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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
Website: http://www.therck.org
Last updated: 10 Jan. 2003

Thanks to Amy the Evitable, Nakki no miko and Briar Rose for beta reading this chapter.

Rheotaxis

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 2

Nagi growled a little as the headache he'd been fighting off overwhelmed the last of his defenses and set up housekeeping behind his eyes. At least it held off this long... He didn't bother to make any effort to avoid colliding with other people in the corridor outside Kudoh Yohji's cell. Shouldn't be many of them, and they can damn well get out of my way for a change.

He saw Crawford's expression change as he walked into the observation room. Crawford's face started with an expression of satisfaction that gave way to just the slightest flicker of alarm at the sight of Nagi's face before settling into a neutral mask. 

Law three of Schwarz: Don't piss off the telekinetic when he has a headache. Even Crawford gets that one. If his head hadn't been throbbing, Nagi might have smiled. "Well?" he demanded. "Did you enjoy the show?"

"I think your prediction is about to come true." Crawford nodded toward one of the screens.

Right. The question doesn't suit you, so you ignore it. Nagi glanced over but didn't bother to watch. I don't think I need to watch him hurl. "Poor bastard." No. Whatever Crawford's reasons, I can't afford sympathy. Nagi gave the screen his full attention for a moment. Nothing new there.

Crawford shrugged. "He's healthy enough. One more day without food won't hurt him."

Or at least not much in the grand scheme... "Do you need me for anything else?"

"No." Crawford waved a dismissive hand. "Go. Eat something. Sleep a while. We'll debrief when you wake up."

Debrief. Right. Nagi watched Kudoh Yohji start crawling back toward his bed. He was half amazed and half appalled by the change in the man's demeanor. That's my work. I wonder what's going on in his head now... He frowned.

Nagi realized suddenly that Crawford was looking at him with concern. "Sorry," Nagi said. "I overextended a little." He forced a smile. Using my mind to sense movement and position is supposed to get easier. Eventually...

"I noticed." Crawford's response was dry. "Do you need help getting back to your room?"

Nagi started to say no then shrugged. "I should be able to make it." Leave the ball in Crawford's court. Nagi smiled internally as Crawford assigned a minion to escort "poor Nagi" to bed. The look on that man's face-- Just help the crocodile with his toothbrush... Oh, no, you won't get bitten.

He let the smile escape. I like having a reputation.

Later, as he waited for the medication to take effect, he thought about what he'd done, about Kudoh. He's got guts. I'll give him that. And he knows when he's ceding power; that's smarter than I expected him to be. Whatever the hell Crawford really wants me to do won't be easy. Kudoh won't give up. The way he got to his knees after I threw him was enough to tell me that. I wonder how strong he actually is...

I'm a little surprised, though. I thought I'd feel guilty about it.


I wish I could turn those damn things off. Fujimiya Ran snorted in disgust at his own weakness and set his book down again. His gaze drifted toward the row of screens that showed him his teammates' rooms. Nothing new was happening. Hidaka was still reading. Tsukiyono was still unconscious. Kudoh hadn't moved in what seemed like hours.

The problem was that he could turn the monitors off, could look away from what was happening. He just couldn't turn the damn things back on again. Crawford had offered him a choice, a choice between two things he didn't want, as so many of Crawford's "kindnesses" were.

"Either they're always on or they're only on when I choose. Your decision." Crawford's tight smile had told Ran that the other man knew he was being cruel. "Your sister says that you want to see them. Well, now you can."

A lesson of sorts, Ran supposed. If Aya-chan insists, Crawford will give me what I want, but it'll come at a price. Ran hadn't needed a repeat demonstration. He'd save complaints to Aya-chan for the important battles, the ones where cost didn't matter.

Ran rose and stretched. His eyes moved around the room, searching for distraction and finding guilt instead. Would the others have more if I had less? It was an unanswerable question, but he kept demanding an answer from himself. He had furniture, a carpet even. Books. A closet, a real closet, full of clothes. A bathroom with a door. He could even leave this room for a practice room. His katana wasn't there, but a reasonable bokuto awaited him.

