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On to Part 24.
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: 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.
Pairings: Nagi x Yohji. References to Crawford x Aya-chan.
Author: The RCK
Last updated: 24 August 2013
Thanks to Gemais, Leorising and HopeofDawn for beta reading.
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
Yohji wandered around the apartment while he waited for Telat to
come to escort him to his lesson with Empath Second Chekree. He was
getting more accustomed to walls that hid multiple shelves and to
the devices in the kitchen. I know where the movies and the
books are. I know how to call up the computer. I even have a
His eyes strayed to the coffee table where he'd left the little
handheld device that Nagi had identified as a portable encyclopedia.
"Just with more information and regular updates," Nagi had said.
Yohji hadn't yet dared look too deeply into what it held. He knew he
needed to know, but he was afraid of what he might find. Do I
really want to know how thoroughly screwed we are? Four of us
against-- What? And is it really the four of us now, or is it just
me? I can't do anything alone but try not to drown.
Nagi-san has only been gone an hour, and he can't have left for
Dimwei yet. He said afternoon, and it's still morning. Yohji
ran his fingers through his hair. At least he was in a good mood
when he left. I worked hard at that. He didn't want to think
too hard about the sex which had started the day. He did enjoy
it, though. I hope I start to, too. He also resolutely didn't
examine his relief at the thought of five days with no sex.
Yohji was staring at the aquarium, not really seeing the fish
inside, when Telat came into the apartment. She closed the door
behind herself and gave him a little bow. "Kudoh-san, good morning,"
she said in Japanese.
He nodded to her. "Telat-san." At least we're in Japanese. I
have a name in Japanese. In formal Taisken, he was known as
Slave Telekinetic First Naoe. Empath Second Chekree called him
Kudoh, but that was an intimacy Nagi would not allow Telat. Empath
Second Chekree was different. Nagi-san doesn't resent her, for
one thing. He wants me to spend time with her. Only while it's
useful, I suppose, but still. "I just need to put on my shoes,
and I'll be ready to go."
"I'm afraid your lesson has been delayed." Telat looked genuinely
regretful. "Empath Second Chekree ate something yesterday that
disagreed with her. She expects to be able to see you in a few
hours, but she's not certain." Telat held up a device that looked
nothing like the cell phone Nagi used. "She says she will call me
when she's well."
"Oh." Yohji felt like he'd been denied a promised treat. That's
an overreaction. Yes, it is, but I don't want to be alone in here
more than I have to be. "I guess that's that. Please come back
when-- No. I'd like to go to the gym now rather than waiting until
after my lesson."
"As you wish." Telat had made several attempts to be friendly to
Yohji, but he, bearing in mind Nagi's jealousy, had rebuffed them
all. Now she no longer tried.
I could explain, but Nagi-san wouldn't like that. She might be
too scared to be useful. Yohji knew whose survival mattered
more to him when balancing her interests against his own. She'll
just have to take her chances like everyone else.
Telat moved aside when Yohji came to the door after his shoes. She
watched without comment as he pulled them on.
"If there's time, we'll come back here after so that I can shower."
He had no idea whether Empath Second Chekree objected to the smell
of sweat, but he saw no reason to be rude. And I'll feel better
for a shower.
"I doubt she'll be ready before lunch, even if you don't eat until
one," Telat said. "She sounded exhausted."
Yohji wondered how Telat could tell. The voice coming out of
that box sounds the same no matter what. "Food poisoning will
really take it out of you. I remember one time--" He cut himself
off. She doesn't need to know that. It's too much like we're
friends. He shook his head. "Well, I was sick as a dog for a
few days." He stood up. "I'm ready to go."
Telat led the way to Crawford's gym. Yohji thought he might have
been able to find it himself but was grateful he didn't have to. It's
different, coming from this direction, but I recognize that mural
and this cross corridor. There must be some system of marking
corridors. Otherwise, everybody'd get lost.
Crawford's gym was a large, open room. There were weights and weight
machines along the left wall and a treadmill, rowing machine and
punching bag along the right wall. There was a storage room off to
one side that Yohji wasn't allowed into on his own. It held weapons
and assorted other equipment like balls and jump ropes.
When Yohji and Telat arrived, Crawford was on the treadmill,
running. He had a towel draped over one shoulder, and, as they
watched, he wiped his face with it. The treadmill faced the door, so
he must have seen them come in, but he gave no sign of it.
"Why don't you wait outside?" Yohji suggested to Telat. "Go and get
a coffee or something. I'll be a while, and there's no point in your
hanging around." Go away. Give me the illusion of control.
He glanced at Crawford. His presence will make sure I don't lose
track of reality.
"Naoe-san wouldn't approve of my leaving you." Telat's face had a
Nagi-san also won't approve of you watching me. He wants that for
himself. "I promise I won't leave without you," Yohji said. "I
also promise I won't overdo." Nagi-san would be angry with me.
"No one else is going to come in. I should be perfectly safe." Crawford's
not crazy enough to alienate Nagi-san over me. I have the
impression that he needs Nagi-san.
He could feel Telat's hesitation, and he really wanted her to go. He
hesitated, searching for further words. Then he gave her a little
emotional push, a bit of serenity and certainty of safety. He hoped
he was being subtle enough that she wouldn't notice. I wouldn't
dare do that with Nagi-san.
Telat frowned. Then her face smoothed out. "All right. I'll check
back in half an hour. You still don't have any way to call me."
