won't understand, but... He'll get over it. Omi's catatonic. Unless Nagi's lying. No. I don't think he would about that. He doesn't want me to think about any of them, to care. Then there's Ran... What's going through his head now?

Doesn't matter. Only he matters now. He straightened up. I was after food... He gave the sink and its odd controls a last measuring glance. Just see if there's a cupboard down there and what's in it... He stepped back. A... drawer? The area below the sink was faced in a slate blue material. Just below the bottom of the basin, there was a distinct rectangle with a handle in the middle. It's kind of big, and... that's a weird place for a drawer. What about the pipes? He reached for the handle, hesitated, then grasped it firmly and pulled.

Nothing happened.

He pulled harder, succeeding only in having the handle bite into his hand. What the hell? He resisted an urge to kick or hit the drawer. The force of his desire to break something startled him. Deep breaths, Kudoh. Deep breaths. Of course, you want to break something. You want to kill a few people, too. Or at least beat the crap out of them. It's a way of exerting control. Of saying he can't make you do anything, can't control everything. Well... If you go there, you lose. It's simple.

He closed his eyes for a second and ran his fingers over the facing and handle. There-- He pressed, twisted and pulled. The drawer slid out to reveal two mugs, two spoons and two glasses. From last night and from breakfast. I recognize the pattern on that mug. He spread his hands to gauge the width of the space. Big, deep. You could put a lot more in there. It's a silly place for storage, too. He lifted a mug. It's clean. No trace of hot chocolate. He set the mug down again and looked around the room. This whole place is clean. Almost... sterile. Nobody cooks in here. He doesn't cook in here. Does he even cook? He made the hot chocolate, didn't he?

He shook his head. There should be crumbs on the floor, drips of unidentifiable... stuff on the stove. For that matter, where the hell is the stove? And I only see one electrical outlet... Way over on the other side of the room. And where's the dish soap? Shouldn't there be a dirty sponge or a rag, even a hand towel somewhere here? And where are the other dishes from dinner and breakfast? Why can't I smell last night's plate scrapings?

That's what's creeping me out. He smiled, pleased at having teased that out. I mean, that there must be the fridge. It's the only thing that could be, but... Absently, he pushed the drawer shut. How could anybody cook in here? He almost missed the solid click as the drawer closed.

A low, humming whirr interrupted his thoughts. What the hell? He stepped back. It's coming from in there-- He reached out and touched the handle with one finger. A buzz like a tiny motor vibrating raced through his hand. What's it doing? I didn't do anything! He fumbled at the handle, trying to find the mechanism for opening it again. Shit! He's going to kill me--

No. He pulled his hands away and forced himself to step back. Think damn it! It's probably supposed to do that. It must be supposed to do that. And it's only a couple of dishes... And he left them there. He put his hands to either side of his face and tangled his fingers in his hair. "It's okay. It's okay. It's okay..." It's got to be. He lowered his hands. "I'm overreacting--"

He took a deep breath and walked toward the thing he thought was a refrigerator. I just need to get food and get out of here. He stopped and put a hand on the probable fridge. It feels like stone. Everything in this room feels like stone... He shook out his shoulders, trying to fight off a shudder. No obvious handle... He ran his hands along one side and found what felt like a groove. He wrapped a hand around that edge and tugged. The door swung smoothly out. He stepped forward and leaned to peer into the brightly lit interior. It's not cold. He frowned. There's a pitcher of orange juice, some rice milk, beer... Ice cream? But it's not cold! He touched the carton. It is cold but only the ice cream. It's solid--

He grabbed half blindly for the orange juice and slammed the door shut. I don't want to know. He turned and started to leave the room, then stopped himself. I should find a glass. He glanced at the drawer under the sink but looked away quickly. There have to be other glasses. Maybe I should just drink from the pitcher... I don't think I want to put it back. He walked slowly over to the stool and set the pitcher on the counter. Will he mind if I drink all of it? Good orange juice is expensive.

And I'm being stupid, thinking he'll care. Look at this place! He's not living on a budget. He sat down and leaned on the counter. I'm so screwed. I'm so messed up I can't even deal with a kitchen. Just as well I didn't try to get out... I'd probably have had a panic attack right outside the fucking door. God, and what do I do with the pitcher afterward? I can't just leave it... There's nothing out of place here. Nothing at all.

He let his head rest on his arms. I can do this. I can. Really.He took a deep breath. Nagi attacked Schuldig to protect me. He's not going to kill me over a pitcher of juice or a couple of mugs. He left me alone here. He had to expect me to explore. He didn't tell me not to. Hell, if he's expecting me to explore, I'd damn well better do it. I can't afford to disappoint him. What if he decides I'm too damaged? And what if I really am?

He sat up and lifted the pitcher. He contemplated it dubiously. I really should look for a glass. Pouring juice down my front isn't going to make me look competent, and he prefers... He turned. Probably over there-- That wall's all cupboards. As he turned, he looked squarely at the fourth wall, the one between the kitchen and the living room, for the first time. What the hell? He just barely managed to maintain his grip on the pitcher.