And he had these things because his sister traded her body for them.

Crawford's obvious affection for Aya-chan (and his equally obvious surprise at that affection) complicated Ran's reaction. He couldn't tell what his sister thought of Crawford. Certainly, she showed Crawford respect, a façade of affection, but... It can't be real. It can't be.

He absently massaged his left shoulder, trying to get the stiffness out. He scowled as he tried once again to find a hole in the promises she'd extracted from him. Nothing new occurred to him. I can't kill him. I can't kill myself. I still can't get him to kill me...

He stiffened at the quiet sound of the door to his suite opening. It's not time for another meal yet, so... He turned.

"Thinking of me again, onii-san?" Seeing Crawford was no surprise. Schuldig had left too recently to be likely to return, and Naoe wasn't suicidal. "I think you save that scowl just for me."

Ran narrowed his eyes, refusing to rise to the bait by protesting the form of address. "Crawford."

"I dropped by to invite you to dinner. Aya-chan wants to see you, and I thought a nice family dinner might be just what we need."

Ran curled his upper lip in a silent snarl. The chains of his promises seemed flimsy at the moment. "I'm to make polite conversation with you after that--" His eyes moved to the screen showing Kudoh's cell.

Crawford strolled over to the monitors. He ran a hand over one of them, brushing off nonexistent dust with his fingertips. "I was a little surprised when Schuldig told me you hadn't turned them off, that you stood there with your back turned and listened."

Ran's confidence shriveled a little, and he turned his head away. He felt shamed and dirtied by the whole experience. And that's nothing to what Kudoh must feel. I just listened. Even if Schuldig did give me a play by play. Kudoh... lived it.

"I thought it went well," Crawford continued. Ran knew that if he looked he'd see the other man scanning his face, his body, looking for cracks in his armor. Ran was determined to offer none. "Very well, in fact. I'd expected Balinese to offer more of a challenge. Who'd have thought Nagi'd crack him so fast?"

Ran folded his arms across his chest and stared at the American. I am impervious.

"You know your team better than I, Abyssinian. What do you think? Would it be better for Nagi to move on to Bombay? Balinese isn't used up, but eventually he won't be repairable."

Bastard! Ran didn't move. No flicker of emotion crossed his face.

"In fact, since we're talking about your team, I think you should make the call. Just let me know when you think it's time."

Ran felt Crawford's words almost as a physical blow, as if he'd been eviscerated but was still somehow able to stand. "How very courteous." Ran inclined his head to one side. He's not going to get to me! "But I was under the impression that you still hadn't managed to rouse Bombay."

Crawford shrugged minutely. "Schuldig thinks he can manage it. The process won't be good for Bombay's mental stability, but--" Crawford made a casting away gesture with one hand.

"Why not bring him here?" Ran hadn't quite dared make the suggestion before, but he figured he had nothing to lose. "I can look after him. Or put him with Hidaka..." Just not with Kudoh. Not with Kudoh.

Crawford smiled. "A kind thought. I will consider it." He skirted the table and moved to the chair Ran had occupied a few minutes earlier. He picked up Ran's book. "Basho? Aya's recommended him to me. What do you think?"

Ran ground his teeth.

Crawford turned a few pages. "Yes, I agree. Not really my style at all." He set the book down again. "There is one other thing, onii-san," he said, for all the world as if he'd just thought of it, but Ran could see a glint in Crawford's eyes that told him that this was the real reason for the man's visit. "I had a thought-- Someone needs to check up on Balinese."

Crawford's eyes narrowed a bit in amusement as Ran stiffened further. "Nothing much. Salve for the bruises, a check for broken ribs, clean up the vomit. I was going to have Schuldig do it, but you might be less... alarming. I expect there's still time to catch Schuldig before he starts." Crawford paused, letting the silence lengthen. "Assuming you're willing of course. I wouldn't want you doing anything... distasteful."

Ran hesitated, trying to find the catch. Crawford wouldn't make the offer without expecting to get something out of it, but... Ran nodded. "All right."

Crawford rose. "I'll go head Schuldig off. Someone will be here in about twenty minutes to escort you. Oh and a favor?"

