Fujimiya Aya walked briskly down the hall. She turned the last corner
before her brother's door and almost stopped dead. Guards. I didn't expect guards. Never mind.
She smoothed her hair, composed her face and kept walking. People Who Matter don't acknowledge the
peons. Especially not when I've got standing permission-- Authority.
Call it authority-- to go through that door any time I want.
As they spotted her coming, the two men straightened and suddenly
looked more attentive.
They must have good shields. They
don't look bothered at all.
She suppressed an urge to rub her
forehead. The empathic pressure on her mind was producing a killer
headache. Not only would it be
undignified, but it wouldn't even do any good. At least they recognize
me. Good. Or maybe bad. They might call Brad. It's going to be bad
enough explaining things to him afterward.
She stepped between
the guards and pressed her hand firmly to the i.d. plate. Just because it's always been easier to
have onii-chan visit me doesn't mean--
The door didn't move.
"It's broken, ma'am." The guard who spoke didn't quite look at her.
She hesitated, looking from one man to the other. She bit her lip for a
second, then before her nerve could fail her, she ordered, "Open it for
me, then." They have to be able to.
No point putting guards on a door that can't be opened.
here to see my brother." He's got to
be okay. He's
got to be. But
he gets so moody sometimes, and--
"He doesn't know how to
shield." In spite of her best efforts to look imperious and commanding,
worthy to be Brad Crawford's wife, she knew she was falling back on
manipulation. Her eyes widened, and her lips trembled. Schoolgirl look number seven. Bleh. I'm
not in Japan now. I should manage better.
No hint of that
contempt for her own tactics showed on her face.
Both guards looked at her and then at each other. But it's working...
She was certain
they were weighing the decision. And
each hoping the other will take responsibility.
She glared at
them, feeling despair pushing at her own eggshell thin protections.
"Now!" Great. I sound weak not...
what I ought to be. But-- Onii-chan feels
everything so strongly that this has to be hitting
him hard. No half measures, and--
The guard on the left shrugged and did something complicated to a
device on the door.
A device I didn't notice. I've got to
do better. I don't want to disappoint Brad.
She stood as
straight as she could and laid a hand flat on the pectoral she wore. My baby, my husband and my brother. My
She took a deep breath and walked through the door.
She didn't expect the silence. Not that she was sure exactly what she
expected to find, but the silence was unnerving. He wouldn't have. He promised. Onii-chan
keeps his promises. Always.
She slipped her shoes off and padded
forward. "Onii-chan?" She wasn't surprised not to receive an answer. But I am... disappointed. I hoped he'd
be... happy enough not to--
She shook her head, not willing to
take the thought further.
She heard the man in the living room before she saw him. His breathing
was just labored enough to carry through the quiet. When she heard him,
she moved a little faster, then stopped dead when she saw him. That's not onii-chan.
noticed the wheelchair. Oh. Of
"Hidaka-san, where's my brother?" Her voice sounded a
little shrill to her own ears.
The man in the wheelchair opened his eyes. He's just a boy. I expected--
second, his eyes didn't focus, and he didn't quite seem to see her. Those eyes, he looks innocent. Bet he can
get girls to do anything.
Then he blinked once in apparent
astonishment and smiled. His eyes widened. He looks like he smiles a lot. And it's
"Aya-chan!" He sounded as pleased as he looked.
She blinked and took a half step backwards, startled by the familiarity
of the address. "Where's my brother?" she repeated.
Hidaka's face clouded. He looked away. "He went into the kitchen. I
think-- I heard him go down hard, but I can't move this fu-- This
chair." He made a disgusted face and waved at the wheels.
She was halfway across the room before he finished speaking, guessing
where the kitchen was based on the layout of the suite she shared with
Ran lay sprawled on the floor. Judging by where he lay, she thought he
must have banged his head on the counter on the way down. She knelt
beside him and touched his shoulder. She could see just enough movement
as he breathed to be sure that he was still alive.
Refusing to let herself hesitate, she pulled out the sedative she'd
brought with her and gave him a full dose. It's just the projection, that's all. He
doesn't have shields to protect him, so...
She nodded once
firmly and repeated to herself, He
doesn't have shields.
She pushed away all thought of
concussions. And there's no blood.
He's alive. He can recover from anything else.
She smoothed his
hair. "It'll be all right, onii-chan. I won't let anybody hurt you.
You'll be okay there." You better
be. I can't lift you, and I don't think Hidaka-san's going to be much
She felt tears dripping down her face. He's supposed to be safe here. That was
She scrubbed at her face. "I'm sorry you're not happy
here, onii-chan," she whispered, not wanting Hidaka to hear. "I
thought-- I hoped--"
I should see if Hidaka-san needs the
sedative or... What's his name? Tsukiyono-san?
She stood up and
rinsed her face at the sink. Then, squaring her shoulders, she walked
back into the living room.
