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On to Part 16.

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: 5 September 2005

Thanks to Amy the Evitable, Hope of Dawn, Krysrobin and Olna Jenn 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 15

Nagi set a rapid pace as he headed for Crawford's office. He didn't bother with courtesy toward those who got in his way, shoving them aside telekinetically, and only moderated his speed when Yohji stumbled and the leash went taut between them. He glanced back and used his power to steady Yohji on his feet. He looks pale, tired. Nagi set his jaw as his anger increased. I almost lost Yohji. Where the hell was Crawford? Yohji could have died. I could have lost him. He pushed that thought aside, not quite willing to look at why it mattered. Hell, I could have died. How the hell did Crawford miss something this big? He bit his lip then forced his face into stern indifference, leveling a glare at a passing technician. Or did he miss it? He could have planned it. He could have... But I don't think he did.

In the hour since the attack, Nagi'd had too much time to think, and he hadn't much liked any of his conclusions. At first, he'd focused on essentials-- proper medical care for Yohji, a competent check of the knife for toxins, analysis of the medication the assassin had tried to trick the doctor into giving him-- but mostly, he'd waited.

Crawford hadn't come.

Security had thrown the assassin into a holding cell and begun the search for possible accomplices. Nobody'd reported any results of that back to Nagi, but he knew they'd be talking to Crawford. Nothing happens here that he doesn't know about.

Crawford hadn't called.

The knife had carried a poison, one aimed at certain nanites commonly found in citizens active in the High Lord's service. Any ordinary guard would have been writhing on the floor within minutes as his nanites used his muscles as fuel to attack and devour each other. Fortunately, Yohji doesn't have those. Thank god, I hadn't gotten around to giving him the full nanite suite, just the-- Nagi growled softly, and the walls trembled. No. Don't go there. He's fine.

Crawford hadn't sent a minion to check.

The hypospray had been filled with a nasty concoction, a mix of drugs and nanites. Nagi'd have taken days to die. I'd have felt sick tomorrow, and that would already have been too late.

Crawford hadn't even had Schuldig check on Nagi.

Not that I want to see Schuldig. Not at all. On some level, Nagi recognized his fury as not-- or not entirely-- Crawford's fault. I almost lost Yohji. Crawford did admit he wasn't Seeing as well as he used to. Well, more or less. But Yohji-- I should have stopped her from cutting him. That was my fault. I should have thought that she'd use poison and not-- He clenched his teeth, pressing the molars hard against each other in an effort to deny the direction of his thoughts. But he really was beautiful... He glanced back at Yohji whose face was set in determined lines. Nagi shook his head and admitted to himself that he wouldn't be nearly as angry if he hadn't come so close to losing Yohji. He'll be fine. A day, maybe a little longer, to heal the damage. He looks-- Well, bloodstained sweats are not right for him. Blood on skin or on tight black pants or a flaring coat, or... Yes. His working clothes. Must find those... Blood suits him, especially someone else's.

He didn't even pause to let Crawford's secretary announce him, just blew on past, using his power to open the door in front of him. He stalked in and felt Yohji follow close on his heels. He pulled the door shut, telekinetically, behind Yohji and stopped, glaring at Crawford. Smugly expectant. Saw us coming did you? Bastard.

A flicker of Crawford's eyes directed Nagi's attention to the room's other occupant. I should have noticed there was someone else here-- Nagi froze for half a second, long enough to push his rage aside, bury it deeply enough that it wouldn't affect his behavior. Later. He bowed deeply, formally, and used his telekinesis to urge Yohji to his knees and then to guide him to press his face to the floor. I shouldn't have brought Yohji. No. Where would I have left him? "Highest. Please forgive my rudeness. I didn't realize my guardian had company." He started to push aside his anxiety at finding himself in such dangerous company, burying it with his fury, then hesitated. Yohji doesn't know who this is, what the stakes are. Be afraid, Yohji-kun. This man could kill us and not have to offer anyone a reason. Can you feel that from me? I know he looks ordinary, human even, but he's not.

"We're informal at the moment." The High Lord waved a forgiving hand. "Do sit down. We were just discussing you." He smiled, a gentle, paternal, welcoming expression that made him look older than he usually did.

And I have no idea how old he really is. Five centuries? Six? He looks thirty. No. Distraction. Focus on now. Nagi considered the High Lord's attitude as he bowed again, less deeply. So I'm not in trouble. Yet. Why is that not reassuring? He walked over to an empty chair and sat down. Remember, he's better than Schuldig. If he wants my thoughts, my shields might as well be air. He didn't ease the pressure keeping Yohji in place, just let the leash stretch taut between them. "Thank you, Highest." He looked from the High Lord to Crawford and back again. No hiding it, and no reason to think they haven't heard anyway. "Were you talking about... the incident then?"