Ran raised an eyebrow.

"Give him a shave. I don't think we want Nagi doing that." Crawford departed without giving Ran a chance to respond.


Ran gave a disgusted growl as he surveyed Kudoh's cell. He was angry at the situation more than the place, but the room was the closest he could get to an embodiment of the situation. The back of his neck prickled, and he couldn't escape the feeling that he'd walked into a trap.

"Damn," he said under his breath and stepped forward. The door slid closed behind him. He crossed the room swiftly, heading for where Kudoh lay curled on his side. Ran took a slight detour from the direct path in order to avoid Kudoh's vomit. He half considered dealing with the janitorial aspects of his visit first but discarded the notion, realizing that that smelly chore represented a measurable point of completion. Until he dealt with it, no one could expect him to leave.

Kudoh didn't move at all. Is he even alive? Crawford wouldn't-- Yes, he would, and Kudoh should have roused when I came in. Ran moved purposefully toward the pallet. Once there, he knelt and set down the first aid kit. "Kudoh?" he said softly reaching out a hand but not quite touching the other man. This close, Ran could see slight movement in the blanket indicating that Kudoh was still breathing. Ran could even hear the slight rasp of that breath. Ran closed his eyes for a second. Thank god.

He touched Kudoh's shoulder, but the other man still didn't move. Shit! Ran fought panic and threw the blanket back. That done, he hesitated. I didn't realize it was this bad... He hadn't seen the beating, had assumed, had wanted to believe, that Schuldig exaggerated, and when he'd finally looked at the screen the bruises hadn't started to purple yet. He touched Kudoh's arm, finding a spot that wasn't visibly damaged. "Kudoh?"

Ran rolled Kudoh onto his back. Kudoh showed no signs of rousing. Ran checked Kudoh's pulse at his throat before lifting an eyelid. "You utter bastard!" he whispered, turning to glare at the nearest camera. Hard to offer comfort to a man drugged into unconsciousness. At least he won't feel it when I move him around. Ran suppressed a sense of relief and began work. At least, I won't have to figure out what to say... Or look him in the eye.

Knowing his teammate couldn't feel what he was doing and reluctant to risk inflicting further damage, Ran moved methodically, slowly. He checked each contusion for broken skin, tested joints for swelling and mobility, probed for hidden fractures, and washed Kudoh's body. He walked at least a little, so his legs must be mostly all right, but... Ran rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. He's going to wonder who did this. Damn Crawford! Maybe...

As he taped gauze over one of the worst skinned spots on Kudoh's left foot, Ran leaned forward so that his hair touched Kudoh's skin and calmly placed gauze and tape over a few strands. He managed not to flinch visibly as he pulled back. He'll notice that. Kudoh's not stupid.

When Ran rolled Kudoh over, he noted that Kudoh had fewer bruises on his back. I suppose I should be grateful. Then another thought struck him, and he froze for a second. I'm going to have to look... there. I don't know how badly Naoe hurt him. Christ. Ran felt a strong desire to empty his own stomach. Aya-chan's going to wonder why I pick at my food tonight... His hands continued working, automatically sponging skin and spreading salve, moving gently down Kudoh's back.

His hands hesitated when he reached the curve of Kudoh's buttocks. There's not a lot of blood. Not much at all. Touching Kudoh was starting to feel more and more like a violation. I'm not the rapist! Wash him. Apply salve. Don't think about it.

Finally, he parted Kudoh's cheeks and began to clean between them. He found more dried blood there, less than he'd feared, more than he'd hoped. It could be worse. Maybe Naoe was gentler than it sounded. But Ran's mind kept replaying what he'd heard. That scream and... Kudoh sounded like it hurt a lot. And Naoe wasn't gentle with him any other way. Ran snorted contempt. Not by the look of those bruises.

Ran's eyes prickled with tears. I will not be that weak! I owe Kudoh that much. He continued to move methodically down Kudoh's body. When he finished, he rocked back and ran the back of his hand across his forehead. No broken bones. I'm not sure about concussion. Those shoulders are going to hurt like hell, but I don't think they're dislocated. He leaned forward again and rolled Kudoh onto his back.

