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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: Swearing. References to past child sexual abuse. Nonconsensual sex. Bondage. Although I'm setting this about three years past the main series, Nagi's age combined with his actions may squick some people. Also, I'm ignoring Gluhen, Side B 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: 6 April 2013

Thanks to Gemais and Leorising for beta reading and encouragement. Thanks to Nakki no Miko for helping me find cricket videos.


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 22

"I don't care. You need PT." Ran's expression was stubborn, and Ouka wondered how her brother managed to work with him.

"Bringing another person in here only complicates things," she answered, repeating herself. "I'm not really in bad shape." It was all she could do not to stamp her foot. But nii-san wouldn't do that.

Ran's jaw set. "You've mostly been lying there without moving for weeks. Omi, that's not good for you, and you can't just pick up as if it hadn't happened."

"So I take it slow and build back up." I have to. I can't fight like nii-san. You'd spot in a moment that something was wrong if I tried.

"You should have somebody making a plan for you. I know you." Ran shook a finger at Ouka. "You'll overdo and set yourself back."

"I'll do that whether I have a plan or not." Ouka thought she'd have more sense, but she knew Ran was correct about her brother's response. He can't stand being helpless. He hasn't had enough practice. No, that's not fair. He can't stand it because it's happened before and has cost him. "Besides, do you really think Crawford will spare someone to come look after me?"

"Aut said that Crawford has a responsibility to us, well, to me, anyway. We should use that." Ran paced back and forth. "From what Aut said, I have rights."

Fine time to be asserting that. No, he's thinking about using Crawford rather than about fighting him. That's good. It can only help. Except-- "I'm still going to spend a lot of time doing nothing, Ran-kun. I have to work on the computers." Even you will notice something wrong if we're making a lot of progress with the computer but not spending any time to do it, right? I just wish it weren't so boring. She rather looked forward to reading some of Ran's books.

"All the more reason to get an expert in. We can plan everything carefully."

"Do the Taisken even have physical therapists?" Ouka thought they must, but she hoped the question would distract Ran. And distracting Ran is what I have to focus on. He's expecting nii-san. Maybe a physical therapist is a good idea. He or she might distract Ran. I'm a little too obviously not nii-san.

"Even with the nanites, people have got to need help recovering from some things," Ran said. "I bet they're different from what we're used to, but I bet they exist."

"But is this place big enough to have a physical therapist?" From what nii-san says, it probably is. Not more than one, but one isn't out of the question.

"It's too late to protest," Ran said. "I already told my sister that I wanted a physical therapist when I told her you were awake. She understood. She needed a lot of therapy after two years of not moving."

I didn't know that. I should have guessed. I never even thought. Ouka scowled. "Why didn't you say that sooner?" She let her irritation leak into her voice. "If it's done, it's done. I think it's a bad idea, an unnecessary one, but I can't be seen to contradict you." And I'm not sure we have the status, with regard to the Taisken, to do it. Ken said we're not of age yet. I suspect Ran-kun is our guardian.

Ran folded his arms and nodded in satisfaction. "It'll probably take a couple of days before they send anybody. In the meantime, I can show you some of the exercises Aya-chan did after she first woke up." He held out a hand to Ouka and, when she took it, pulled her to her feet. "For now, we'll just start with walking around. You can do that. You've been doing it, off and on, for a while now."

Ouka had noticed that walking took more effort than she remembered Omi expending on the process before Schwarz kidnapped them. "I guess I'll tour the apartment." She walked from room to room, skipping only Ran's room. He deserves some privacy, even if he doesn't give me any. I am capable of dressing myself.

She spent the most time in the workout room. It was open and large enough that she could walk around and around it without feeling claustrophobic. This can't have been part of the apartment to begin with. She inspected the doorway between the room and the rest of the apartment. The moulding was crooked and the door frame irregular.

Ran came up behind her while she was looking. "Aya-chan says this was a meeting room. They knocked a hole in the wall and put in a door."