I ought to. Oh, well, I can't ask for anything like that until
Nagi-san comes back. He made a shooing gesture. "Go. Relax.
You can get back to babysitting me when I'm ready to leave."
Telat smiled at him and left.
Yohji went to the center of the open area and started to stretch. He
did his best to ignore Crawford, but he could feel the man's eyes on
him. I wonder what he thinks of me. We've gone a long way from
that prison cell, and I don't think Crawford's in charge any more.
He started with simple exercises-- touching his toes, jumping jacks,
push ups and sit ups. He wanted to run and jump and hear his wire
sing, but he didn't have his wire, and his body wasn't ready for a
How long is he going to run? I'd like to use the treadmill.
Yohji glanced at Crawford and found that the man seemed to be
slowing down. Oh, good. I wonder-- Does he use the treadmill
first or last? Will I have to compete with him for the weights?
Over the next few minutes, Crawford slowed the treadmill until he
was walking at a leisurely pace. Yohji paused in his exercises as
Crawford stopped the machine. He watched as the other man got off
the treadmill and picked up a bottle of water. Crawford drank
Wanting to use the treadmill while avoiding Crawford, Yohji kept an
eye on the American as he went back to his own exercises. He'll
go do something else soon.
But Crawford apparently had other ideas. He strolled over to where
Yohji was working out. "Where's your water bottle, Kudoh?" he asked
I guess I am going to have to talk to him. "I don't have
one," Yohji replied. "Nagi-san hasn't given me one." And it
never occurred to me to ask. He straightened and turned to
meet Crawford's eyes.
"Nagi can't think of everything." Crawford seemed to be studying
Yohji couldn't pick up much in the way of emotions from Crawford and
assumed that the other man must be shielding. At the very least,
he ought to be feeling satisfied by his run. He returned
Crawford's scrutiny. "He does have a lot on his mind." And he
keeps getting distracted by his desire to fuck me. You set that
"He's going to be spending more and more time at court," Crawford
said. "He needs to learn how to take his place there."
What does that have to do with water bottles? "I have no
desire to interfere with that." Yohji thought he might as well give
Crawford what he was after. At least, I think that's what he's
after. "My safety depends on his."
Crawford nodded. The movement seemed absent rather than firm. "I
don't See you at court, Kudoh."
I can hear the capital letter. "Do you see everything?"
"No." The word came reluctantly, and Crawford frowned. "But I do See
Nagi at court. I need to. There are so many things that could go
"At some point, you have to trust him to cope on his own." Yohji
considered resuming his exercises. But Crawford's probably one
of the few people in this place I can talk to without worrying
about how Nagi-san will react. The strength of his need to
talk to someone-- anyone-- surprised him.
"My ability balances out our inexperience with the court." Crawford
looked Yohji up and down. "You're looking better."
"That happens when nobody's beating me." Then again. He's an
asshole. Do I really want to talk to him? Yes. Yes, I do. He might
let something slip about the others. "Thank you for letting me
use your gym."
Crawford waved a dismissive hand. "It's nothing. Nagi uses it all
the time. Schuldig could, but he prefers the main gym. There are
more opportunities to interact with people there, and he likes the
"There's a pool?" Yohji stomped hard on his eagerness. He pushed his
hair back from his face. "Never mind. I can't imagine I'll get to
use it. Nagi-san doesn't like people looking at me." Me, in
public, in a bathing suit, doesn't bear thinking about. I wonder
what the Taisken wear when they swim?
Crawford made a noise that might have been agreement or might have
been a query.
Yohji met Crawford's eyes. "Did you foresee where this would go?
Back in the cell, I mean. This is a lot more complicated than what
you originally proposed." He wondered why he didn't hate Crawford
"It was always possible," Crawford replied. "Nagi is emotionally
volatile, and he was bored. I hadn't been able to get him interested
in the day to day running of this base."
"He's out, working, every day."
"Now. Before, he was mostly studying and amusing himself. He's very
solitary. I was worried about him."
Yohji suppressed a snort. He's not solitary. He's focused.
"Did he have any reason to think his input would be welcome?"
Crawford pushed his glasses up his nose. "I never excluded him."
"I expect he was waiting for you to tell him what to do. Guess what?
He's not waiting any more."
"I know. It's very exciting." Crawford didn't sound excited. "I'd be
happier if you weren't complicating things."
So let me go. Yohji knew better than to say that out loud. That
would cause a breach between them that nothing could heal. He
rubbed his right hand against the bracer on his left arm.
Crawford leaned in close to Yohji. "Just what do you want, Kudoh?
You're in a position many would kill for."
Yohji refused to give ground. "I want what I've always wanted." I
want to survive. I want the others to be free. "You seemed to
understand what that was back in the cell."
Crawford stepped back and raised his eyebrows. "No ambition? Nagi
will have great power once he's of age, particularly once we conquer
Earth. You could do rather well out of it."
And all I have to do is survive the uncertain temper and
isolation and-- No. Those aren't reasons Crawford will understand.
"The High Lord said something of the sort. I was paying attention."
I'm trapped. By you. He glared at Crawford. "Not everyone
wants power." Could I survive decades of this? Not and be the
man I am now. The man who's slipping away from me, hour by hour.
I'd survive in body. Is that enough to satisfy Omi? Is that enough
to satisfy me? "I'm not ready to give up hope."