Ran straightened the other man's body and tucked the blanket around him. What else? Right. Shaving. Ran looked rather dubiously at Kudoh's face. Bruises had changed the contours. This isn't going to be easy. He considered, briefly, skipping that step; his own personal experience told him that scraping sharp metal over bruises did nothing to decrease their pain. But... "Give him a shave. I don't think we want Nagi doing that." His imagination offered an image of Kudoh bleeding from numerous nicks and slashes, of Naoe smiling with sadistic mania while he wielded a razor. Ran shuddered mentally and was briefly pleased that he had sufficient control not to do it physically.

Ran pushed Kudoh's hair back from his forehead. "No reason for you to be uncomfortable," he said softly. Somehow, looking at Kudoh this way wasn't quite as bad. Oh. He reminds me of Aya-chan. There's no resemblance but the unconsciousness, but... Ran rose in a smooth movement, taking the basin of dirty water with him. He crossed the cell to the sink and poured out the water before using the shower to rinse and refill the basin. He also rinsed the cloth he'd been using.

When he returned to the pallet, he considered for a moment before sitting cross legged and slipping his legs under Kudoh's head. "I don't know if it'll help, but it might keep your pillow dry." Talking to him helps. Ran blinked in surprise. "I think I'll also need to move you less. At least I hope so. I'm new at this, you know." He can't hear you any more than she ever did.

"At least they gave us shaving cream, Kudoh. I wasn't sure after I realized they hadn't given us any painkillers." He let a small laugh creep into his voice. "That was before I realized you were out cold, of course. Painkiller of a different type." He continued his work in silence for a little while. When he'd visited Aya-chan in the hospital, he'd always talked about his day, his teammates, the shop. What do I say to Kudoh? That I've got a nice room and eat family dinners with Crawford? Discuss Basho? "They let me talk to Hidaka once. He's pretty frustrated, but he did better than the rest of us. Apparently, he got three of the bastards before they took him down. He recognized some of them, definitely Kritiker. They got the rest of us in our sleep. They haven't gotten Tsukiyono to wake up for more than a few minutes at a time yet. Either he panics and thrashes around until they drug him again or he freezes and stares at nothing. Schuldig calls it post traumatic stress which I call a crock since the trauma's now."

Kudoh gave him no more response than Aya-chan ever had.

Ran hesitated as he moved the razor along Kudoh's neck. If I cut, it'll take at least two minutes for them to get in here and probably another two out, especially if I fight. He'd be dead before they could get him treatment. His fingers clenched a little tighter on the handle. His carotid's right there. Arterial flow. He'd be out of this mess. Ran shifted position to shield his action as much as possible from the cameras then froze. I can't. "Sorry Kudoh," he whispered, resuming shaving his unconscious teammate. If I do that, it'll be Tsukiyono. Omi. I can't.

He blinked back the tears that threatened to make his task more difficult. I wonder if this isn't actually the trap Crawford had in mind...


After several hours' sleep, the inside of Nagi's head was once more his own, and he prepared to face Crawford. He took his time, reveling in the little luxuries of having space of his own. Whatever else I may think of our current employer, he's not stingy on accommodations. No more wondering if Crawford's had the last of the coffee or if I'll find that missing knife some place... inconvenient. Or if Schuldig's up to something. He snorted at the thought. Schuldig's always planning something. I just don't have to see that look at breakfast anymore.

Deciding to save himself some trouble, he called Crawford's cel phone. No point chasing around after him.

Crawford answered immediately after the second ring. "Crawford."

"I'm up."

"Half hour. My office."

Nagi shrugged as the connection ended. More time than I need. Maybe... Yes.

He left his quarters and spent a while strolling through the complex's gardens, the one place he felt no need to think. One of the foreign trees the name of which he'd never learned was blooming. He reached out fingers of power to caress the petals. Not as soft or as sweet as cherry blossoms, but... He closed his eyes, threw his arms out and let his head fall back. For just a moment, Naoe Nagi ceased to exist as a separate entity. He lost himself in his sense of the ground beneath him, the air around him, and all the growth surrounding him.