Ouka studied the walls. "They must have plastered over a door, too. There must have been a way in." She couldn't see one, so the people removing the old doorway must have done a better job than the people putting in the new.

"It smelled of paint when we first moved in," Ran said. "I don't think there's room for a lot of equipment, but we can ask for anything you need. We may not get it, but we can ask."

"Let me think about it," Ouka temporized. She wasn't sure what Omi would want. She knew what he did when he went to the gym or the dojo, but she wasn't sure what he'd think was realistic in this situation. And he might not be realistic. She continued with her walking.

Ran stopped her after she'd taken two tours through the apartment. "You're walking like you're tired. Sit down for a while. You can try again soon."

Ouka thought she could have kept going for a while longer, but she decided not to argue. It's not worth it. Of course, now I have to talk to him. I'm not so sure that waking up was a good idea, especially with nii-san spending so much time in the computer. He didn't think it through. Or maybe he was thinking of me. The hours dragged. She sat down in one corner of the couch in the living room. "What sort of books do you have, Ran-kun? I was thinking that I might want to read."

"I've got some poetry, a few classics, some historical non-fiction and a couple of books on current events and political trends. I've got a handful of novels, as well," Ran replied. "You're welcome to browse."

What would nii-san read? Well, what would be useful? No, I want to read something I'll enjoy. "May I borrow some poetry? An anthology if you've got one." She patted the back of her head then realized that her brother wouldn't do that. She snatched her hands into her lap and folded them together.

Ran's eyes widened a little, and he gave her a startled look. "I thought for sure you'd go for one of the political books."

She waved a dismissive hand. "Earth politics don't mean much right now. After we get out of here, yes, but right now, they're irrelevant. Get me a book on Taisken politics, now, and it'd be a different story."

Ran's expression turned considering. "We speak and read the language now. I'm sure they must have something like books. I'll ask my sister."

Ouka hoped her surprise didn't show on her face. I didn't expect him to think of something like that. "That's a good idea. Until then, poetry."

He disappeared into his room and came out with three books. "I don't have any anthologies, as such, and I wasn't sure what you liked, so I brought a variety."

Give them to me. Let me see. "That's all right. I don't know what I like, either. I haven't really had time for poetry, outside of school work." I've missed poetry. It's not like I can ask nii-san to waste time on something like that. It's frivolous. Like shopping for clothes.

"You can read for fifteen minutes," Ran said. "Then it will be time to walk some more."

Ouka nodded and opened the first book. She let out a sigh of contentment.

Both Ouka and Ran were startled by the knock on the door. Who could it be? Ouka set down her book, carefully noting the page before she closed it. She stood up and tugged on her clothing. No. I look fine, and nii-san wouldn't do that.

"I don't think Crawford would knock, and I'm damned sure Schuldig wouldn't." Ran headed for the door.

"Your sister might."

"She'd have let herself in almost immediately."

The knock sounded again.

"Who is it?" Ran called through the door.

There was a pause. Then a voice spoke in Taisken. "I am Empath Second Chekree. May I enter?"

Ran glanced back at Ouka with an inquiring look. Ouka shrugged in response.

"I can't open the door from this side," Ran replied in Taisken, "but you can come in."

The door opened. Ran flinched, and Ouka found herself breathing a little more quickly. She clenched her hands and pulled her arms in tight.

The being who stood outside looked for all the world like a giant cricket. Its carapace had been painted in an intricate design that Ouka assumed conveyed some sort of meaning. There was a little box attached to its chest and there were several small pouches hanging from its body.

Ran took two steps back. After a moment, he turned his retreat into a gracious bow. "Welcome, Empath Second."

Ouka also retreated. She told herself that it was a practical matter, that the empath couldn't come in unless she moved, but she knew part of it was fear.

The cricket advanced into the apartment. The door hissed shut behind it.

As they moved into the  living room, the cricket made some chirping noises. Then a voice issued from the little box. "You seem surprised to see me. I was under the impression I was expected." As it spoke, appendages to either side of its mouth twitched, bent and straightened.