Crawford shook his head. "You seemed to have it under control, so we weren't giving it much attention."

"My people did flush out one or two additional... problems." The High Lord sounded bored.

Nagi just managed not to frown. That's a bad sign. He only sounds like that when-- He blinked and cut off the thought, afraid the High Lord might see it and find it insulting. But, his mind whispered insistently, he only looks like that when he's annoyed that someone's 'not living up to his potential,' when he's having to do something he thinks he shouldn't have to. And he's not angry at me...

The High Lord gave Crawford a hard, sharp look. "I'm sending in more of my people. You need some... diversity on your staff. I realize that you trust Schuldig, but... While he's... adequate for many tasks, overseeing your security is not among them." He turned his attention to Nagi. "You can let him up. I'll give him that much favor for your life. Does he speak Taisken?"

What does he want with Yohji? I can't lose him now. I can't. "Japanese only, Highest." Nagi released the downward pressure on Yohji and was pleased to note that he didn't try to move. He gave Yohji a little lift, an upward pressure to indicate that sitting up was safe. "We've been having some difficulties with the language programming equipment. I understand that the technicians are quite puzzled." He kept his thoughts carefully shielded. Not that that will stop him if he wants to know.

Yohji straightened slowly. He kept his head bowed, but Nagi was sure he was studying as much of the room as he could see. He inched closer to Nagi's chair, making no effort to stand. When no one stopped him, he started moving a little faster, stopping only when he was close enough to press his head against Nagi's leg.

Nagi sighed softly and put his hand on Yohji's head. I wonder how all this Feels to him... Probably terrifying. He found the contact somehow reassuring. Something that had been winding tight in his gut eased. Mine. No one can take you from me. I won't allow it, and you don't want it. He lifted his chin a little, certain that the High Lord couldn't have missed that thought. Yohji stiffened slightly, shifting under Nagi's hand.

"He needs training." The High Lord's tone was mild.

Leaving me to guess what type of training he means. Nagi shrugged. "I'm working on it."

Crawford cleared his throat. "I gave Nagi a list of empaths capable of carrying out such training. We have six on staff."

The High Lord regarded Crawford steadily for several seconds. "I guarantee you none of them will be... acceptable. A traumatized projective empath requires a delicate touch." He straightened in his seat, making him seem suddenly taller. "I'll assign someone."

Nagi felt an instant of relief as he realized that he wouldn't need to decide, wouldn't need to weigh skill against the risk of introducing a distraction into Yohji's life. Then he realized that it also meant that he couldn't dismiss the instructor if he or she proved unsuitable.

"Precisely." The High Lord met Nagi's eyes for a few seconds. "You will accommodate the instructor." His tone was not entirely without sympathy. He looked at Crawford again, and all hint of indulgence vanished. "I'm also sending someone to teach your brother-in-law to shield. His sister's worried about him." His expression hardened further, and he leaned forward. "This little game you're playing with him ends now." He paused slightly between each word, adding emphasis as if he were questioning Crawford's ability to comprehend his meaning. "It offends me. It's a waste of your time and an insult to your wife. If you find yourself unable to give it up, I will take both of them into my household."

Crawford showed no reaction, but Nagi felt Yohji flinch. You don't like that, do you, Crawford? Of course, I'm not sure I do, either. He looked down at the floor, as if that would hide his thoughts from the High Lord. He's disciplining you in front of me. Undermining you... He hasn't done that before. He found himself half wishing that the High Lord actually would take both the Fujimiyas away. They're annoying. If they were gone, maybe Crawford would talk about something else. He looked away, slightly ashamed. And, a voice whispered at the back of his mind, I wouldn't have to worry about Yohji... doing anything for... or with Fujimiya.

Crawford bowed slightly without rising. "As you say, Highest."

:Make sure he does it.:

Nagi tightened his fingers in Yohji's hair. :Of course, Highest.: Though it seems unlikely he'll listen to me if he's not going to do it anyway.

The High Lord's answering thought felt like nothing so much as a shrug. "Have your slave stand up, Naoe-kun," he said in Japanese. "I'm curious to see what's captivated you."

Nagi gave Yohji a reassuring pat on the back. "Go ahead, Yohji-kun," he murmured. And don't be surprised to find him in your head. He focused his mind to send a thought to the High Lord. :Please be... careful with him. He really is traumatized, and he's not used to telepaths.: And I really don't want Crawford to know I care that much...