"No, I suppose not." Crawford studied Yohji's face. "I had reasons,
fairly good ones, for throwing you and Nagi together."
Yohji thought Crawford sounded like he was trying to convince
himself. "Will you still think that when Nagi-san kills someone you
need because they looked at me wrong?" I shouldn't have said
Crawford's expression sharpened. "You expect him to do that?"
Yohji nodded. "I fear it. He hates the woman he's got babysitting
me. He thinks I might get attached." He looked at the floor then
back up again. "I'm not that stupid." He extended then bent his
fingers. "He told me once to kill her."
"I had hoped-- I don't See any futures in which he does kill
someone, at least not without reason."
This would be with reason, Crawford, just with a stupid reason.
And what about me killing someone? Have you seen that? "It may
just be that he's not going to kill anyone who matters to your
Crawford smiled. "That's acceptable."
"Just what are your plans?" Yohji knew he was taking a risk asking,
but he felt he needed to know.
"To conquer Earth for the High Lord. He's the best we're going to
get. If Earth fights him off, the next one will be worse, much
worse. Once we have Earth, ideally, Nagi will be Viceroy."
"With you to advise him." Yohji felt like he'd bitten unexpectedly
into a lemon. No wonder you want to know my intentions.
"You think you'd do better?"
Yohji thought Crawford was trying to loom. He smiled. You're
nothing after Nagi-san. He's scary. You're... not. "I would
never hand over someone helpless to be raped and beaten." The words
came out hard and cold, like little hailstones. "I remember that
people are human."
"I keep the big picture in mind, Kudoh. Individuals mostly don't
matter. Besides, it hasn't done you any real damage."
Yohji felt himself start to shake with rage. "No damage? Really?" If
I knew what I was doing, I could show him no 'real damage!'
"And just how does me being raped fit into the 'big picture?'" If
I try to hit him, he'll see it coming. But he couldn't help
thinking of how satisfying bruising his knuckles on Crawford's jaw
would be. "I suppose I see why you don't want me armed." He raised
his chin and stepped forward, daring Crawford to touch him. I'm
not sure Nagi-san would forgive even you. Not for a long time.
Crawford must have agreed because he stepped backward.
Yohji took another step forward. He balled up his fists, and, before
he even thought about it, his fist was on its way toward Crawford's
chin. He felt a jolt of surprise when he felt flesh meet flesh.
Crawford's jaw made a satisfying crunch under his fist. That'll
leave a bruise. Good.
Crawford's head snapped back, and he staggered back three steps
before straightening. He made no move to strike back. Instead, he
rubbed his jaw and glared at Yohji. "You can manage that once," he
said. "I'm not going to let it happen again."
Did you let it happen this time or did I really surprise you?
Yohji was breathing hard. His fists were still clenched. No. As
much as I'd enjoy beating the crap out of him-- if I could--
Nagi-san needs him, and that means I need him. He let his
hands fall and turned away.
Yohji could hear Crawford moving behind him. He wondered if he
should turn, if Crawford was about to retaliate. Nagi-san might
not object to Crawford hitting me after I hit him first. He
tensed, waiting for a blow to fall.
"I believe I have a spare water bottle that I can lend you until
Nagi gets back," Crawford said, for all the world as if Yohji hadn't
hit him. "I can spare the time to go get it now if you'd like."
So we're pretending it didn't happen. Yohji turned back. He
couldn't force himself to smile. "A water bottle would be helpful."
Be damned if I thank him.
"I'll go get it then. When I return, I'll be wanting to use the
weights." Crawford took a swallow from his own bottle and turned
toward the door.
Yohji watched him go and debated going over to the weights himself,
just out of spite. Then he shrugged and walked to the treadmill. No
running. I'm not up to that. I'll walk until I'm tired. That'll
take a while.
By the time Crawford returned, Yohji had found a rhythm. He was
walking quickly and evenly.
Crawford carried two water bottles. He put one down next to the
treadmill. "I filled it up for you."
"Thank you," Yohji said grudgingly. He studied Crawford's face,
trying to see if there was a bruise coming. I'd like to think I
left a mark. "Why did you let me hit you?" I'm not sure I
want the answer.
"We're going to run into each other repeatedly," Crawford said. "I'm
hoping you won't feel the need to keep hitting me."
I can't hit Nagi-san. No. I don't want to hit Nagi-san. I want to
hit someone. "I think I can restrain myself." Yohji tried to
put some humor into his voice. He thought it sounded forced, but it
was better than snarling at the man. He's right. We're going to
keep running into each other. And I can talk to him without
setting Nagi-san off. Probably. "Hitting you doesn't change
"No." Crawford pushed up his glasses. "What are you going to do
while Nagi's gone?"
"Nothing interesting." Yohji closed his eyes for a second. Crawford
was still there when he opened them again, still looking at him like
he expected an answer. "Why does it matter to you?"
"You have freedom of the base," Crawford answered dryly. "Forgive me
if that doesn't thrill me."
"What on earth do you think I can do?" Yohji amused himself by
picturing a big red button that would cause the base to self
destruct. Only in cartoons. "I'm not stupid enough to try
sabotage." Or not smart enough. I wouldn't know where it would
really hurt. And I'd get caught. He suppressed a shudder.
"All I know about you, Kudoh, is what Kritiker told me. I don't
think that's sufficient any longer."