Ouka made herself stop staring. "Nobody mentioned a visitor. Of course, nobody really talks to us at all." She hesitated. Please don't be the physical therapist! No. This could be an opportunity no matter why it's here. Nii-san would take advantage of it. She bowed. "Please sit down." She hesitated then added, "I don't know if our furniture will be comfortable for you."

The cricket looked her up and down then gave Ran a similar once over. "Which one of you is Fujimiya and which one is Tsukiyono?"

"I'm Fujimiya," Ran said.

"And I'm Tsukiyono," Ouka said after a moment. Was that noticeable? I've got to think of myself as Tsukiyono Omi.

The cricket's head bobbed up and down. "Good. I'm glad that's settled." It moved further into the room. It stopped in the middle of the living room, between the couch and the overstuffed chair, and crouched there. "It is my task to teach you how to shield your minds."

Oh. Oh! I wonder how much it can teach me? I don't really know what I'm doing. I just do it. "We're honored," Ouka said. She sat down. She wasn't sure that was the correct thing to do, but she was tired.

Empath Second Chekree made some chirping noises that didn't translate then said, "Ideally, we'd do this in a training room, one specially shielded and prepared. Precognitive Second Crawford, however, is obstinately convinced that you cannot be released for that." It rubbed its two arms together. "He can't deny me entry anywhere in the complex, but he's not required to make this easier."

Ouka found herself staring at Empath Second Chekree. Those... things by her mouth are horribly fascinating. The way they move is creepy. She looked away.

Ran took a seat as well. "We're very interested in learning this." He rubbed his hands together then clasped them.

"Good. Interest will make this work better. I hate unwilling students."

Ouka hesitated then looked at Empath Second Chekree and said, "I think I already have shields. I can keep Schuldig out, at least."

The cricket focused its attention on Ouka. "From what I gather, it is more than just keeping him out. You've been... creative. I can work with that. It's a starting place. At least, I assume neither of you have ever had lessons?"

Ouka shook her head. "Never."

Ran shrugged. "Until a couple of years ago, we didn't even know powers like this existed. Even then, we had no idea what to do about them."

"To start with, you need to know when something is coming into your mind. That won't help you if someone is just reading your surface thoughts or emotions, but you will notice if someone tries to meddle." The cricket looked sideways at Ouka. "You say you can shield-- Can you lower your shields?"

Ouka thought about that. "I never tried. Once I figured out how to start, I never thought about stopping." Nii-san couldn't shield before I... came here. No need to say that I never figured it out. It just happened. "The only telepath I knew was Schuldig, and he's dangerous."

"Any powerful telepath is dangerous," Empath Second Chekree said. "Telepath Third Schuldig is powerful. My understanding is that he could be second tier, possibly even first, if he applied himself."

"How do we start to shield?" Ran asked. "I need to know."

Empath Second Chekree looked back and forth between Ran and Ouka. "Very well, we will start with basics. You--" It nodded at Ouka. "--may not need them now, but it will do you good to learn them. Shields that spontaneously develop sometimes spontaneously go away. First, are you physically comfortable? We will be some time, and it's better to take care of the body before starting. I don't want any interruptions."

Ouka shifted uneasily in her seat. Physically comfortable? Oh. Yes. She rose to her feet. "If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'll use the toilet. Ran-- Maybe you should make some tea." She looked at Empath Second Chekree. "Can you have tea? It's a beverage made by steeping leaves in hot water. It contains a stimulant called caffeine in our native tongue."

"I should be able to try it," Empath Second Chekree replied.

Ouka nodded and left the room. Behind her, she could hear Ran say, "This is what a teacup looks like. Do you think you can drink from one or should I find something else?" Good Ran-kun. I hadn't thought about that.