Yohji rose to his feet in a single, lithe movement. He kept his hands at his sides, and he didn't quite look at the High Lord. Then he raised his chin and met the High Lord's eyes.

Oh, for god's sake-- Don't piss him off, Yohji-kun.

The High Lord smiled a little.

And you heard that, too, didn't you? Do you think we're funny? Nagi suppressed a sigh and turned his attention to Crawford. Oh, he's angry. There's more here that he didn't See coming. But he's also... There's more to it.

Crawford met Nagi's eyes and smiled, a thin curve of his lips that didn't reach his eyes. Then he looked at Yohji. His smile widened and became more genuine.

What are you planning, Crawford? What are you Seeing?

Nagi relaxed just a little when the apartment door finally closed behind them. The High Lord had excused them not long after he had finished talking to Yohji. He'd murmured something in Japanese about needing to talk to Hidaka again and had watched with amusement as Yohji had tried to hide interest and Nagi had tried to hide jealousy. He'd watched with amusement and with something else that Nagi hadn't managed to identify. At least, he said he'd let us rest tonight.

Automatically, Nagi extended his senses to feel the space. Just to be sure... No intruders, and everything's where it should be. Not that assassins in here were likely. I've got better security than that. After all, it has to keep out Schuldig. He relaxed fully, turned to Yohji and smiled. "You did extremely well out there, Yohji-kun."

Yohji ducked his head and offered a faint, hopeful smile.

He keeps doing that... Nagi handed the leash to Yohji. "You can take that off now. There's no one to see." I can't decide-- Is it endearing or...? It's definitely submission. He stepped in close and caressed Yohji's cheek. Much better. He made a little growling noise, deep in his throat. Definitely much better. He pulled Yohji's head down for a kiss. Oh, yes... I want this. Now.

Yohji's arms fell to his sides, and his lips parted. He exhaled minutely just as their lips met.

There's no life there. Nagi pushed his tongue into Yohji's mouth, flicking at teeth and lips, trying stubbornly to elicit a response. After a few seconds, he stepped back and looked Yohji over. He's not meeting my eyes. But... That's what I wanted, wasn't it?

Yohji remained still for a moment then reached up to undo the collar. Then he removed the wrist cuffs. His eyes moved to Nagi's face then rapidly away several times. He licked his lips. "What now, Nagi-san?"

What indeed? I want you-- He knew the other man would feel that lust. And I've waited for hours. Absolutely hours. "Well..." He stepped in close again and ran his hand over Yohji's shirt, tugging on the cloth. "I'd like to--" He inhaled. No! He stepped back quickly as the odor of stale masculine sweat triggered memories. I'm safe. I'm fucking safe. I'm the one with power here. No one can hurt me. Not at all.

Yohji flinched and took a step backward before freezing. He stood awkwardly, as if caught between the urge to cringe defensively and the fear that moving would attract negative attention.

Nagi set his jaw and glared at Yohji for a second, wanting desperately take out his anger over his sudden vulnerability on the other man. He clenched his fists and took a deep breath. No. Not this time.

Yohji bowed his head and pulled his limbs in close. He managed somehow to look both contrite and determined to endure.

Nagi deliberately softened his posture. "It's all right, Yohji-kun. Nothing you did. I just... don't care for..." He frowned. It's a weakness. I can't... He shrugged. He knows. He's not stupid, and I told him. "Certain odors bring back memories I'd rather..." He wrinkled his nose and waved a dismissive hand.

"I'm sorry, Nagi-san. I can wash. I can do that fast." Yohji backed up another step, covering it by moving to place the leash on a shelf. "Just give me five minutes. Please."

Nagi used his power to keep Yohji from moving any further away, wrapping a telekinetic tendril around Yohji's wrist. I don't care. Not at all. He growled and opened his mouth to order Yohji to stay. Then he shook his head. Yes, I do mind. I don't want to smell that while we're-- And I want to fuck him, not hurt him. I want. Now.

Yohji tugged once, testing the limits of his invisible leash. Then he went still again. He kept his eyes on Nagi's face.

Nagi took a deep breath. Delayed gratification. I can do that. "We'll both wash. Then we can have a nice soak before dinner. That'll give the cooks time to make us something nice. After that..." He allowed himself a smile, hinting at anticipated pleasure.

"A bath?" Yohji looked hopeful, and he seemed to relax a little.

He'd have let me beat him. Anything. That's... creepy, and kind of... hot. I don't think he even thought about picking up the leash to use as a weapon. Not that it would do him any good. Is there anything he wouldn't let me do? Nagi's stomach twisted as lust and revulsion battled inside him. I don't think there is... He nodded, answering Yohji's question. He held out a hand and waited until Yohji responded by coming closer. He rubbed Yohji's shoulder reassuringly. "Go in the kitchen and get yourself a snack while I shower. I won't be long, and then it'll be your turn." He smiled encouragingly. "I'm not a monster, Yohji-kun. You haven't done anything wrong."