Hidaka was staring off toward the bedrooms, a concerned look on his
She cleared her throat. "Hidaka-san? I've got a sedative that will put
you out for a couple of hours. My... My husband told me that the...
problem will be dealt with soon, but it's--" She looked away, fidgeting
with her pectoral. Feeling embarrassed, she forced her hand down. I'm sure of myself. I
am. Or at least, I can look it. Except...
"Soon's kind of indefinite, and the... whole thing's kind of
overwhelming." She made herself look at him again. Does he have that male protective thing
going? Talking to me like I'm a little girl. That might be it.
"I've got enough for--" She waved toward the bedrooms.
Hidaka looked at her for a long moment then shook his head. "Where Omi
is, he can't feel it, and I-- He seemed to be searching for something
in her face. He shook his head again and didn't finish what he'd been
She shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. It's one thing to know what's going to
happen to him when he's just a name...
"I'm sorry," she said at
last, unable to keep the words in any longer. "Brad really does need
you, you know."
"I know." Hidaka nodded. "But he didn't need the others. Not at all."
"Onii-chan is safe here." Aya raised a hand as if warding something
Hidaka stared at her for a moment then slowly shook his head. "He's
miserable, and he's going to--" He made a sharp gesture with his right
hand. "If he hadn't... fallen, I couldn't have stopped him, you know.
He'd be dead." He met her eyes with a hard expression.
She looked away, licking lips suddenly unbearably dry. "He--" She
faltered and cleared her throat. "Brad Saw it. If onii-chan stayed with
Kritiker, he was going to die." She raised her chin, feeling her face
settle into stubborn lines. I made
the right decision.
"And Omi? And Yohji?" He seemed to give more weight to the second
She shrugged then shook her head. "I don't know any of you. I mean, I'm
sorry you're... inconvenienced and all, but--" Hidaka scowled at her.
She raised her chin and went on, "Brad needs you, and onii-chan--" She
waved a hand to indicate the apartment as a whole. "He's fine
. He's adjusting. Brad said he
agreed to do some work..."
Hidaka snorted. "Right. He's wrecking himself, chopping pieces off--"
His voice changed, becoming deeper and more certain, the cadence
slowing. "In a few months, you won't know him at all. He'll be all hate
and... necessity. Then you'll be relieved when--"
"But--" She didn't want to hear anymore. It's
But she hadn't lived with a
Seer for so long without learning to hear truth. "But-- He was going to
! I couldn't just let him
die!" What was I supposed to do?
Hidaka shook his head. "You can't make
him live. Not like this." He sounded more like himself again. "And you
don't need him anymore."
"I--" She almost turned and fled, but she couldn't bring herself to
turn her back on Hidaka. He's
harmless, helpless. He can't hurt me. He can't!
She stared at
him. "Brad wouldn't--"
"I've met your Brad." Hidaka did not look impressed. "He doesn't
understand people worth a damn. You know that. And he doesn't like
Ran, does he?"
"He loves me!" She just stopped herself from stamping her foot. He's making me act like a child.
"Not arguing that, sweetheart. Any moron can see that much." Hidaka's
expression was earnest, honest, open.
I-- She couldn't find words for a second. "I don't know-- I want Ran to
live. I want him to be happy. I want him to have kids who can play with
Hidaka waved a dismissive hand. "All about you, isn't it? Have you even
asked what he wants? Some versions of living are purely hell. How
much're you going to put him through?"
"He'll come around. Adapt--"
"Bull." He snorted. "Are we talking about the same guy? Fujimiya Ran
doesn't adapt. He doesn't go with the flow. He can't. I think it's an
honor thing. And he puts you first, so you can screw him up worse than
anybody. And he and Crawford hate each other. Poison. As long as you
force them together..." He shrugged.
"I'm not leaving Brad." I love him.
She put a hand on her abdomen.
"Not saying you should. Just get Ran the hell out of here. Give him--"
Hidaka combed his fingers through his hair. "Tell him it's okay to go."
"Go?" She knew she sounded panicked. Brad
let him. He knows too much. How can I--?
"I can't-- It's
out of my hands."
Another voice answered her unspoken question. "Just leave that part to
"I thought you were staying out of this, Omi." Hidaka looked faintly
Even without Hidaka's words, Aya was sure she'd have identified the man
in the doorway as Tsukiyono Omi. Who
else could he be?
She had the feeling that he was measuring her.
And finding me wanting. But Brad said
he was catatonic-- How-- Never mind. Wonder later. Deal now.
squared her shoulders and met Tsukiyono's eyes, uncomfortably aware
that she'd just drugged her one possible protector into
unconsciousness. He doesn't really
look that dangerous, but... And
Ran's not awake to order him not to hurt me. Two hours seemed like so
little ten minutes ago. Will the guards hear if I scream? Will they do
"You're making her nervous, Omi."
"Good." Tsukiyono walked with measured steps to stand near Hidaka's
chair. He met Aya's eyes. "You've chosen to play for high stakes,
Fujimiya-san. Your husband's people, your brother's friends. Good
allies and... bad enemies."
