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On to Part 5.

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. This section's still under revision, so it may change somewhat.

Rating: NC-17

Pairings: Nagi x Yohji. References to Crawford x Aya-chan.

Author: The RCK
Last updated: 5 April 2003 (minor editing)

Thanks to Amy the Evitable and Briar Rose for beta reading this chapter.


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 4

Okay, what do I do with him now? That didn't exactly go the way I wanted it to. I meant to be kind, to talk, to... make it not... unpleasant. I didn't want to hurt him, but I couldn't let that pass. Could I? No, I can't afford to show weakness. But... He didn't react according to his profile. I wonder if the drugs are too strong... That might explain it, but I don't think so. Nagi had already begun his analysis before the inner door closed behind him. I broke him a little further than I meant to today. It's not too far yet, I think, but... I'd better back off a bit. I've got time to play with. He waited patiently for the cycle to complete and the outer door to open. It's not like I've got a hard deadline, anyway. I can give him some time to recover, maybe just talk. He's got to be going crazy with nothing to keep him occupied.

When he said that, he was trying to be kind-- Why the hell did he do that? I don't deserve it, not under the circumstances, but I don't think he was trying to do anything else. I think he slipped and said what he meant. Kindness. Nagi clenched his hands for a second then relaxed them. I don't need anybody to be nice to me. And I should use that weakness against him. Compassion's got no place in there. Not his and sure as hell not mine.

He stepped out the door. Of course, Crawford will watch the tape. I think the dissociation symptoms weren't too obvious. I hope. He made his way toward the observation room. Why do I hope? Well, "I am not Balinese" is information Crawford doesn't have, but... If I'm going to be honest, I'm feeling proprietary. Kudoh'd give any information he has if we hit him again immediately, but I'd lose him. Was it really dissociation? I wonder... Or are those profiles really as accurate as we thought? He smiled. Kudoh's certainly smarter than the file indicates, and I think he has better self control. He barely moved while I had him pinned to the wall. That's impressive. I don't know many who could manage that.

No. I won't tell Crawford. It'd help him to know that the files might be... slanted, but I don't feel like sharing. Hm. I wonder if that means Fujimiya's smarter than Crawford thinks he is? I really ought to tell him that. But I bet he'd push Kudoh past breaking to find out. I don't think his beloved would let him pull the answers out of her brother, and as long as that's true...

Nagi paused in the doorway, allowing his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim lighting in the observation room. As  always, the gently glowing tangles of fiberoptic cables  seemed like some cross between Christmas lights and spiderwebs. The colors in the webs changed more frequently now than they had during Kudoh's periods of unconsciousness. The strings ran from the cameras and the pickups that read the signals emitted by the nanites within Kudoh's body into black-cased processors and from there to the projectors. 

Hovering above two of the projectors were three dimensional images of Kudoh; others featured graph outputs, and yet others showed tiny blobs moving within a dark, surging background. The latter, Nagi'd been told, showed a representation of the activities of the repair nanites, working at a cellular level. Nagi lacked the training to be able to interpret most of the projections-- He'd figured out the basics of the heart monitors, at least, having spent more time watching his own EKG readings than he cared to recall.

At least, we've got a couple of real screens showing video pickup as opposed this esoteric crap. No. Nagi felt a slight pang of guilt at that. Shouldn't put it down just because I don't understand it. The information's damned useful. I just hate that I can't read it myself. He turned his eyes to the technicians. My audience and I don't even know who they are. Three on duty...

One man sat in a comfortable looking chair, positioned to view all of the datafeeds while another crouched by a shiny black processor, pressing yet another glowing device against it. The third man sat close to the projectors tracking the nanites. Junior member of the team, then. Certain that he was still unobserved, Nagi allowed himself a smile. Stuck with the shit job. Been there, done that. Never, never again. Not that I have the training for that job.

Hm. All male. He felt a little relief at that then wondered why it should matter. And they could all fit in on Earth. Not something that can be said of everybody in this place. Coincidence? Possibly. At least half the base personnel fit that description, but... Is it meant to make me feel more comfortable or more self-conscious? Doesn't matter. Hard to guess their ages. No, actually it isn't. No way they're important enough to be older than they look. Just monitoring techs--

I on the other hand-- He squared his shoulders. I have power, status. Everything. Time to make an entrance. The moment Nagi entered the room, all eyes turned to him. He hid a smile. "Well?"

The technician sitting in the chair, either bolder than the others or unlucky enough to be senior, responded, "Nothing major, sir. He's just settling in." The man gestured toward a screen that showed Kudoh huddled with his blanket and his new toy. He had his face buried in the stuffed cat's fur and the blanket wrapped around his body. He looked up for a moment, clutching the cat closer.

Nagi strolled over to the monitor, deliberately invading the space of the two silent technicians. One of them actually flinched. They're not that freaked by Crawford. Am I that much scarier? "Take the lights down to half," he instructed. 

The spokesman looked startled. "Sir?" His hands were already making the necessary adjustments.