Oh, hell. Give him something. It can't hurt. It's not like I'm
planning anything. Yohji shrugged. "More of this. Empathy
training. Some reading. If I can manage not to get lost, I'm going
to explore." He met Crawford's eyes, challenging. "I need to know my
way around. I can't rely on having someone to lead me everywhere."
"Nagi does have other plans for your babysitter, eventually."
Plans? What plans? Yohji suppressed a shudder. "He doesn't
like me spending time with her." He doesn't trust me. No. He
wants to be my everything.
Crawford tilted his head to one side, keeping his eyes on Yohji. "Is
that true of everyone you spend time with?"
"It's not true of Empath Second Chekree," Yohji admitted. "It was
true of Ken." He managed to keep his tone level. "I suspect that it
wouldn't be true of you. At least not if you're careful." And
I'm desperate enough to talk to you. I need to talk to someone.
"The problem seems to exist independent of what I do." That's
not entirely true.
"Do you think Nagi will... How to put it? Will his focus ease? Since
you came along, he's been paying more attention to my plans. That's
a very good thing. I don't want to lose that, but I don't like
seeing him obsessed."
You wouldn't object so much if he were obsessed with someone you
picked out. But I forget-- You picked me. "I hope you're not
asking me to change the situation. My life depends on keeping his
attention. I doubt you'd protect me from Schuldig." Or from
anyone else. Most people are curious about me, but some of them
hate me. Why am I worth hating? He tried to meet Crawford's
eyes, but the other man was looking over Yohji's shoulder. Maybe--
That night-- Nagi-san said people died because of me. That might
"I might be persuaded to exert my influence over Schuldig."
Yohji pushed the button to slow the treadmill. This'll be easier
if I'm not moving so fast. "What do you want? I'm not going to
fuck around with going back and forth without saying anything."
"Nagi's taking an interest in the invasion. He's taking an interest
in the politics of the High Lord's court. Encourage that. Reward him
for working at what needs to be done."
Yohji slowed the treadmill again. "I don't approve of the invasion."
But I'll probably do it. I like staying alive.
"The invasion is inevitable," Crawford said. "There are many worse
High Lords, and the next one to find Earth would not be so easy to
work with. I Saw it." He looked over Yohji's head, and Yohji thought
he was seeing something other than the wall. "I don't think you can
imagine how bad it would be."
Yohji stopped the treadmill. So you say. Why should I believe
you? He bent, picked up the water bottle and drank. When he
finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "You might
be surprised." Do I even care? What does it matter who rules
Earth? It's what happens to Weiss that matters, and we're all
"I suppose I might. Estet thought that the visions of disaster that
their people were having came from the rule of their demonic master.
I knew better. That was merely a sideshow. Oh, it would have been
bad. It just wouldn't have stopped the Taisken coming. They would
have destroyed Earth in putting down Estet's lord. The Taisken don't
believe in demons, but they do believe in obliterating powers that
might challenge their own."
I'm not sure I believe in demons, either. Why are you telling me
this? Yohji simply looked at Crawford.
"I believe in being on the winning side," Crawford said firmly.
Yohji let the silence stretch. Then, at last, he nodded. "I can see
the appeal." I'm tired of losing. "What makes you think
Estet won't fight back with demons?"
Crawford flicked his fingers dismissively. "Estet will spend years
trying to rebuild. We gutted the organization. There were a lot of
important people at the summoning. They all wanted to be first to
pledge their loyalty."
"I remember. I was there." Yohji considered Crawford's words. He had
his doubts, but he supposed Crawford knew more about Estet than he
did. "If Estet can do it, other people can." He wasn't sure why he
was talking to Crawford at all.
"If all goes well, the invasion will be gradual. There will be
fighting, in the end, but we'll have people in key positions almost
Yohji blinked. "How many years are you talking about?"
"I doubt we'll take more than a decade or two." Crawford shrugged.
"We've got time. The High Lord doesn't see time the way the rest of
us do. He's effectively immortal, after all. The rest of us will
live a lot longer here than we would have on Earth. It wouldn't
surprise me if Nagi lives two or three hundred years." His
expression sharpened. "Play your cards right, and you can share in
his longevity. Assuming he doesn't get bored with you."
How kind, Crawford, to remind me of how very precarious my
position is. What makes you think centuries of this have any
appeal? "What do you want Nagi-san doing with this invasion? I
can't picture him infiltrating anything." At the forefront of a
battle, yes, but not infiltrating.
"I can't make all the day to day decisions. Nagi can't either. We
need to find people we can trust to manage agents. Nagi could be
useful there. We need people actually from Earth. We have some, but
they're not the sort we could most use."
Oh. "Kritiker." Yohji tried to wash away the sudden heaviness
in his chest with more water.
Crawford nodded. "Among others. It has allies and connections going
much farther than you know. We'll have to manage them carefully, at
least at first, but they have the reach to be quite useful."
How can you trust them worth a damn? They sold us. They'll sell
anybody. No. Forget Kritiker. "If I'm going to help you, I
want something." Yohji licked his lips. "I may want more than one
"That depends on what you deliver." Crawford looked distant.
"Omi. Nagi-san told me he's... not well. I want help for him. Real
help. Not Schuldig."
"Tsukiyono has come out of his catatonic state. Being with Fujimiya
has helped him. I doubt he's happy about the situation, but he's as
well as we can make him."