Aya gathered her courage and wrapped it around herself. "I don't
think... I can't have all
you as allies."
Tsukiyono seemed to consider the point. "That would
be difficult, right at the
moment." He smiled brightly. "Nevertheless--" He nodded slightly. "We
don't have to be enemies."
"I think your husband--" He gave the last word just the slightest extra
emphasis. "Quite frankly, he's an asshole."
"Omi!" Hidaka protested. Whether he objected to the sentiment or to the
language in which it was couched, Aya couldn't tell.
Tsukiyono shrugged. "Your brother's still one of mine, which makes
you... connected. If you want a foot in both camps."
"Why would I?" Aya was genuinely puzzled. And why do you sound so... possessive?
She looked from Tsukiyono to Hidaka and back again. Hidaka-san's deferring to him.
"Tsukiyono-san--" She groped for a polite phrasing. "I'm not sure... I
don't think I need..." You haven't
got much to offer.
"I can get Ran out," Tsukiyono replied with absolute certainty. "As
long as you tell him he can go."
He spoke with such conviction that Aya found herself half believing
that it was possible. "I don't want them fighting, onii-chan and my
husband." And I don't want you
hurting my family. Why should I trust you, and--
"How are you
hiding from the telepaths, Tsukiyono-san? They should know you're
awake." And what will you do to keep
me from telling?
She took a step backward then forced herself to
stop and meet his eyes.
He shrugged. "They don't look past the surface." He paused for a long
moment. "I can't promise you that my people and your husband's people
won't... oppose each other. I can't be sure what the future will bring,
but I'll do my best to keep those two apart."
She considered his words then started to shake her head. Not enough.
"A proposal, a gamble--" Hidaka addressed her in Taisken. He glanced
apologetically at Tsukiyono.
He must not know Taisken. Of course,
he doesn't. Brad wouldn't do that to a catatonic.
"Ken-kun--" Tsukiyono's voice carried more than a hint of reprimand.
Hidaka shrugged and continued looking at Aya.
"I will hear," she answered, finally, also in Taisken.
Tsukiyono made a sound of protest and started to move forward. Hidaka
raised a hand to stop him, and Tsukiyono hesitated. After a moment, he
nodded and folded his arms.
"It is this-- Delay telling your husband for now. In time we'll know
whether I'll rule my gift or it me. Wait two weeks, maybe three. If I'm
mad, do as you think best. I won't be a factor. If, however, I'm not--"
Letting me figure out the
implications... If he's in control, Brad's plans go to hell, and--
She inclined her head. "A gamble indeed. The odds are against you."
"But the stakes are much higher for you. I've promised him one piece of
information, and he'll have that but no more. Why should I? He's hardly
my friend. He cannot claim me as his protégé as he did
with Naoe, and I think I could give him considerable trouble as a
rival." Hidaka's expression was earnest. "Hold your silence, tell Ran
he can go, and don't interfere, and I'll be your ally. On my terms." He
shrugged. "I'll give Crawford better than he's given me."
She took a few moments to consider. Two
Three at the most. It's unlikely to matter. Unlikely that
Hidaka-san will come through. Unlikely that Tsukiyono-san really can do
Hidaka met her eyes then gave her a small, awkward bow. "Your brother
is brother to me. I would see your child protected, no matter my views
on the father."
"Done." She made the
decision without further thought. Then she looked at Tsukiyono and said
in Japanese, "I won't help you get out, but I won't make it any harder
either." She frowned at him. "I'm trusting you to take care of my
Tsukiyono bowed an acknowledgment. "Of course." He straightened. "You
should go. Your husband will be worried about you."
She nodded. "It's been... an honor to meet you both." One I could have done without, really.
She could tell that both men understood what she didn't say. She
finally turned her back on them and walked to the door.
Yohji didn't stir when Nagi slipped out of bed in the morning. Just let him sleep. He was in bad shape
last night, and I have work to do.
Assuming that Yohji would get
up eventually, he ordered breakfast for two, selecting foods that he
knew from personal experience would help Yohji replenish his energies. Assuming I can get him to eat. He's
probably going to be depressed. His file says he-- But the file is
crap, isn't it? He'll eat. He's a survivor.
Nagi made short work of his own food then settled in the living room to
look over some papers Crawford had left for him the night before. The
first set of files contained the resumes of five empaths or telepaths
who might be available to train Yohji. Nagi hesitated over them. Maybe the other files first...
slipped the trainer files to the bottom of the stack and found himself
facing a note from Crawford.
There were three deaths last night as a result of Kudoh's breakdown.
Since he belongs to you, recompense is your responsibility.
Nagi scowled at the note. Wonderful.
'Recompense.' Is he going to check to make sure I do it right? Of
course, he is. Another test.
He paged quickly through the three
files then went back and reread them more slowly. He made a few notes.