Yohji nodded. As soon as Nagi stepped away, he headed for the kitchen.

Nagi watched him go. He'd let me punish him for sweating. He'd let me... Anything I want. Is he that broken or is he still protecting them? Isn't this what I wanted, one way or the other? He shrugged the thoughts away. Gratification. Delayed gratification. Right. Shower. Now. It'll be good to be clean.

Yohji opened a cupboard and stared at the contents. Food. I don't want food. His throat felt too tight to allow swallowing. He stepped forward, leaning his head against the edge of one of the shelves. The not quite wooden, not quite plastic corner dug into his flesh, feeling somehow more real than the events of the last few minutes. He nearly-- No. He didn't. He freaked a little, but he didn't touch me. He could have taken it out on me, and he didn't.

That doesn't mean he won't. What did he call it, back when he first talked about his past? Right. 'Therapeutic application of violence' or something like that. He took a deep breath. I can survive that. Even if he does... Even if I set him off again, I can survive it. No. Stop. It's him not me. He's responsible. But... I can play him. As long as I don't make a mistake, I can keep him from-- No. Don't do that to yourself, Kudoh. Just... don't. Not wanting to think further, he grabbed a bag of chips and ripped it open. After a moment of hesitation, he also took an orange. Food. I'm being good. He sat at the counter and ate mechanically. Not going to push him over something stupid.

As he relaxed physically, his cuts and bruises began clamoring for his attention. A bath will feel good. Really good. Except-- Fuck. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the counter and burying his fingers in his hair. I'm going to see him naked. He's been so careful about that. He's fucked me, and I've blown him, but I still haven't seen much of his body. Hell, just his cock, really. He inhaled slowly, keeping himself from shaking by force of will. "I don't have time for this," he muttered, clenching his hand around the edge of the counter. I can't let myself fall apart yet. I can still play this. I can. I know I can.

He sat up straight. Crawford didn't expect the assassin. He didn't See her. Nagi was upset about that. But not at me. Not at me. And the High Lord scares the hell out of both of them. Not that they expect him to do anything. They just know he could. And Nagi was afraid he'd be... interested in me. And he was, kind of. Just not... He shook his head. He values Nagi, and I keep Nagi happy. There's more to it than that, though. He closed his eyes and let himself remember, replaying the conversation now that he had leisure to analyze it.

Yohji stood and waited. Taking a cue from Nagi's anxiety, he kept his head bowed. No challenge from me. None.

:Very wise.: The voice in his head came through strongly with a weight of potential behind it that dwarfed what he'd felt from Schuldig. :You're standing next to power. How does it feel?:

Startled and in the grip of an almost primal need to remind himself that the other man wasn't Schuldig, Yohji raised his eyes and looked the other man in the face. Fuck. I wasn't going to do that. Making the best of it, he set his jaw and really looked for a moment. He looks... human? How the hell can he be human? No. Worry about it later. Blond hair, short. Well with that texture it wouldn't work long. And I've never seen blonde hair with skin that dark. Blue eyes. He's not as tall as I thought, is he? Wearing white and blue and... Forget about the clothes! He looks young, but somehow... I don't think he is. Not Schuldig. Definitely not. He bowed his head again, trying to look like he'd seen enough, like he wasn't doing it out of fear.

:Please. He's not even in my league. He never learned control, and he doesn't want it now.:

Yohji blinked once. He sounds awfully informal. At least he's not pissed that I looked up. He stared at the man's shoes and tried to make his mind blank, but he couldn't stop wondering who this man was who dressed so strangely and intimidated both Nagi and Crawford. I hate not knowing the language... :Am I supposed to answer?: He tried to keep the thought soft, tentative.

:I'm their master. And only if you want. I'll pick up what you want to say, anyway.: The mental voice sounded amused. :I'm informal because I can be. And they're afraid because they think I'll take their toys away.: He gave a mental laugh that left Yohji feeling chilled.

He likes that they're afraid. He likes that I'm afraid. I bet he pushes just to remind them that he can--

:Fortunately for you, I'm not interested in pushing Naoe-kun. I'm happy with his progress in most areas. And I really don't give a damn if you're afraid or not. That's really irrelevant.:

:Who are you?: Yohji fought to keep his mental voice respectful, but he suspected that his fear tainted his words.

:I'm the High Lord.: Yohji felt certain that the other man was smiling. :Not what you expected?: He snorted audibly.