Ouka had gotten used to the business of taking care of her brother's body, but there was still something fundamentally wrong for her about it. The plumbing shouldn't work that way. She took a moment to look in the mirror. The body's hair was a bit too long. Nii-san prefers it shorter. She crossed her arms and ran her hands over her chest. Flat. It was always going to be flat. This isn't my body. It's not who I ought to be. No. It's just who I am now.

She emerged from the bathroom and went to the kitchen.

Ran was waiting for the water to heat.

"Go. Use the toilet. I'll make the tea." Judging by the sound of the kettle, the water was nearly ready. She stood beside the stove and waited. When the kettle started to whistle, she turned off the heat. She let the kettle stand for a minute then added some cold water. She poured the water into the teapot. Not wanting to deal with the mess of the tea leaves in the living room, she stood and waited for the tea to finish steeping.

She wasn't entirely sure of her ability to carry the tray. The exercises Ran had suggested had proven to her that the body had weakened. I'll never know if I don't try. She lifted it, carried it into the living room and set it down on one of the end tables. Has the empath moved at all? I don't think it has. Doesn't it ever fidget?

Ran came back into the living room and sat down.

Ouka sat, too, next to the tray rather than in the seat she'd previously vacated. "I think we're ready now," she said. And I suspect the tea will get cold.

"Very well." The mechanical voice carried very little emotion. "Tell me when you feel this." Empath Second Chekree looked at Ran. "You will probably think it's coming from within you. You need to learn to tell what's you and what's foreign. That separation is key in being able to shield."

Ouka wondered what 'this' might be. She folded her hands in her lap and waited. It started small, just the merest hint of joy. She could tell it came from outside her. She wasn't sure if she should try to shut it out. She raised one hand a little, not sure if she should say anything.

Ran smiled. He seemed to relax. Then he blinked. "Oh," he said. "Oh! That's not me." He looked a little disappointed.

"Very good," Empath Second Chekree said. "Later on, I will bring in a telepath, and we can work with thoughts." It raised a middle limb and rubbed the side of its face with it.

Is that an arm or a leg? It walked on it, but now it's moving like an arm. I suppose it's both. Why am I not more freaked out by the giant cricket in our living room?

"Not Schuldig!" Ran put in.

Empath Second Chekree made a noise that didn't translate. "Indeed. Telepath Third Schuldig will not be a part of this training. There are other telepaths." It looked from Ran to Ouka and back again. "Do you think you would know next time that an emotion was not yours?"

"I would," Ouka said firmly.

Ran frowned. "I'm not sure. I mean, I was expecting that. The other night, with Yohji--" His voice broke a little. "I thought it was all me. It seemed so logical."

"Be wary of sudden changes in mood or of new ideas suddenly popping into your head. They may be you, but they may, equally, come from someone else. Things that are not your own will always feel just a little bit different, like the hint of subtle spice in a food," said Empath Second Chekree.

Ouka nodded. She thought she had an advantage in that she always had to be aware of which thoughts were hers and which belonged to Omi.

Ran looked like he had questions, but he said nothing.

"Have either of you ever tried meditation?" Empath Second Chekree asked. "It may prove useful here. It sometimes blurs the line between self and the surroundings, but it can be used to sharpen the distinction."

Ouka shook her head. Neither she nor her brother had ever been interested in meditation. Though nii-san's practice at holding postures might come close, I suppose. Kind of. She poured tea into a cup and offered it to Empath Second Chekree who took it. Then she poured a cup for Ran.

Ran accepted the cup, set it down next to him and nodded. "I'm not very good at it, but I've done it."

Empath Second Chekree reached into a pouch bound to its body and pulled out a heavy looking straw. It stuck the straw into the teacup. "Try slipping into that state now. Stay aware of your self and your thoughts. You need to define yourself. It can be spatially or conceptually or whatever works for you. You just want to set up a division between 'self' and 'other.'" Empath Second Chekree seemed to be giving Ran most of its attention.

Ouka considered that. She thought she had a pretty good grasp of what was herself and what was other. Side effect of sharing a body. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. I'm not the space I occupy. Both nii-san and I are in the same space. But it's hard to define myself without using space. Am I bigger, more spread out, when nii-san isn't here?