That-- A window? No. No way! He turned and carefully put the pitcher down. I... I didn't see it from the other side. Was I that out of it? And that... doesn't look like the back of the aquarium. He walked over to the window. As he approached, he blinked, trying to clear his vision. That's not the back of the aquarium... He stopped about three feet away and stared. A beach. That's snow on the driftwood... I bet it's windy. Look at the whitecaps. He wrapped his arms around his body and shuddered. The window in the bedroom looks out on a hill covered with trees. Trees and summer leaves... He felt his breathing speeding up as he fought panic. Where the hell are we? And what is that? It can't be a real window. Is the one in the bedroom? I thought it was a clue. I hoped it was a clue.

Seeking distraction, he scanned the rest of the wall. What's that? He spotted what looked like a control panel in the corner. That's not the light switch-- He turned back toward the door to confirm what he thought he remembered. Yes. That's at that end. I'll just pretend that thing doesn't exist. He stared at the small panel. Six buttons, each with a lever. Should I? He reached out, hesitated, then let his hand fall. He bit his lip. I've got to. Not because I need to know what it does but... If I lose my nerve now, I won't be able to keep up any sort of façade.

Before he could change his mind again, he shot out his hand and pushed one of the buttons. The wall started to bulge, and he almost couldn't stop himself from jumping back. No. It's got to be harmless. Well, more or less... He doesn't strike me as the type to booby trap his kitchen. He took a deep breath and grasped the lever above the button he'd pushed. It moved more like a joystick than a true lever. As he moved it around, the bulge in the wall formed itself into a counter. Oh, I see. This controls height and depth. He played with it a bit, watching in fascination as the dimensions changed.

He walked over to the new counter and ran his hands over it. It feels like... He rubbed his fingers against his thumb. It's like the floor of my cell. Neutral color. An easy work surface, I guess. How the hell do they do it? Rubbing the back of his neck, he turned back and pressed the button again. He was relieved that that reversed the process. I don't want to know. I don't.

The cupboards proved rather more mundane. Inside, he found a plethora of snack foods-- Mostly Japanese. He favors salty and sweet-- and just add water meals, a number of small appliances that looked like they'd never been used, a few pots, a drawer full of chopsticks and Western style flatware, an assortment of mismatched dishes and a full set of formal china. He doesn't cook here. He couldn't. No measuring cups. No knives. No spoons for stirring. Even if he had food that could be cooked... He felt himself starting to relax. At least something in here is more or less normal, more or less what I expected.

So how does he get food? He hasn't gone to the door for it; I've been paying attention. Ah. In one corner, he found an empty cupboard with removable shelves. One of the shelves had a sticky spot that he tentatively identified as a partially dried spill from that morning's breakfast. A dumbwaiter? He pushed and prodded but couldn't make anything move. That's the only thing that makes sense. I bet there's a control panel here somewhere. There's pretty much got to be. I'll find it next time. Right now... I need to eat, and that bath is sounding better and better.

Nagi looked across his desk at Telat and did his best not to let his distaste show. I'd much rather do without you. I just haven't had time to find someone more... suitable. "You understand what I want?"

The woman bowed, her expression earnest. "Yes, Naoe-san. I'll take care of him. I'll make sure he eats and rests, and I'll call you if anything... untoward happens."

And don't flirt with him! Not that she did. That was him. He should know better. He does know better. He's just... resourceful. "Continue with the language lessons if he wants." Nagi's face felt stiff with the effort of keeping his polite mask in place. "It'll be easier once you have Japanese." I still need her. I wonder... I might have another use for her after all.

"Yes, sir." She fidgeted a little under his gaze, edged a little away and very carefully didn't ask the question that was obvious on her face.

Why don't I give him Taisken? He's valuable. You're not. And you annoy me. I don't want you getting ideas. He watched her carefully. Hoping I'll dismiss you, are you? Not yet. Not yet. He let his eyes narrow, and he glanced down at the small screen set into his desk. "I'm surprised to find someone with your... personality profile... working here. I'd have thought you'd be more suited to... something else."

She looked embarrassed, reddening slightly. "I'm-- Hasn't my work been satisfactory, sir?"

Sadly, yes. You're giving me no excuse. "Oh, quite." But there's more than one way to get rid of you. "I just wondered if you were really happy here." He gave her a smile that she probably didn't recognize as false. "You've done well at some difficult tasks for me." He shrugged. "I reward my people."

Her eyes widened, and she inhaled sharply. "I'm a scholarship student, Naoe-san. I'm sure my file says so. I go where the High Lord needs me."

"Yes. Of course." He tapped his fingers on his desk. "Your grades are excellent. Your evaluations as well. Your personality profile, however... Wouldn't you be happier at a public clinic or a school? You don't seem to have the... military mindset." You have compassion. You sure as hell shouldn't be here.

She looked at the floor. "This is a... a high priority installation, sir. It was an honor to be chosen."