Yohji concealed his elation with another sip of water. "Physical
therapy, then. Some form of exercise. For Ken and Ran, too. There's
nowhere for any of them to run to. You know that. Let them see the
"Do you really think you have enough to offer me to buy that?"
Crawford raised his eyebrows.
"Apart from keeping Schuldig off my back, that's all I want. I don't
give a damn about your invasion." Though I am not fucking with
the High Lord. "There's nobody back on Earth that I
particularly care about, so that part of it leaves me cold."
"I will consider your request." Crawford started to walk away.
Almost immediately, he turned back and said, "I expected you to ask
for a weapon."
Yes. I should have asked for that. Yohji rubbed his wrist and
felt the yielding material of the bracer. "I can't wear my watch
with these." He held up his arms. Though Nagi-san said these
have space for a wire. "And Nagi-san already told me you
said no." I would feel better if I had something. Anything.
Crawford pushed his glasses up. "I'm not inclined to make it easier
for you to kill."
Yohji's eyes narrowed. He knows something. He's seen something.
Does he think I can't improvise? "I'm going to eventually.
Nagi-san wants me to." He took a swallow from his water bottle.
"Don't worry, unless he's with me, I'll only kill in self defense."
Crawford raised his eyebrows. "So it's when Nagi is with you that I
really need to worry? How reassuring."
Yohji shrugged. "You set this up. Very carefully, too. I have no
sympathy if it's gotten away from you."
"I need none of your sympathy." Crawford's lips twisted.
"Good." Yohji ran his fingers through his hair. He hadn't worked
hard enough yet to really sweat. More time on the treadmill, I
think, then some katas. I'd like the weights, but he's going to be
using them. "By the way, Crawford-san." Yohji let his voice go
cold. "You lied to me. He lied to me, too, but you--" He set
his teeth, unwilling to go on.
"Did I?" Crawford looked no more than mildly interested.
Yohji clenched his free hand. The hand holding the water bottle
tightened. "Nagi-san said he won't be of age for four years. Omi
can't be more than two years older than he is."
"True." Crawford nodded. He still looked completely composed.
"I've been looking at the-- the encyclopedia sort of thing that
Nagi-san gave me last night. You lied to me. You couldn't have used
Omi instead of me." Yohji raised his chin. "You couldn't have
Nagi-san rape Omi, not for another two years."
Crawford shrugged with one shoulder. "So we lied. You never mistook
us for anything but what we are. You should have expected us to lie
Yohji couldn't see anything but Crawford's face. If the distance
between them hadn't been so great, he'd have tried to hit him again.
Smashing that smug look off his face would be so damn satisfying!
"Why?" He was proud that the word came out in a conversational tone.
"What did you get out of lying to me?"
Crawford took a step toward Yohji then appeared to think better of
it and stopped. "We needed your consent, your cooperation."
"My consent?" Yohji couldn't keep the incredulity out of his voice.
"Like that was consent? It was just as much as if you'd beaten me
until I couldn't stop you. Oh, I forgot-- He did that, too." He felt
himself shrinking at the memory. The energy of rage was hard to
sustain. "I don't see that my 'cooperation' did anything useful."
"If Nagi'd had to smash your resistance every time, he'd have killed
you. I don't think it would have been an easy death."
Yohji couldn't help thinking back to those first encounters. I
didn't-- don't-- want to die. "You didn't have to threaten
Omi. Everything you got, you could have gotten without that."
"What about Fujimiya?"
Yohji felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. Yes. What
about Ran? Because it was Omi, he understood. Sort of. He wouldn't
understand where I am now.
"If I accede to your demands and let him out of his apartment-- his
very comfortable apartment-- you're bound to run into him."
Crawford's smile was sharp enough to cut glass. "Do you think you
can explain things to him? Will he understand those?" Crawford waved
at Yohji's arms.
Yohji raised his chin. "Ran doesn't have to understand." But he
won't, and I can't explain it because I don't dare talk to him.
Which he'll see as confirmation that I've sold out. "I want
what I want." Omi will understand. He can keep Ran in check. But
he's only just awake. Will he be able to process it all?
"I have no desire to see Nagi kill my brother-in-law."
Liar. You can't stand Ran. "Nagi-san has promised me that he
won't hurt them." Though all bets are off if he gets jealous.
Yohji rubbed his left wrist and missed the presence of his wire.
"You're likely to be disappointed." Crawford turned away again.
This time, Yohji let him go.
Empath Second Chekree called for Yohji in the late afternoon. He'd
waited, alone, in the apartment after returning from the gym. The
idea of wandering the complex, trying to learn his way around, was
attractive, but he didn't want to risk missing his appointment with
his empathy teacher.
Empath Second Chekree waited for him in the shielded practice room.
She always seemed to be in the same place exactly.
As if she doesn't move between sessions. But she has to, right?
She can't be living in here. Yohji bowed to her and waited for
her to dismiss Telat.
After Telat had gone, Empath Second Chekree said, "Today, we start
learning shielding. You'll be deaf, in terms of your empathy, for
two or three days while you learn to hold your shields."
Yohji sat down. He'd learned the hard way that Empath Second Chekree
wouldn't invite him to sit. If he waited, he'd be standing through
the entire session. "That sounds dangerous."
"Not nearly as dangerous as not learning to shield." She made the
sound that he'd come to realize was her laughter. "We have a small
window for this, so you must learn quickly. You must be proficient
by the time Telekinetic First Naoe returns."