The first victim had been single and childless. His parents and
siblings held moderately good jobs, limited by their lack of political
connections. A little money, a
little patronage. Nothing complicated.
The second victim left an
estranged husband and a child who lived with that husband. He already has a patron. Don't recognize
the name, but... Must have some power or he wouldn't have the kid.
So... An educational fund of some sort? Probably appropriate.
Nagi frowned unhappily at the last file. Two children. Husband executed for treason
three years ago. Fuck. Orphans, and they're mine now.
He made a
face. Part of my household. When did
I get a
chewed a fingernail. Boarding
schools. The Taisken have boarding schools, right? My secretary will
know. Put Telat in charge of them. It'll keep her away from Yohji. They
can spend holidays at the estate with Tot.
He nodded firmly.
None of the potential empathy teachers pleased him. This one's too important to risk
programming him with Japanese, too damned many connections. That one's
He tried to pull back from the thought then shook his
head and forced himself to look at it. She's pretty, and this is going to be...
intimate. I don't want anyone like that anywhere near him until...
He growled at the folder. It's not like she's a rival, her or anyone
He shook his head and went on to the next candidate.
Yohji crawled out of bed when he could no longer ignore the demands of
his bladder. He did his best not to think at all while he showered and
dressed in another loose sweatshirt and matching pants. He knew Nagi
was waiting for him, could almost taste the concentration the other man
was bringing to bear on whatever he was doing. With just enough anticipation mixed in
that I know he's heard me.
Yohji fumbled the comb as he tried
to pick it up. feel At least he's
not-- Not what? Not rushing me? I can
feel him waiting. Not watching me? He doesn't
He cupped his hands over his eyes and dug his fingers into his
forehead. Charming. I need to be--
No. Not charming. He doesn't like that. I need to be... What? Proud.
Adoring. Dangerous, just not sexual. Not too damaged even if-- I just
need time to think, to... No, I don't. Time will just let me have
hysterics, and I can't afford that. I'm really stuck here--
purely emotional spasm contracted his diaphragm. Don't think about them. You can't help
them any more. He'll... The jealousy's too risky. You can't have
friends now. Maybe some day...
He splashed more water on his face, pretending that all the moisture
came from the tap. I need to know
more about the-- What the hell are they called? Doesn't matter. I need
to know their rules. Know if it really is as simple as keeping him
happy. It might be. Is there anything he wants that they haven't just
given him? Even me. Even me.
He rubbed a towel over his face. Somebody
while we were out last night, I think.
He turned around,
looking over the room, searching for clues. Yes. The dirty laundry's gone, and the air
freshener's been replaced. It doesn't smell half bad. I wonder what it
He made a chopping gesture with one hand, physically
echoing his efforts to cut off the train of thought. He set his
shoulders and looked toward the door to the rest of the apartment.
The fears he'd been holding off with trivialities settled onto him like
heavy parasites. I can almost feel
something burrowing into my neck.
He shook his head, hoping to
dislodge the image, but the skin across his back crawled as his body
embraced the notion. Fuck. I so do
not need this.
He rolled his shoulders and did a rapid series of
stretches. It helped a little. Nothing's
to help a lot, but even a little... I just need to go.
He's probably got food out there for
He hesitated in the doorway, not really wanting to commit to being up
and awake. It's not like you've got
a hell of a lot of choice, Kudoh.
He ran his fingers through his
hair and let his hesitation show on his face. Be vulnerable so he can reassure you. It's
better than the alternative.
He cleared his throat. "Nagi-san?"
Nagi looked up from the papers he was reading. "Good morning,
He knew I was there. He was waiting.
He shuffled his feet and put a hand on the doorframe. "Good morning."
He ducked his head a little. At
least my voice didn't shake.
"Your breakfast is in the kitchen, in the box." Nagi stood up. He gave
Yohji a small smile. "It seemed a shame to wake you after how exhausted
you were last night."
Yohji ducked his head again. What
does he want? Maybe push just a little. Just a very, very little.
"Coffee?" He made the word hopeful and almost but not quite pleading. Will you let me have such a small poison?
Nagi's smile broadened. He waved Yohji toward the kitchen. "Of a much
better quality than you can find back home." He wrinkled his face in
disgust. "Japanese coffee is dreadful."
Yohji nodded agreement, stifling a sigh. But it's
home. It's all what you're used to. Don't let
him see that. This is another treat.
"Thank you." He made the
smile as genuine as he could.
"Crawford always insisted on having good coffee around, so I got used
to it. I was appalled the first time I bought it in a restaurant." Nagi
stopped just inside the kitchen, stepping to one side so that Yohji
could enter as well.
Yohji walked past Nagi then stopped and turned back to look at him. What now, Nagi-san?
He twisted his
right hand in the loose fabric of his pants.
"Go ahead and get your food. I'll help if you have questions, but you
have to learn how to use the kitchen, to get comfortable with it." Nagi
waved his hand to indicate all the technological wonders. "I won't
always be home, and I think you're too old for a babysitter."