Yohji looked up, only just stopping himself from looking directly at the High Lord's face again. He's amused. That's a good thing, right?

:Yes, it is. For you, anyway.: The High Lord flicked a dismissive finger, as if ridding himself of an annoying speck of dust. :No matter. As I already said, your opinion's of little interest to me. Unless Naoe-kun cares.:

This time, even though he wasn't-- quite-- looking at the other man's face, Yohji could see the smile. He almost looks friendly.

:Brace yourself. If you fall over, Naoe-kun will be distressed.:

Yohji only had a moment to wonder what he was supposed to be bracing himself for. Then the High Lord's mind gripped his, and he had no more control. His mind split open under the High Lord's touch, and the High Lord's mental fingers plucked out pieces of his memory.

Every interaction Yohji'd ever had with Nagi, all the way back to their first encounters before the fall of Estet replayed. The High Lord showed particular interest in the scenes with Tot, replaying them several times, drawing out Yohji's guesses and his emotional reactions. :You felt sorry for them...: The pressure eased a little, and the High Lord's voice seemed almost sympathetic. :She's still alive, you know,: he whispered from the depths of Yohji's mind. :He pays for her care and comfort, but he never, ever visits.:

On some level, Yohji was surprised. But he loved her! On another level, a more cynical part of himself pointed out that Nagi had been fifteen or sixteen at the time. Not old enough for it to last. Too young.

The High Lord moved on to looking at Yohji's more recent memories of Nagi, going over each in careful detail as if looking for something. Yohji flinched away, trying to avoid revisiting those events, but the High Lord's mind gripped his too tightly.

:Do you want to forget? I can do that for you.: The High Lord's tone implied that it would be easy. :Of course, Naoe-kun wouldn't be pleased.:

Yes! :No.: Yohji focused his full attention on the word. :I don't want to have to start over.: It's not like I wouldn't end up... He shook his head minutely. It would be worse because he'd be angry. Or would he not blame me? He might protect me... No. Just... no.

The High Lord laughed softly and broadened his study to the rest of Schwarz. Yohji sensed a deep disapproval of Crawford's actions and an almost revulsion at the thought of Schuldig. But they work for him... I don't understand. Don't they do what he wants them to?

The pressure from the High Lord's mind eased again. :Schuldig requires control.: He left Yohji to decide whether he expected that control to come from within or from without. :And Crawford forgets that the rules apply to him, too, even when no one seems to be watching. Now then--: He focused again, this time homing in on memories of Weiss and then, more broadly, of Kritiker.

Yohji struggled to protect what he knew of his teammates. He threw forward anything he thought wouldn't matter, anything Schwarz and Kritiker already knew, anything to keep the High Lord from digging deeper. Ken coaching. Omi studying. Ran in the flower shop. All three of them on missions. Lots of missions. He thought he had some success, probably more because of how many memories he had than because of his efforts at a mental shell game. The High Lord showed particular interest in Ken, seeming to find him amusing. Memories of Ran elicited an odd feeling of irritation that bothered Yohji until he realized that it wasn't his. The High Lord gave Yohji's memories of Omi only cursory attention.

When it ended, finally, Yohji was swaying on his feet, staying upright more by inertia than through any strength of will or body. I will not be sick.

:It would be the perfect opportunity for a little revenge against Crawford.: The High Lord sounded amused again. :You're a little out of range to actually hit him, but he does value some of what's in here.:

And if I throw up, I'll get sympathy from Nagi. Maybe. I need that. Yohji let himself fall to his knees and retch. He felt an arm that wasn't quite an arm circle his shoulders, offering support, and a plastic wastebasket appeared in front of him, catching what he vomited up. He had a brief pang of regret that he hadn't managed to damage, however temporarily, Crawford's carpet. But Nagi's helping me. He's worried. I can feel it.

:Yes, he is. How interesting. Are you more than a toy?:

Yohji took a few seconds and managed to calm his body. He straightened his back, leaning against Nagi's telekinetic support just enough to be sure it was still there. :I like to think so.: He put as much strength into the thought as he could.

:Very interesting. So does he. You're playing a desperate game. Can you really get that close to the fire and not get burned? Most can't, though many try.:

:Is there any other game for me to play?:

:I'm curious to see the results.: The High Lord laughed out loud. Nagi's telekinetic arm around Yohji's shoulder tightened. :Now, I understand what some of the fuss over you is about... Do you aspire to be the power behind the throne? A pampered favorite? No? Perhaps you should consider it. Ambition makes the game more interesting.

:And in the interests of fairness... If he tires of you and puts you aside, I'll make sure you have a place. You needn't fear the scavengers.:

No, just you... :Why?:

The High Lord didn't answer.