No empathy with Nagi-san is dangerous. He couldn't quite
suppress a shudder. "It's awfully convenient, him being called
away." Not that I'm saying it was deliberate. I doubt I'm
important enough for that.
"Convenient, yes." She waved an arm. "It was bound to happen. He
needs to spend more time at court so that he can learn the politics.
The timing was simply serendipitous."
I can use the time to think, too. I desperately need some
distance from... all of this. I'm getting lost in keeping him
happy. Yohji nodded. "What do I do?"
"We've already covered telling what is you from what isn't. It's
simply a matter of excluding everything that isn't you."
He rubbed his left wrist, looking for the reassurance of his watch.
Its absence cut him. That sounds easy. Except it isn't. Even
just knowing what's not me isn't easy. "How do I do that?"
"Most commonly, people define a space that is them and build a
barrier around it. We've talked a little about keeping your emotions
where they belong. This relates."
Yohji bit his lip. And I'm not very good at keeping my emotions
in. I... leak. He tried to visualize himself then decided that
seeing wasn't the way to approach it. He closed his eyes and thought
about where he was, toes to scalp, fingers to collarbone. He could
feel every bit of himself. A barrier... What sort of barrier?
He didn't want something awkward or difficult to move around in. Even
if it is all in my head.
He considered. I need to breathe and see and hear and touch.
He pulled his nascent barrier in so that it barely extended past his
skin. A field, like what Nagi-san does when he doesn't want
anything touching him. Just not physical. He opened his eyes,
and his mental feel for himself and his barrier wavered. He suspect
that any push against him would shatter the whole thing. No. It
would give like gelatin and smush and fall apart.
He wasn't altogether surprised when the first push came. He tried to
force his shield into rigidity to repel the invasion, but that just
seemed to weaken other areas. He gasped as Empath Second Chekree's
projection swamped him.
"Let me try again," he said when he could speak.
"That is the point."
This time, Yohji tried to picture himself and his barrier as
rubbery, yielding but not breaking or allowing penetration. My
self is only kind of congruent with my body. At least, it can
shift if it needs to.
When the push came this time, Yohji felt himself bend. It feels
like it's my right arm she's pushing. Shouldn't I feel it in my
head? He could sense the probe of Empath Second Chekree's
projection, but he wasn't experiencing the emotion she was
projecting. Part of him wanted to know what she was sending, but he
held fast to his image of himself. The push shifted so that he felt
it in a different part of his body. "That kind of tickles," he said.
The emotional projection stopped. "Very good," said Empath Second
Chekree. "I didn't expect you to get it so quickly. How long do you
think you can hold it?"
"I don't know." Yohji's mental image of himself was wavering. "I
don't think I can do anything else at the same time. Even just
talking--" He lost the sense of himself and shook his head to clear
"That will be the next step, then-- Maintaining the shield while
talking. Once you can manage that, we will leave this room and walk
around. Gradually, you'll do more while you shield until you can
manage anything physical." Empath Second Chekree touched Yohji on
the arm as if to recall wandering attention. "Recommence."
Yohji took a deep breath and imagined his self congruent with his
body. His fingertips tingled. He looked at Empath Second Chekree and
said, "What am I supposed to talk about?"
She tapped her face. "Let's see... Tell me about your world, about
what you did there before you came here."
"Don't you know all of that?" He thought that might hurt too much to
"I know that your planet exists. I know that you are Telekinetic
First Naoe's slave. I know that you are a projective empath. Beyond
that, I haven't needed to inquire."
Yohji's hand twitched, and he wished for a cigarette. If I'm
going to talk, I'd be better for a smoke. "Well... I was a
florist, someone who works with cut flowers and plants to make
pretty things." Holding his shield while talking was a lot like
trying to talk while sparring. "Men would buy flowers from us to
give to their girlfriends or wives or mothers." He felt a gentle
pressure on his shield. "Girls would buy flowers from us just to
have something pretty around. People who were planning big
occasions-- weddings, dinners honoring retirees, funerals, that sort
of thing-- would have us make arrangements to put on the tables."
The pressure increased steadily, and he stopped talking to focus on
keeping his shield intact.
"Aesthetics," Empath Second Chekree said. "Those get complicated.
I'd be curious to see your work. What was your area of expertise?"
"I did... funeral arrangements." He hesitated, more than a little
afraid. I'm not telling her about the other job. Even among the
Taisken, murder is a terrible crime. She'd be shocked, appalled,
repelled. She might stop teaching me. His sense of himself
quivered, and he thought he might be leaking his emotions. He
swallowed hard and focused on maintaining his shields.
Empath Second Chekree made a noise that didn't translate. She tapped
Yohji on the arm. "Focus, Kudoh."
He took a deep breath. "Funerals seemed appropriate. People I care
about tend to die."
There was a sudden, hard jab at Yohji's shield. He flinched and
"No." Empath Second Chekree rapped him on the arm. "Shield only. We
get to offensive techniques after you can protect yourself."
Yohji gulped, nodded and closed his eyes. I can do this. I have
to do this. What was I talking about? Oh. "Flowers are fade
and die so quickly. We had to work fast, and we always knew that
what we made wouldn't last." He hesitated. Talking about flowers was
harder than he'd expected. Nobody's ever really been interested
before. "I'm curious about the flowers on the High Lord's
worlds." And other worlds. How odd to think of more than one
"My people mostly view flowers as food. There are some that are
beautiful and not edible, but they're judged aesthetically
inferior." She tapped on his shield, here and there. "Flower
arrangement is a culinary art form for us."