For a moment, Yohji wasn't sure how to react. Finally, he nodded, not
quite letting it be a bow or a gesture of submission. "Thank you,
Nagi-san." You're going to let me
cook? That's... unexpected.
He took his meal over to the counter, trying not to show how
intimidated he was by the sheer quantity of food. Natto-- I
hate natto-- rice, fruit plate, sausage,
pickles, salmon, korokke...
He ate almost mechanically, most of
his attention on Nagi.
Nagi took a seat at the counter and watched Yohji eat.
He almost looks like he's counting
the calories. Bet he knows exactly how nutritious this is.
Yohji's appetite vanished. Not that
there was much of it before.
He pushed at the food with his
chopsticks and glanced sideways at Nagi. But I can't stop eating. He won't like it.
And I do need the calories.
He took another bite, swallowed
heavily, trying to keep it from sticking in his throat, and struggled
to come up with an appreciative comment. Yes. I know you're taking pains, giving
me... luxuries. You keep trying, and I... keep screwing it up.
He stopped eating and laid his chopsticks on the counter. "I'm sorry,
Nagi-san. For last night, I mean." He stared at the wall.
"No, Yohji-kun. It's all right." Nagi's voice held no anger.
He's almost... pleased about it.
Yohji darted another glance at Nagi. And...
is another protect-injured-Yohji thing, isn't it? He likes those.
Maybe I should keep screwing up like that so he can enjoy protecting
me... It might be safer, at least as long as it amuses him.
"I should have realized it would be too much," Nagi went on. "I just--
I thought you needed proof."
He wants to touch me, to be sure I'm
not-- Not what? And he's not really sorry. It's more like... Like he
discovered a new fucking
feature on a toy, something beyond what he
"I did." Yohji didn't look up. "It's impossible
and..." Terrifying. I don't even
have words for how outclassed I am.
He shook his head. "I
wouldn't have believed you. I wouldn't have wanted to."
Nagi touched Yohji's hand. "I'd have waited, tried a more gradual
approach, but... When we go out today, and we have to go out, you're
going to see some things--"
Out? No, please--
He could hear the panic in his voice. "I--" His throat didn't want to
let words out, and he still couldn't bring himself to look up.
Nagi slid his stool closer to Yohji's and put an arm around him. "It'll
be okay, Yohji-kun. I'll be there with you."
Yohji leaned against Nagi, reassured by his warmth. But I shouldn't be. Fuck! I wasn't this
scared yesterday. Yeah, well, yesterday, I didn't
know. Maybe... Maybe knowing more will help.
"What is this world like?" The question came out as a whisper. He shook
his head minutely, knowing that Nagi would feel the motion. "I mean...
Is it big? Are there lots of people? I saw two moons. Are there more?"
Nagi caressed Yohji's hair, and Yohji could feel Nagi's pleasure. "Eat
the rest of your breakfast. I'll keep talking as long as you keep
He's happy. I guessed right.
Yohji ducked his head a little as he pulled back to sit upright once
again. At least he's not going to
try to hand feed me again.
He lifted more rice to his mouth and
The 'medical wing' wasn't nearly as frightening as Yohji'd anticipated.
The strange and sinister equipment he'd expected was nowhere in
evidence. Either it doesn't exist,
or I'm not recognizing it, or it's hidden in the walls. And I wouldn't
bet against it being hidden.
He kept his eyes open, hoping for
glimpse of Ken. Nagi's probably
going out of his way to avoid him.
Nagi led the way through the maze of corridors, walking briskly without
looking back to track Yohji's progress.
As long as the leash stays slack, he
knows I'm following. And where else would I go?
with his back straight and his head up. I still have
And Nagi had nodded
approvingly when Yohji drew on Balinese's arrogance just before they
left the suite.
They passed a lot more people this time than they had on their way to
the disastrous picnic. The strangers stared at Yohji and whispered,
while giving Nagi courteous bows and wide berth. Though a lot of them don't look like
He blinked as they passed
something that looked like a giant, mobile jade plant. It bowed to
Nagi. I wonder if he had the
corridors cleared last night?
Foreign emotions pushed and pulled
on Yohji's senses, leaving him feeling off balance.
Curiosity. Anger. Pity. Lust.
He focused on looking like Balinese showing himself off. Nagi-san knows it's an act. As long as I
don't do it to him...
He returned the strangers' stares, keeping
his expression hard. And I have to
be grateful for the damned leash. I don't want to be, but it's what's
stopping them. All that's stopping them.
His steps faltered for
a split second as he tried to pin point the origin of the focused
bitterness. He blinked once then kept walking. I can't tell. Why? Why would someone hate
me? Other than Schuldig...
He did his best to memorize the faces
around him. Frustration.
refused to flinch. None of them can
touch me as long as he's here. He broke Schuldig's arm for me. What
would he do to them?