Rather than pressing the issue, Yohji moved closer to Nagi. No point pissing him off, and Nagi's jealous, very jealous. That's dangerous. Nagi's arm settled across Yohji's shoulders, pulling him against Nagi's leg. He's scared, too. The High Lord could take me away, couldn't he? He sighed and leaned against Nagi's leg as the conversation started again in that language he didn't understand. He glanced over at Crawford, more to avoid looking at the High Lord than out of any interest in Crawford, and found the other man studying him. He... He resents me. He looks pleasant enough, but... I'm a threat? Did you misjudge Nagi, Crawford? He met Crawford's eyes for just long enough to reassure himself that he wasn't intimidated. Then he closed his eyes. I'm tired. And there's still a lot of the day left...

He looked at me like I was a puzzle or maybe the answer to one. Well, not a solution, more like... an example, a demonstration. A test.

The bag of chips was empty, so he started peeling the orange. I just need a little time. A few days when nothing goes wrong... If I can get my balance, I'll be okay. And he really was pleased with me today. I have to think about that. I never... It's what he sees in me, apart from availability. When I fight, he thinks I'm beautiful, desirable, sexy. It must carry over to watching me work out, and it's got to be new. He wasn't interested when he first-- When he first fucked me. 'A body's a body,' he said. And he'd seen me fight before. This is the first time I've fought anybody-- Well, apart from Schuldig, but he didn't see that. Unless he watched the tapes. There had to be tapes. But he protected me from Schuldig, so he was already... attached.

He stared at the half peeled orange without really seeing it. I can't think about this now. It... hurts too much. And I've got too much to deal with. Like what he's expecting in there. He's very... As long as I can avoid the landmines, he doesn't want anything exotic. He wants to get off, and he wants to think I'm... not unhappy... about it. I just have to avoid upsetting him. He's... unpredictable then. Dangerous. He set his jaw and nodded firmly before focusing his attention on the orange again.

A few minutes later, he heard the door to the bathroom open, and Nagi said, "I'm done showering, Yohji-kun."

He gathered up the debris and shoved it into the disposal. As he entered the bathroom, he kept his eyes on the floor. I can't deal with looking now. Not yet. He pulled his shirt off. Years of practice at dealing with injuries let him do it without flinching. Quick is better. Wait-- "Nagi-san--" He didn't look up. "Is it safe for me to get these wet?" He gestured at one of the healing gashes. Will it cause you... inconvenience if I do? What did they close these up with, anyway? It's not stitches.

He heard water splash as Nagi moved in the tub. "You should be fine. I asked."

Yohji nodded. "Thank you." He stepped out of his pants and into the shower. He washed quickly. How do I smell? He shook his head and soaped his body again. I can't tell. God, what if-- No. He's reasonable when he's not surprised, when I don't challenge him. He let the water run over his face. Wash away all of this. I need to be... happy when I go out there. Nagi takes care of me. Nagi protects me. I want to be with him.

He squeezed the water out of his hair before he emerged from the shower stall. Feeling Nagi's attention focus on him, he turned and faced the tub. He stood straight and tried not to let his nervousness show.

"Come into the tub, Yohji-kun," Nagi said after a few seconds. "I'm sure you could use a soak."

He's nervous, too. Of course... Yohji let himself study Nagi's body. I almost expected worse. The bastard obviously played with a knife-- No. I bet it was a razor. And those are burns. I can see why he wouldn't want people to see them. "Those must have been hell to explain at the public baths." He slipped into the water.

Nagi stiffened.

Yohji smiled at him, making the expression as gentle as he could. "Nothing I could say would be right, Nagi-san." He gave a minute shrug. "You told me he's already dead, so I can't offer to kill him for you." And I bet Schuldig did a major number on the bastard, too.

Nagi sighed and reached over to stroke Yohji's hair. "He's very dead." His fingers traced the line of Yohji's jaw. "And you don't like that style of kill."

"I--" Yohji shook his head. "Strangling people isn't always quick, but I just kill." He raised a hand and let his fingers brush Nagi's. You were a child. It's not your fault. I don't believe this... I'm feeling sorry for him. Well, he is feeling vulnerable.

"You don't mind?" Nagi stretched and turned to face Yohji more fully, incidentally giving Yohji another chance to view some of the worst scars.