"Tsukiyono, I'm going to push at your shields," Empath Second Chekree said. "Try to keep me out. Fujimiya, you shouldn't feel this. I'll be focused on Tsukiyono. Keep working on defining yourself."

Ouka took another deep breath, opened her eyes and braced herself.

It started small, just a thread of anger. Ouka blocked it out easily. She kept her mental eye on the pushing emotion, watching as it grew bigger and more insistent. It twisted around, probing her defenses, looking for a weak point.

It's different from Yohji's despair. That wasn't trying to get at us specifically. It was just like a big hammer.

Empath Second Chekree didn't move and didn't speak. The attack on Ouka's mind intensified.

Ouka pulled her mind in tighter. She imagined that she was round and armored around her deepest self. Beyond that, she was like fog. The attacking emotion could go where it wished, but it wouldn't find anything but the surface she kept for deception.

Empath Second Chekree turned its head sideways. The emotional attack stopped. "What were you doing there?" The clicks sounded urgent, but the voice coming out of the box was flat.

Ouka raised her chin. "Shielding."

"That is most subtle for one with no training." The words had no inflection, but Ouka thought she heard an accusation, at least hints of one, there.

"The only telepath any of us have ever met is Schuldig. Training was not much on our minds," Ouka said. "I have thought a lot, in the years since, about how to protect myself. It seems to have paid off."

"Indeed." Empath Second Chekree shifted from one leg to the other. "Tomorrow, I will bring a device for identifying psychic powers. Fujimiya has been tested, but you have not."

Ran's eyes popped open. "I have? When?"

Ouka couldn't decide if he sounded curious or suspicious. Probably some of both.

"Indeed," said Empath Second Chekree. "Shortly after you... arrived here. It's a requirement for citizenship, and Precognitive Second Crawford had to apply for citizenship on your behalf. His marriage to your sister necessitated it." It scraped its legs together. "In your case, nothing was found. It is so with half of the human population. Of the rest, most are fourth or fifth tier talents."

"You can test for psychic powers that easily?" Ouka was sure this was a bad idea. Will they see what nii-san can do? Or won't it show up because he won't be here? It's a bad idea to have that on official record.

"The device won't tell us whether the powers are active or not or how strong they might be," said Empath Second Chekree. "The fact that you haven't been tested is an oversight. Some powers are dangerous."

It knows. Ouka knew that with a desperate certainty. If it knows, who else knows? Has it told Crawford? No. We wouldn't be having this cosy class if Crawford knew. He'd be trying to keep us out of the computers. "I'd rather not be tested."

Ran stared at her for a moment. Then understanding, quickly shuttered, dawned on his face.

"That is not up to you," Empath Second Chekree replied. "If it helps, I will report the results to the High Lord, not to Precognitive Second Crawford."

"I don't need citizenship," Ouka said.

"You're not of age, and you're the ward of a citizen. It is required. You're too young to be a slave, and you're not, strictly speaking, a prisoner of the conquest any longer. Being underage, you were always in a gray area. Technically, Precognitive Second Crawford has to treat you as his child. Well, not any longer because you are technically Fujimiya's child now."

Ouka's head hurt. "That's complicated."

"Omi's not my child!" Ran protested. He glanced at Ouka, and she guessed that he was trying to see if she was offended.

"Legally, he is." Empath Second Chekree was implacable. "You're responsible for taking care of him. He's old enough to express opinions and be taken seriously, but you're responsible for him." It glanced at Ouka. "Unless you want to petition for a different guardian? Your options are limited at the moment, but you might find it advantageous to have Precognitive Second Crawford directly responsible for you."

Ouka shook her head emphatically. "I don't trust him."

Empath Second Chekree lifted one arm then let it fall. "That's up to you. I will be testing you tomorrow. In the mean time, let's make the most of the training time we've got."

Sources for information on Japanese tea making:

Sources for images of crickets:

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