He turned his thoughts to other things. Nagi's description of the world
hadn't given him any real reassurance. If I did get out, there's nowhere to go. A
science base with scattered researchers, a penal colony to provide
labor and do the scutwork of preparing for a real colony, and this base
for coordinating the invasion of Earth. And the terrain didn't exactly
Yohji was relieved when they finally reached their destination. It was
a room about half the size of his original cell, decorated in shades of
red. And that makes up for the
previous lack of weird equipment.
A squat brown box took up one
end of the room. There were glowing cords, some of them very thin, and
hoses and blinking lights. What the
hell is that for? I don't want to know, do I? But... I should know--
He focused on trying to tease that certainty into understanding. Something he said...
Three people, two women and a man, stood waiting. All three wore white
lab coats. Or kind of lab coats.
They're not cut right.
Each had a brightly colored patch in
front on the upper left. Its basic design was circular and red. But it's different on each. Is it some
sort of military rank marker? Or is it like one of those clip on I.D.s?
They all bowed to Nagi as he walked in. None of them so much as glanced
at Yohji. One of the women stepped forward and bowed again. She said
something in Taisken.
She's senior, getting the formalities
out of the way. She's wary of him but not-- Not like the people
outside. Confident he needs her? Confident in her competence? What does
she do anyway? It has to do with me, and it's medical-- Shit. I wasn't
thinking. He said...
Helplessness was a heavy lump in his gut, a
weight on his shoulders. I am
defined by my hair follicles. Not. He
was right about that much. But... This is not just about my five
o'clock shadow. What's he taking from me this time?
Nagi turned to Yohji after acknowledging the greeting. "You've done
very well so far, Yohji-kun."
He's pleased with that.
felt Nagi's approval as a warmth that eased his fear. He allowed
himself a shy smile, and he nodded in response. Stay calm, no matter what. Don't let him
see it upsets me. Don't let
them see it upsets me. He feels...
"Now..." Nagi hesitated. He glanced at the closed door then glared at
the trio of medical personnel. "Take off your clothes. The doctor and
her assistants can't work through them."
For a moment, Yohji stood frozen. No
choices. If he wants me naked... It's my whole fucking body then.
He gave Nagi a very slight bow then prepared to take off his shirt. The leash... complicates things.
"Nagi-san?" He tugged on the leash.
"That comes off, too, temporarily." Nagi gave the trio another cold
glance. "None of them are likely to be stupid. If they are, you're
welcome to kill them."
Yohji felt the collar loosen and fall away. Reminding them
why they shouldn't be stupid, are you? I can
live with that.
He lifted his shirt over his head. He's a lot tenser than I expected.
He slipped off his shoes and stepped out of
his pants. He forced himself to face the strangers as if there were
nothing unusual about the situation. Why
he upset? I know why
I feeding back? Shit. I hope not. No.
Think. What's going on now and why?
The two who hadn't spoken looked at the one who had, the woman Yohji
assumed was the doctor. She spoke to Nagi again.
He frowned slightly, but no emotion came through in his voice. "They're
going to touch you now, Yohji-kun." The frown became a scowl.
He's jealous of
this? Why? It's not like he's wanted to-- Oh.
Fuck. I'm stupid.
Yohji closed his eyes for just a moment. I should have thought of that. He does
want to touch me, just not when I... remind him of the bastard who
abused him. He thinks... this is going to help.
He opened his
eyes again and set his face in stoic lines as the assistants poked and
prodded him. He could feel Nagi's angry presence even when he wasn't
looking that way. Guessing that Nagi might lash out at them if he
showed his discomfort, he set himself to endure without reacting.
The process itself was painless, merely time consuming and intimate.
The doctor spoke occasionally. She seemed to be explaining the process.
Nagi relayed some of her comments, but he seemed to understand that
Yohji wasn't really interested. More
nanites. And it's safe. What else do I need to know? At least they
demonstrated on my arm, not anywhere... sensitive.
They left his head till last, and the process became more complicated
then. They let him sit then, and Yohji closed his eyes, starting to
count slowly. He listened to Nagi giving the medical team instructions.
I don't care. It doesn't matter. I
know what happens now. He wants to keep some of it, and they want to be
sure they don't screw it up.
One of the assistants started working on his feet. A pedicure? He really cares how I look,
The doctor asked a question, indicating Yohji's
tattoo. Yohji flinched and tensed, preparing to protest.
"Don't worry, Yohji-kun." Nagi's voice cut through Yohji's rising
emotion. "They're not going to touch anything that makes you you. You
keep the tattoo, and you keep the scars." Yohji turned to look at him.
"Unless there're any of them you'd really like to get rid of?"
Yohji shook his head without really thinking about his answer. Just leave me something. Please.
forced himself to relax again.
Finally, they let him up, and he got dressed again. The fabric felt
harsh against his skin.
The doctor said something.
"Your skin will be very sensitive for a couple of days," Nagi told him.
He gave the woman a sharp look. "Like a mild sunburn, she says."
"It's okay, Nagi-san," Yohji assured him. "I'm fine." Just a little... unbalanced.