Showing off? No. Testing my response. Yohji blinked, letting his astonishment show. "Why would I?" And why would it matter? Ah, hell. I keep forgetting how young he is. He shrugged. "I'm used to scars. They don't..." He shrugged a second time then shook his head. Don't show pity. Remember, he doesn't like that. I'm not allowed to feel sorry for him. But I do. Or... I would. If... "They're badges of experience." He nodded firmly. He touched his own abdomen and the marks left by bullets. Or will he resent that, too? I kind of went out looking for those... He hesitated for just a moment then scooted closer and leaned against Nagi's shoulder. He kept his hands lowered and the top of his head low. Carefully. Don't set him off. He sighed and forced himself to relax. See? I don't mind. I wonder... Is there any way to show him how I feel about that? The way I can feel what he feels? He focused his attention on his emotions. Can I? I made people feel what I felt yesterday, didn't I? But wouldn't that be a bad idea? There's... I don't know if I can lie that way, if I can omit anything. Better not to risk it.

Yohji sighed again and let his eyes close. He's warm, solid, real, between me and everything else. He wants me. He... In his own weird way, he loves me. And I... How do I feel? I could love-- No. Not yet. He squeezed his eyelids shut, trying to be more firm and forceful about blocking out all of the negatives. He slid lower in the tub, trying to find a position that was easy on his back and still kept his head below Nagi's.

Nagi relaxed minutely as his hand crept up to cup the back of Yohji's head.

Oh, thank god... I guessed right. Yohji let himself relax. The heat of the water worked on his muscles, easing the bruises. "Do they try to kill you a lot?" he asked after a few minutes. Oh, brilliant, Kudoh. Way to make him relax.

But Nagi laughed softly and brushed his fingertips across Yohji neck, just below his ear. "From time to time." His voice held dry amusement. "I've been warned that it will get worse as I get older, at least until most of them decide I'm too hard to kill."

"Warned? By Crawford or by... someone else?" If he's willing to talk... I really do need to know. Especially if that someone else is the High Lord. Nagi seems to matter to him.

"Both actually." Nagi shifted so that his chin rested on the top of Yohji's head. "There're two problems, you see... We, Crawford and I-- but really more me-- We challenge the established hierarchy of the High Lord's court. We're not affiliated with established factions, and we're too powerful to be ignored. Whoever attaches us as allies, suddenly becomes a lot stronger. Worse, we might become a faction ourselves, which is, I think, what Crawford wants. Right now, we're in a backwater and not... causing problems, but..." He shrugged. "I think today's... trouble came from the court."

Yohji nodded slightly. Let him talk. No questions yet. He won't like questions, and he's comfortable enough to boast a little.

"The other threat's not a big one yet. It won't be until I'm older. Up till then, other High Lords will probably just try to recruit me. Everybody wants powerful telekinetics, but nobody wants anybody else to have one."

Other High Lords? There's more than one? "I-- How do you live with that?"

Nagi shrugged again. "It's not very important. Just how it is." Yohji could feel him smiling, amused. "Don't worry, Yohji-kun. I have no intention of dying."

Right. Yohji felt ice in his belly. People never do. That doesn't keep them alive. Can I risk a new topic? I need a new topic. Does he even know what will happen to me if he dies? "That man-- the one in Crawford's office-- who is he?" Not that I'd have any doubts, even if he hadn't told me, but it's a way to change the subject, and...

Nagi's hand stilled just for a second then resumed rubbing Yohji's back. "He's the High Lord Caio-- If it ever comes up, address him as 'Highest.' He's our..." His hand stilled again. "Well, Crawford's, actually-- The High Lord thinks I'm still too young for oaths."

Yohji tasted bitter impatience, uncertainty, determination and a firmly repressed fear. Does he even know how confused he is?

"Yes." Nagi gave a slight but firm nod, and Yohji had a moment's confusion before he realized that Nagi wasn't answering his silent question. "He's Crawford's liege lord. Not that I won't swear to him. Eventually. I will, and I'll mean it. It's just... Crawford."

Which makes no sense, except... "Has he-- Crawford, I mean-- been giving you a hard time?" Him, I wouldn't mind killing for you. But you probably do need him. Probably. But your emotions are all tangled up about him. You resent him. You respect him. You-- Right. He's dad, and you're growing up.

Nagi's hand clenched in Yohji's hair. "He lies, and he plays games, and he thinks he knows everything. I don't like being used." The last sentence came out as an angry whisper.

I'll remember that. Yohji kept his tone carefully neutral. "Doesn't he do that to everybody?" Could I-- should I-- encourage a rift? If he questions Crawford, that's not a bad thing, right? And it's going to happen anyway. It's natural. It's a narrow window, but... Is it too much to hope he might listen to me instead?

Nagi hesitated noticeably. "I don't think he does it to his wife..."