"I'd be curious to learn more about that." Yohji closed his eyes as
he tried to focus on keeping both his shields and the conversation
going. "I don't know which of the flowers I worked with would be
edible for you. I don't even know which ones are edible by humans."
He cast about for something further to say. "Women wear floral
scents as perfumes frequently. They think it makes them more
"Interesting." She left off the tapping and stabbed at the heart of
his shielded self, breaking through.
Yohji flinched. If he'd been standing, he'd have fallen. As it was,
he simply gripped the chair and forced himself to stay upright.
"I do wonder, though, what florists might have done to come to the
attention of a man like Precognitive Second Crawford. He seems
unlikely to value aesthetics, particularly ephemeral ones."
Yohji fidgeted in his seat. I should have known she'd see that.
"I suppose he noticed us because of Aya. Her brother worked with
"And he kidnapped all four of you for that? Permit me to doubt. He
had a reason to take all of you, or he'd simply have taken his
brother-in-law and Potential Hidaka."
Yohji felt his shields waver. They quivered and started to melt. Potential
Hidaka? Ken, what does Crawford want from you? He realized
with some guilt that he hadn't really thought through the
implications of Ken's visit to Nagi's apartment. They need
something from you. What? It must be big to merit the 'Potential'
title. Do I dare ask? I don't dare not, and Nagi-san won't tell
me. "Potential Hidaka?"
"Focus." Empath Second Chekree rapped Yohji's arm again. "Potential
Hidaka might become a first tier precognitive. He has promised to
swear to the High Lord if he survives."
Yohji's shielding fell away altogether. Ken! He knew he was
projecting, but he couldn't seem to stop himself.
"Kudoh! Control yourself!"
Yohji twisted in his chair then took a deep breath. "Ken's being
practical," he said, exhaling slowly. I can keep this in. I can.
Empath Second Chekree made the movement that Yohji'd come to
recognize as her shrug. "His odds are not good, but the High Lord
believes he will succeed, and, on such matters, the High Lord is
Yohji closed his eyes and focused on keeping his fear for Ken,
tangled as it was with his fear for himself, with his fear for all
of them, inside. But this is the sort of information I was
hoping I'd get from her. She knows more than I do about what's
"I still doubt," she said, "that Precognitive Second Crawford would
have abducted two extra 'florists.' I doubt, too, that four young
men working together in such a job would care quite so much about
each other as the four of you do. This sort of bond comes with
shared danger or prolonged contact. You're not old enough for it to
be prolonged contact. Unless-- Are you lovers?"
Yohji's rejection of that idea broke his control again. "No!" Nagi-san
would kill them!
"Shield. You need to be able to hold that no matter what." Empath
Second Chekree twitched her forelimbs. "What is it that ties you
together so strongly?"
Yohji set his jaw and carefully reconstructed his shield. The
hell with it. "We killed together," he admitted. "We hunted
down those the law couldn't touch and made sure their crimes ended."
He studied Empath Second Chekree, wondering what she made of this. I'm
a murderer many times over. I make no apologies. Damn! I wish I
could read her. "I used a wire to strangle people. The others
all had their own particular weapons."
"Such a weapon would be ineffective against me," Empath Second
Chekree observed without apparent emotion. She pushed hard against
When that attack bounced back, there was a pause, a lull. Then Yohji
felt an almost smothering pressure. It wasn't immediately heavy, but
it pressed in from all directions, creeping over his body, seeking
out weak points.
"The organization we worked for-- Kritiker-- called the criminals
'dark beasts,' and they were. Killers and... drug manufacturers...
and kidnappers... and evil. I know evil." Yohji couldn't stop a full
body twitch as he tried to cope with being touched everywhere at
once. "Selling children. Selling women. Setting desperate men to
killing each other." Does she believe me? Why isn't she
appalled? Maybe she is, and she's just not saying so. Is that what
she's projecting at me?
"You'll have to overcome this physical reaction to having your
shields tested. You look like you have a seizure disorder."
"Cut me some slack," Yohji protested. Though why I'd expect it
when she never does... "I've never done this before."
"Hm. Did you find your work satisfying?"
"Which work? Day job or night job?"
"Either. Both. They seem very different."
"The flowers were okay. We all liked them fairly well. There weren't
any-- Well, I suppose that's not accurate. It's just that flower
emergencies aren't life or death. Flowers mean something to people,
but it's all good. Even for funerals, flowers are a good thing." He
struggled to think of something further to say about flowers. I
never really gave them my full attention. He rubbed a hand
along the side of his face, trying to erase an itch that came purely
from his shields.
"And the night job?"
"It was a job. After a while, you stop paying a lot of attention.
It's all routine. I mean, it's life and death, but you've done it
all before. One death is very like another. And it never seemed to
make a lot of difference. There were always more creeps ready to
replace the old ones." Yohji wasn't even certain what he was saying.
"You're doing well," Empath Second Chekree said. "Let us continue.
What did you do with your time when you weren't working?"
Back in the apartment, Yohji tried to relax. He kept having to
re-establish his shields, and he almost gave up on them. There's
nothing in here to shield against. But Empath Second Chekree
had been adamant that he learn to keep his shields up constantly.