Nagi nodded. "Good. Now, I'm going to get a few scars removed." He took
off his jacket and handed it to one of the assistants.
Yohji's eyes widened a little before he could hide his reaction. That's why he's so fucking tense. He's
going to be... vulnerable. He's... trusting me with this.
looked around the room. Who's
watching? Is it just us? I bet it is. Why's he willing to trust them
He looked over the trio again, trying to evaluate
them. The doctor. She's a top expert
for sure. That's why he doesn't freak her out. This is below her level
or would be if it wasn't him. The assistants...
He's bored. I don't think he
understands why they're here. It's beneath him. He... thinks we're
attractive, both of us. Not telling that to Nagi. He'd smash the poor
bastard into a wall.
she doesn't think we're--
narrowed as he realized that something had changed. Something about her.
The two assistants were cleaning the apparatus, getting it set up for
whatever they were going to do to Nagi. They
look normal, and the way they're moving hasn't
Nagi had unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt then stopped, waiting for
the assistants to finish. The doctor said something to him, and he
responded. The conversation sounded civilized, and she felt
oblivious, so Yohji ignored her
The assistant's gone cold. She's
hard. Focused on... something.
He moved a step closer to
Nagi, wishing that he could be sure what was going on. I don't like this.
The female assistant walked toward them carrying a device Yohji didn't
recognize. She bowed, either to Nagi or to the doctor, Yohji wasn't
quite sure which, and held out the device to the doctor.
As the doctor accepted it, Yohji felt a sudden spike of triumph from
the assistant, just a momentary break in focus. That's a killer. A killer.
doctor lifted the device, moving it toward Nagi's bared forearm.
"Nagi-san--" Yohji launched himself forward, knocking the device from
the doctor's hand. He led with his shoulder and barreled into the
assistant, pushing her back toward the wall. Who knows what surprises she's got hidden
She stumbled back, falling halfway across the chair. He went for the
throat, instinctively trying for a quick kill before any real weapons
could be brought into play. She rolled away, using the chair for cover
before lashing out with a rigid hand strike that, if it had connected,
would have crippled his right arm. She misjudged the distance, however,
and the blow fell short. He closed rapidly, pressing his attack. His
height gave him reach on her. Don't
let her recover.
A jagged bladed knife appeared in her hand. She stepped back and tossed
it from hand to hand. What the fuck?
stupid woman. Only an
amateur shows off.
lazily, he snapped a kick that connected with her knife hand. Like I'm going to be impressed.
She caught the falling knife with her other hand, almost fumbling it.
She tucked her now broken wrist in close to her body. Yohji had to work
to ignore her pain. It blended with her despairing fear and
determination, tasting bitter and potent, like an unexpected mouthful
of unsweetened chocolate. No longer seeing her as a serious threat, he
advanced slowly. Give her time to
She slashed at him, an amateur move. Then she surprised him by
converting the blow to a lunging stab at his abdomen. Yohji twisted so
that she just scraped his ribs. "Fuck!" Stupid. Stupid! She
felt like a pro.
He was vaguely aware that the doctor was shouting while the male
assistant cowered on the other side of the chair. A quick glance showed
Nagi standing with his arms folded across his chest, watching intently.
enjoying himself. Hope to god he's shielded...
The momentary distraction cost him another gash in the arm as he
reached for a watch that wasn't there. Shit! Probably poisoned, too.
They circled each other. The would be assassin threw several furtive
glances at Nagi. Trying to figure
out why he's not doing anything. She's hopeful that he doesn't
understand. And fucking
if he doesn't know, putting her
back to him!
He risked a quick glance
around the room. She's got to have a
stopper. A bomb. A big gun. Something. It'll be forever before another
killer gets a shot at Nagi.
Nagi said something in Taisken, an insulting drawl that made the
assassin's face set in stubborn, determined lines. Oh, great. Make my life easier, why don't
you? Now she knows you know. And she's
not giving up. But she's also not--
Yohji attacked in a flurry of kicks and punches, intending to push her
back and keep her off balance. Have
to keep her too busy to use her stopper. Whatever the hell it is. I
can't spot it. That's
She feinted left then darted toward the chair. With a single, long
step, he interposed himself. He faked a punch and then, as she blocked,
swept a kick that slammed her into the wall. Barely stopping himself
from making the follow up strike lethal, he pinned her knife hand. Then
he hesitated. She's a
He felt disappointment from
Nagi. You want to see me kill her?
Too bad. I'm not giving you that. Yet.
"A little help,
"But you're doing so well!" Nagi's disappointment was tempered by
fierce pride, aesthetic pleasure and lust.
Me beating people up gets him hot.
She twisted and kicked at Yohji, connecting solidly with his thigh. He
hissed in pain as her heel ground into the muscle of his thigh. He
increased the pressure on her knife hand. She twisted again, trying
desperately to escape, and he felt his grip start to slip.