Nagi sighed and opened his eyes. He knew that these interludes worried Crawford and annoyed Schuldig. Crawford tolerates them because I insist, because I do need this, but he's right. Someday I won't bother coming back. Nagi smiled a little. Just  not for a long time yet. Schuldig... Schuldig can kiss my ass. He just doesn't like that I can hide from him.

Nagi left the garden without looking back. Nodding occasionally in response to greetings from people he passed, he made his way to Crawford's office. Crawford's secretary wasn't at her desk, so Nagi simply knocked and walked in.

Crawford sat behind his desk, leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. He looks tired. I suppose keeping all of this going isn't easy. Well, that's his problem, at least until he tells me what the hell he's trying to do. 

As Nagi walked in, Crawford opened his eyes. "Feeling better?"

Nagi simply nodded in response. He reached out and moved his favorite chair to where he planned to sit, then strolled over to sit down.

Crawford sat up.

Nagi remained silent, simply watching, waiting. After a moment, he sighed internally. At least I seem to have his full attention. "So what's to debrief? You watched the whole thing." Nagi kept his tone even.

"What I'm after is more subjective," Crawford replied. "What do you think of Kudoh?"

Nagi considered. "I don't have enough information yet. It would help if I knew what direction you wanted me to be looking in."

"How smart is he?"

Nagi shrugged. "I don't think he was at his best. Why not look at the Kritiker files? I'm sure there's an IQ test in there somewhere." I had other things on my mind, Crawford.

Crawford waved a dismissive hand. "Irrelevant. Just think of Fujimiya's scores and tell me if you think Kritiker's assessment relates to reality. He did well enough at his fancy school, and he's damn good at killing people, but... He's a moron. Kritiker didn't see... We're talking different things altogether."

"Hm." Got to concede that one... Which brings up a question of mine. "Fujimiya watched, didn't he?"

Nagi couldn't mistake the contempt in Crawford's expression. "He turned his back and listened. Listened! After ordering Kudoh to cooperate. What kind of leader does that make him?"

That offends you, doesn't it, Crawford? "Kudoh'd already made his decision. I don't think he'd have changed his mind even if Fujimiya'd reacted differently." And I didn't come here to listen to you discuss Fujimiya. Again. "How is Kudoh now?"

"I had him sedated. I wasn't sure how long you'd be out." Crawford's response seemed almost apologetic. "You didn't seem up to making the decision."

Ah. That's it. Crawford's apologizing for playing with my toy. Nagi raised an eyebrow. "Does that matter?"

"After your insistence that Schuldig not interfere, I thought you'd prefer..."

Nagi managed to keep his smile off his face. "Schuldig wouldn't have cared if what he did made my lessons more difficult." And I'll stick to the "lessons" story unless you actually want to tell me what's really going on. "It's hard to use a textbook when someone else keeps rewriting it. You trip over things that used to be true."

"I'd prefer to remain in an advisory role, Nagi. You should be the one to make those decisions."

Nagi narrowed his eyes. What the hell is that about, Crawford? "I'd probably have done the same. He needed to sleep." Nagi leaned back in his chair. "Did you have someone take a look at him? I don't think I gave him a concussion, but... Judging those blows was a tricky business."

"No permanent damage." Crawford picked up a pen and started turning it over between his fingers. "It's not as if he didn't ask for it."

Yes, he did ask for it. I have to think about that. But what's Crawford after? Oh. "Crawford-san, if you're asking if I feel guilty about it, the answer's no. Next time just ask. I'm sick of tests in disguise."

Crawford regarded Nagi appraisingly for a long moment. Crawford nodded abruptly. "Very well. Can you break him?"

"Of course." Nagi met Crawford's gaze squarely. "Schuldig would be faster, though." Poor bastard. Kudoh hasn't got a chance. I don't know if I want to see that in his eyes. But Crawford's trusting me... Why?

Crawford snorted. "I said 'break' not 'destroy.' I want him usable afterward. Schuldig's attention span won't encompass that. Not as a general rule." He sighed and set the pen down. "I can't handle all four of them. Hidaka and Fujimiya are about my limit given the other things I have to deal with."