And you don't like that, do you? Daddy likes his new wife better than he likes you, little boy. No wonder you're mad at him. No. Dangerous thought. Don't go there. At least... Don't let him know you're thinking it. "I bet he will if he thinks he has to."

Nagi shrugged, obviously not wanting to discuss Crawford further. He stroked Yohji's hair, laying his whole hand flat along Yohji's head, without saying anything more.

Later, then. I'm not too stupid to take a hint. But we will come back to that. Yes. Yohji shifted position, trying to ease the stress on his back without moving his head. Anything that gets you that agitated is important.

After a few minutes, Nagi said, "Next time you see the High Lord-- This is important, Yohji-kun. When he walks into a room, you get down on your knees and press your face to the floor." Nagi's focused urgency added emphasis to his words. "He's probably the one person I can't protect you from, not completely."

And you don't like that at all. Yohji felt Nagi's frustration. Carefully repressed frustration. Is it dangerous to be angry at him? Believe me, I know how it feels. He took a deep breath. But he really is worried for me. "Yes, Nagi-san." He hesitated. "Am I likely to see him much?" I hope not... He upsets you, and that's dangerous for me. And he... I'd rather not be subject to his whims, too.

"For now, no. I don't go to Court often, and he rarely comes here. This place... We're not important enough."

That's not exactly true, is it? You're simplifying. After all, he came here. And he questioned me. That says you matter. That's okay. I have time. Yohji wasn't sure if Nagi was pleased by the situation or not. Probably because he's not sure. "And when you do go to Court...?" Please say I don't have to go, too.

Nagi tapped a finger on Yohji's shoulder. "You go where I go. It will enhance your status."

That pleases you. My status or my presence? Either way... It's a hook.

"And you proved today that you're an excellent bodyguard." Nagi laughed softly. "I'm sure that surprised some people."

"I can't do much for you with my face stuck to the floor." The words came out more sharply than Yohji'd intended. Oh, smooth. And just when he was feeling so pleased about everything.

But Nagi laughed again. "More reason to label you a bodyguard, I suppose. Not that anybody's going to come after me when he's in the room." He suddenly became serious again. "Be very, very careful around the High Lord. He can be... unpleasant when he's in a bad mood and especially... If he's ever angry at me, you have to be invisible." Nagi tightened his grip on Yohji. "I don't know if your empathy will help you. He might shield, so you can't depend on it."

"He didn't. In Crawford's office, I mean." Let's not think about the High Lord being angry. You being angry is bad enough.

"Really?" Nagi sat up straight. "What was he-- What did he feel like?"

Nagi's almost physically tangible eagerness to have the information caught Yohji off guard. And it shouldn't, damn it! I'm smarter than that. "I-- Without knowing what you were talking about, it's hard--" He pulled away from Nagi, suddenly wanting desperately to see him. The displaced water sloshed against the side of the bath. Wait. No. Bad idea. Rejection's bad. He forced an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Nagi-san. It's hard to think when I'm that close to you." And please take that the way I want you to rather than the way it's really true. He just stopped himself from ducking his head in submission. Not this time. I need to... I need a little self. And I've actually got something-- besides my... surrender-- to sell now.

Nagi regarded him levelly, evaluating, but didn't seem displeased.

Yohji licked his lips. "When we first arrived, you... you were angry. That was all I knew. I think... I think they were expecting us, and the High Lord was a little impatient. He thinks Crawford's amusing, but.... kind of... irritating, maybe? He likes rattling Crawford, and he knows how to do it.

"I don't think he's sure about you yet. Who you are, I mean." Yohji did duck his head this time. "He told me-- in my head, I mean-- that I-- How did he put it?" Not that I'm in any danger of forgetting it. "'You're standing next to power.'" 'Can you really get that close to the fire and not get burned?' And he thought it was funny. Bastard. "He felt like-- Have you ever watched a teacher with a promising student? He expects from you, but he's not sure..." He doesn't know what he'll get, what you'll do, and if he doesn't like it... Bad, bad shit'll be coming down on us.

Nagi nodded, not seeming particularly surprised. "Don't worry, Yohji-kun. I don't plan to disappoint him." He leaned back and relaxed visibly. "For now, let's just enjoy the bath."

Yohji couldn't quite keep his surprise from showing on his face. Just a bath, that's all? You've been wanting at me all day. I think your cock twitched every time we touched.

Nagi smiled with a predatory edge. "Bath then dinner then... other things. There's a proper order to the day," he announced, his teasing tone softening the words. He reached out and ran a finger along Yohji's jaw. "I think we've both had enough surprises for a while, don't you?"

Yohji nodded. Oh, yes. I just wish I thought I really wasn't going to get any more for a while...

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Back to Part 14.
On to Part 16.