He leaned back in his chair and smiled, not quite masking his pleasure at her apparent discomfort. He shook his head. "No, it wasn't. This is the ass end of nowhere. Everyone here is under the command of a couple of barbarian upstarts--"

She started, her eyes flying to his face. She opened her mouth to protest, but he waved her words aside.

"Don't bother. I know what people say." If I were fool enough not to have noticed, Schuldig told me. Repeatedly. A sudden sharpness in his gut reminded him that the days of pleasant conversations with Schuldig were over. He'll get over it. "My point is," Nagi went on, "that you're only here because you lack a... patron." He pushed back from the desk and stood up. "That I am a barbarian does not lessen my status in the High Lord's eyes." He walked around the desk and then sat on the corner.

She did not, quite, step back as he invaded her space. "Sir?"

So you've got some guts after all. A brief flicker of irritation escaped him and expressed itself as a frown. Oh, you've got it already. Don't play stupid. "Do your best for me, and I'll sponsor you. Anywhere you'd like to go--" He gave her a smile that ought to have drawn blood. Far away from here. Another possibility struck him. Maybe... "If you'd prefer to continue working directly for me, I have a..." What should I call her? "...relative who needs fairly constant supervision. She's on Earth now, but I'd like to move her some place... safer." You'd be good at the job, and Tot would like you, but you're damn stupid if you take it. You'll be buried somewhere and never get out. His smile became gentler, more pleasant. Poor Tot. She never understood how I could... outgrow her.

Telat managed a tentative smile.

That's right. I'm doing well by you. You can go tell everybody how wonderful the High Lord's new Level I telekinetic is. I don't want people working for me just because they're afraid of me.

"May I have some time to think about it, sir? Both of your offers sound appealing, and you're right-- I'm not... suited to working here." She stepped backward and gave him a deep bow. "If I may go, sir-- I should... You've given me a task, and I--"

He waved a dismissive hand, rather enjoying the power. "Go. I don't want him alone too long." He smiled a little as she departed. That was a full formal bow. She acknowledged my rank. Voluntarily. Good.

After she left, he turned to the display that connected him to the complex's computer system. "You know there are things I'd much rather be doing," he told it, a bit of humor leaking into his voice. Well, maybe I can get something useful accomplished, too. He pulled out a PDA. I think Yohji and I are going to need a bigger apartment. Now that I know how much... pull I've got, what do I want in my living space? And what might Yohji like?

I still can't believe he left me alone. Yohji leaned against the side of the tub and closed his eyes. The heat of the water made movement easier. He shouldn't have. He's giving me time to pull my head together, and that might... I might be able to keep some independence. He stretched his legs out. He's doing all right for himself. This tub's huge.

Why did he leave me alone, give me time to think? Why did he risk me running? His hands started to clench. He took a deep breath and extended his fingers, stretching then releasing them. That's what I should be doing right now-- Trying to get out of here, not bathing. I've eaten, so I'm not doing too badly that way. That's no excuse.

Except... I can't.

He spent a few minutes focusing on his breathing, letting the heat relax knotted muscles. I wouldn't get far. He'd find me and drag me back, and whatever trust I've managed to get from him would be gone.

So, just live in this moment for right now... No thinking about what anybody else might say. They're not here, and I'm following Omi's first law.

Ken. That hurt. A lot. Nagi could have wrecked me with that. Why didn't he? Maybe he didn't orchestrate it for the effect on me. That might have been... incidental. Nagi felt surprised after, like he hadn't thought through how much it would hurt me.

Not that he was unhappy about it. He wants to cut me off from Weiss. But that wasn't his plan to begin with.

Then what was his plan? He must have had one. He found himself tapping his fingers against the side of the tub. Damn I want a smoke. If it wasn't me... If it wasn't about me, it was about Ken. What about Ken? Nagi said that Crawford wanted something from Ken, didn't he? Is that it? Was he even telling me the truth?

Yohji began a pantomime smoke. No nicotine rush, but... Does that mean Nagi wouldn't have killed Ken? No. Nagi was angry. He doesn't think when he's like that. He doesn't mean to lose control on me, either, but... He felt the muscles in his shoulders start to tighten. Relax. Relax. He kept his mind as blank as he could for a few moments. He sank down, holding his breath, letting the water close over his head, only keeping his cigarette hand dry. I could just stay down here... Let everything melt away.

No. First, don't die. I could almost hate Omi.

He resurfaced after a moment, shaking his head to throw his hair off his face. Ken was angry. But with Ken that... passes. He blows up, and it's over. But he wasn't just angry with Nagi. He didn't understand, and I... hurt him. Yes, well, at least he's still alive. Is there anyone Nagi wouldn't kill to keep me?

He wrapped his arms around himself. That intensity's scary, but... There's some security in it. Assuming I can keep him from hurting me too badly. He sighed and relaxed his arms. I should seduce him soon. I'm doing well enough. Really. And it's better than waiting for him to force me.

I can do this. I

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