"Why Kudoh?"

"I'm not sure Tsukiyono's salvageable. He's right on the edge of shattering permanently. Any mistake-- and you'll make mistakes, I guarantee-- will push him over. He's too powerful a lever on the others to lose that way." Crawford began tapping his fingers on his desk.

He doesn't usually fidget this much, at least not when someone's watching. "If we keep drugging him, we'll lose him anyway." Nagi placed just the slightest emphasis on the word 'we.' Let's see how much he's going to trust me...

"Yes, we will." Nagi thought he heard an answering emphasis on the pronoun. "I'm considering sticking him and Fujimiya together. It'll at least keep Fujimiya from sulking."

"Fujimiya will become more hostile if I... work with... Kudoh." I'm sure he already wants to rip my head off. And his reactions are pretty straightforward. "And then there's Hidaka." Have a solution to that one, boss?

"Fujimiya's easy enough. We just have to make him feel responsible, and his guilt will do the rest." Crawford frowned. "Hidaka's more difficult, but I don't expect his opinion to matter for long. Besides, he won't know unless we tell him."

What are you playing at? What do you need from Hidaka that you think you can get that soon? Nagi blew his breath out his nose. "Does that mean you already have Fujimiya in hand?"

"I sent him in to do the clean up after Kudoh was unconscious." Crawford's tone seemed to indicate that he thought Nagi would understand all the implications of that statement.

Oh, well, I'm sure I'll figure it out. Nagi added it to the list of things he needed to think about when he had time. But it comes after Kudoh's reactions. Those are more important. "What did he do?"

"Exactly what I'd told him to." Crawford didn't bother to disguise the satisfaction in his voice. "A push or two more, and Fujimiya will be entirely ours." His expression became more serious. "Kudoh won't know unless you tell him, so Fujimiya's visit shouldn't cause you any problems."

Oh, yes, he's serious about this. "So you really do want me making all the decisions." Nagi only just managed not to make it a question. He trusts me to do this?

"Absolutely. If you hit a snag, feel free to ask my opinion, but..." Crawford shrugged. "It's better if the work's done all in one style, and I'll want you holding his leash later. Also, if you really screw up, Kudoh's disposable."

What a boost to my ego, Crawford. "Do you have a timeframe in mind?" Nagi wasn't sure Crawford would understand the origin of the edge in Nagi's response but decided that he didn't much care.

"Not really."

Liar.

Crawford met Nagi's eyes. "It'll take as long as it takes, Nagi. It's still a lesson of sorts."

"I see." Nagi rose to his feet. "I'd better go get started." He walked all the way to the door before turning back to address Crawford once more. "Congratulations, Crawford-san. You can still play me pretty well." He turned and left without looking back. Let him stew over that.


Note 1: To address a point that came up in beta reading, Crawford's Japanese is excellent. He's quite capable of using the various forms of address correctly or of misusing them as appropriate to his purpose. In addressing Ran, Crawford's use of "onii-san" falls more into the latter category. From what I understand, "onii-san" is commonly used (1) to address an older brother formally, (2) to address a stranger who is of appropriate age to be the speaker's sibling and (3) by children when addressing adult men within a certain age range. It can also be combined with an acquaintance's name for a more familiar form of address than using [name]+san while still retaining a certain level of respectful formality. In this case, however, Crawford's rather more forcing Ran to keep in mind the fact that Crawford's involved with Aya-chan, and Ran knows it. (Please bear in mind, however, that I really know no Japanese, so this is all my interpretation of stuff I've investigated online combined with the usages I've seen in anime which are generally a little odd.)

Note 2: Basho Matsuo is a well known and highly respected 17th century Japanese poet. For more information check the following websites, at least as a starting place. I'm not much into haiku, so I can't offer any opinions on the quality of Basho's work, but this seemed like the sort of thing Ran might read.
http://hkuhist2.hku.hk/Nakasendo/basho.htm
http://www.big.or.jp/~loupe/links/ehisto/ebasho.shtml
http://members.aol.com/markabird/basho.html

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