"Make it a habit," she had said, "and they'll even stay up when
you're asleep. You're very vulnerable then."
He had dinner and took a long bath. He spent a lot of time following
connections in the encyclopedia Nagi had given him. It was a small
device, about the size of Yohji's fist. It responded to voice
commands and projected an image of text into the air. Each article
linked to dozens more, and it was easy to get lost in the names and
facts. I have no idea what's important. Some articles, like
the one about the High Lord, were so full of propaganda as to be
effectively useless. I need to know whether or not I can trust
his word, not where he was born or who his favorite poet is.
When he couldn't stand the encyclopedia any more, he looked through
Nagi's movies and books. There were a lot of movies, and he knew
that Nagi hadn't watched all of them. Does he just buy every
action movie? Some of them aren't even in Japanese. How many
languages does he know? He squinted at the text on one case as
if that would make the words make sense. The books interested him
less, but he suspected they said more about who Nagi was. Non-fiction,
adventure stories. Explorers, anthropologists and the like. And
he's interested in history, our history. He found Kon Tiki
among the books but couldn't bring himself to touch it.
Too many memories. Too close to Schuldig. He took a deep
breath and rubbed his hands against his legs. Not that it would
have mattered if I was somewhere else in the cell right then. No.
Think about something else. Just thinking about Schuldig made
his shields harden and crack. He took a minute to smooth them out,
make them resilient again. He swallowed hard, trying to ease his
sudden nausea. I'll have to face him eventually. Nagi-san misses
He considered trying to get into the computer system. Nagi had shown
him the terminal and how to call it forth from the table and how to
dismiss it again. Yohji just wasn't sure what he could do with the
computer. I don't suppose there are games on there. Maps. There
must be a map of the base. I could memorize it. That would help.
He put down the book he was holding and went over to the table where
the computer was hidden. He stood looking at it for a long moment.
He clenched his hands, trying to tell himself that they weren't
shaking. There was a tiny pad recessed into the edge of the table.
Yohji pressed his thumb against it, and the computer assembled
itself in front of him. Let's see if this really works. He
lifted the machine from the table, carried it to the couch and sat
That's the power on button, I think. He took a deep breath
and released it slowly. His heart was beating fast. What happens
if I break it? I won't. I won't. No, it's just a thing. He'd just
replace it. And I won't break it. He pressed the button and
The computer whirred to life. It took no more than five seconds
before there was a little blinking light asking for Yohji's login.
Yohji hesitated, trying to find the right keys. Not that they're
quite keys. That one there. And that one. He wasn't a touch
typist on a normal keyboard, and nothing here was where he expected
it to be. His fingers felt clumsy, and he wondered if he should stop
to do some finger exercises. No. That's just putting it off.
After logging in, he stared at the screen, unsure what to do next. Nagi-san
said I could explore. He spread his fingers and rested them
gently against the screen. The cursor shifted, bouncing from finger
to finger. He snatched back his hand. Right. Don't do that.
He was looking at a text menu. Music? That's possible. But it's
probably all weird. Games? I didn't expect that. It would fill
some time, but they're not exactly useful. Forums? He tapped
the screen over the word. A new menu appeared, a list of discussion
categories. They were broad, things like 'music' and 'fiction' and
He tapped on Earth customs. A list of countries came up. He
deliberately ignored Japan, tapping instead on United States. Holidays.
Curses and slang. Food. Different regions. Popular culture. He
wandered through the categories and started reading discussions
about swearing in American English. After a few minutes, he backed
out of that and looked at holidays. Halloween and Thanksgiving both
had a lot of discussion. He followed some threads through then
backed out of the section on Earth customs. That's not telling
me anything useful.
He sat back and rubbed his face. There's so much here, and most
of it is useless. It won't tell me where the guys are or how to
get us all out of here. He doubted that he had access to
anything that would tell him the things he really wanted to know. But,
if I am stuck here, this is all good stuff to know. He
swallowed hard then inhaled through his nose. And I don't see a
way out. He felt himself shaking and was glad there was no one
to see. Nagi-san wouldn't like that. Anyway, just because I
can't see a way out now doesn't mean there isn't a one.
He stood up and walked over to the aquarium. He stared at the fish
for a long time. "I need to talk to someone," he told the fish. "But
there isn't anyone. Even if I could drink, there's nobody I could
take out for a drink and no bar-- Well, maybe there is one. People
need things like that, and this place is pretty big. But even if I
found a bar, I wouldn't dare go there. Nagi-san wouldn't like it."
He glanced at the clock. It wasn't even nine o'clock yet, and he
didn't feel tired. He was tempted to go to bed anyway. At least
sleep makes sense. He addressed the fish again. "I've got time
to think. I ought to use it. It's just dangerous." He took a deep
breath and released it slowly. He glanced back at the computer. "I
wanted to find maps. They must be in there somewhere." He nodded
firmly. "I'll do that and then go to bed. I wish I could print the
maps out. There must be a way to do that. He just didn't tell me.
Maybe Telat can explain it."
He closed his eyes for a moment then went into the kitchen for a
glass of water. When he came back, he sat down by the computer
again. He clenched his hands then flicked his fingers out,
stretching them as far as they could go. "That's right. Let's do
Back to Index.
Back to Part
On to Part 24.