"Shit!" He slammed a spearhand blow at her throat, finally willing to
finish her off. His hand skidded sideways. Telekinetic barrier.
as the force he'd put into the strike pulled the rest of his body after
his hand. What the hell--?
As Yohji struck, Nagi used his telekinesis to spin her out from under
Yohji's hands and throw her to the ceiling. He pinned her, spread
eagle, on the ceiling, holding her so tightly that her breathing was
audible and labored.
I'd have broken my hand if he hadn't
stopped me. Of course, if he hadn't pulled her out of the way...
against the wall, taking a moment to catch his breath. About fucking time he did something.
He stared up at her and growled, "Bitch." Try to kill me and mine, will you?
Somehow, though, he could still find sympathy for her terror. Been there, done that.
watched, she closed her eyes and set her jaw. Resignation, endurance, and... She'll take
poison if she can. I would. No. I
wouldn't. I want to live. I promised Omi.
He shook his head. She's still...
Nagi said something sharp to the doctor, but it was the male assistant
who responded, scurrying to the wall and summoning forth a panel. He
jabbered at it for several seconds.
Back up. Back up's good.
don't like you still being in here." Yohji scanned the room, alert for
any further threats. I still don't
know what her big gun is, and... She's still a little hopeful. If she
kills you, Nagi-san, what happens to me?
"I'm fine." Nagi waved a dismissive hand, and Yohji felt his irritation
like a static shock.
Okay. Remember that. He doesn't like
being coddled. But I'm
There's an assassin in here.
"Nagi-san, she obviously knew what
you could do. She's got to have some sort of fall back or back up
or..." He shrugged then winced, noticing his injuries now that the
adrenaline was starting to ebb. No
point mentioning that any pro would have a plan for when everything
gets fucked up.
like a pro." And she was
stalling. She should have ignored me and gone for him. Or killed me
fast. She did stupid things like playing with the damned knife.
"Ah." Nagi raised his eyebrows as enlightenment dawned. "That's
what gave her away. I
wondered." He brushed invisible lint off his sleeve and rebuttoned the
cuff. "You did very well, Yohji-kun."
Their eyes met, and Yohji had to fight not to cringe. He's furious. Just not at me. He's pleased
with me-- No, he wants to
He set his shoulders then bowed slightly. Not quite baring my throat.
you, Nagi-san." He shifted his eyes to the woman on the ceiling,
watching with all of his senses, including the strange, not exactly new
one, for further signs of danger. "She's got
to have backup. Don't trust the
Nagi shrugged in studied unconcern. "How badly are you hurt?" He didn't
quite look at Yohji.
He's... afraid for me. What should
I--? Honesty, I think.
"As long as the knife wasn't poisoned,
it's just a few stitches." Yohji shook his head. But he's not answering about the backup...
"She'd have been better off bare-handed." She trusted her tools too much.
right hand closed around his left wrist. And I miss mine. A lot.
Nagi said something sharp to the doctor, and she turned to look at
Yohji. She took a short step toward him then hesitated. She glanced
back at Nagi who looked adamant. Then she moved reluctantly forward,
looking quite ready to bolt if Yohji so much as twitched.
So I'm scary now? Almost more than he
is. She doesn't understand what happened.
Yohji allowed her to
inspect his injuries, but he couldn't keep from looking at Nagi,
raising his eyebrows and saying, "There'll be a real doctor later,
Nagi managed a grin.
Both the doctor and her remaining assistant looked relieved when the
guards burst in. Yohji looked them over carefully, trying to spot any
traitors. I... can't tell. None of
them feel like they're about to attack, but... Maybe they're going to
He forced himself to remain absolutely still, waiting.
And they don't much like me. Or the
doctor or the other assistant, either.
Nagi lowered the assassin to the floor, none to gently, and let them
restrain her. He doesn't look really
confident in their ability to hold her. Or maybe he's watching for
A contingent of guards surrounded Nagi, pushing Yohji aside.
Uncertain what Nagi wanted, Yohji gave ground. Wait-- No! Don't-- Don't leave me! Not
He just had time to start panicking before Nagi
snapped out a command. Nagi stood still, refusing to go any further,
and summoned the leash and collar to his hand.
The guards hesitated, each looking at the others and hoping one of them
was willing to urge Nagi to move. One of them finally said something
but broke off when Nagi glared at him.
Nagi waved his hand as he pushed the guards apart telekinetically to
clear a path for Yohji to join him. Yohji walked forward and bowed
slightly to let Nagi replace the collar. He closed his eyes just for a
second. I guess I'm safe with you.
Well, safer anyway.
A pectoral is a type of
large decorative necklace. The decorative portion lies on the wearer's
chest and is frequently quite ornate. Here are a couple of examples
from Earth cultures:
In this case, Aya-chan's pectoral doubles as a form of
identification, indicating her rank and her affiliation with Crawford.
The Taisken have a fairly elaborate system of heraldry involving
symbols, colors and materials.
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