Good. Nagi sighed, just a little theatrically. "I want to encourage him to sleep and remind him that his environment can change."

The technician nodded and looked pleased by the response.

Oh, yes, I can be courteous. I'm no more a monster than anybody else who works here. Does that surprise you? "If he doesn't fall asleep in the next half hour, send in some food and keep giving him more as long as he asks for it. If he does, let him sleep himself out and then feed him. Call me when he wakes or if he does anything unexpected. If you're not sure, call." There. Simple instructions.

The technician nodded again. "Yes, sir. We'll do that, and I'll leave instructions for the next shift."

I wonder... "How many shifts are there?" Nagi appropriated a chair and sat down. "I haven't had a chance to look into the administrative details." At least that makes a reasonable excuse to talk.

"Three shifts, sir." The technician sat up straighter. The two who hadn't spoken seemed to have settled a little, looking by now more puzzled than nervous.

"Thank you." Nagi smiled at the man with a perfect simulation of sincerity. "I don't think we've actually been introduced. I expect you know my name, Naoe Nagi, but I'm afraid I don't know yours."

"I'm Mazi Antrin, sir. Senior monitoring technician. These are--"

Nagi cut him off before he could introduce the other men. I don't actually care about them. No point. "'Mazi Antrin.' You're not from Earth, are you?"

"No, sir. Ogden, the High Lord's third home."

Ah. And Earth will be sixth. If he wins. "Have you been briefed on the Japanese language and customs?"

Mazi Antrin looked a little embarrassed. "No, sir. I've got English and German, but..."

Nagi waved a dismissive hand. "Never mind. We'll get to it later. For the moment, if we're to work together, the appropriate form of address for you to use when speaking to me is 'Naoe-san.'" English and German. Does everybody center their attention on Europe and North America? Apparently so.

"Yes, Naoe-san."

I'll look up forms of address for Ogden later. Find out which one's his personal name. "What I'd like you to do for me, Mazi Antrin, is to make me a list of the personnel on all three shifts. I want to see their files in my office, and I can't get my secretary to pull those files without the list." Also without the secretary, but he doesn't know that... Or that my office is a small room I've only visited twice. At least I've got a window.

"I'll do that, Naoe-san." No flicker of expression gave Nagi any impression that the man resented the order. Good.

"Good. I'll expect it at the start of your shift tomorrow." Nagi rose to his feet and took a quick look around the room. One of the other technicians looked as if he were quite aware that he'd missed an opportunity; the other simply seemed relieved that Nagi was showing signs of leaving. Have to watch both of them. I don't want trouble for my new minion. Nagi looked at the monitor again. Kudoh didn't seem to have moved. The decreased lighting made the angles of his face more apparent. The shadows make him look lonelier.

Time to leave. "Gentlemen." Nagi nodded at the trio of technicians and left the room. At least, Crawford won't expect to see me immediately. That gives me time to think what I'm going to say. Nagi smiled to himself. Maybe I'll start by asking him to help me pick a secretary. That ought to throw him.

Nagi considered a side trip to the gardens but decided against it. I haven't got that long till Crawford calls me. In the mood I'm in, I'd get lost for a while, and that wouldn't help me make any decisions. I'll settle for coffee. No, hot chocolate.

Damn, I wish I'd paid more attention to my English lessons! Of course, reverse engineering is never easy, and I don't think anybody ever expected anyone to need to do this, but... It's like trying to put together a hard drive with a hammer, a pair of tweezers and a box of matches. None of the damn tools work. Omi looked down at the pile of iridescent pebbles in front of him. I've got to get this down; I don't know how much time I've got. Right now, my only protection is that they know I can't be here.

He picked up a pebble and let himself fall into it. Symbols given physical form jostled against him. A few of them were the dark blue that he associated with English words, and he moved himself to them. He pushed his perceptions to shift his subjective size relative to the words so that he could see the connections. No. No good. This is pronouns. I don't have enough vocabulary to understand the correlations. Not to mention that English pronouns are too general for me.

He pulled back. With a sigh, he dropped the pebble to his right and reached for another. Then he shook his head. This is getting me nowhere. Most of the things I'm used to thinking of as universal and concrete simply aren't. Not animals or plants. Not body parts. Not desk supplies. Not family relationships. I was making more progress working from the system architecture. I can tell what connects to what; I just can't figure out what the data means. He snarled in frustration. And I have to understand this. No way I can get us all out otherwise.

No. Calm down. Look at what I do know. They're called the Taisken, and they're not from Earth. I don't know what they want-- No. List what I know, not what I don't. Schwarz works for them, but the Taisken have other people with "talent." The place here is big. I think there're some research areas, a gymnasium of sorts, lots of living quarters. It's not just a prison. I'd bet that big open area's a garden or a park.

He stood and stretched. The Taisken network extended in all directions around him. His mind interpreted it as an Escheresque system of arches, platforms and shifting connections. After the first couple of days, he'd added a color code to help him remember important areas. So far as he could tell, that code existed only in his interface with the system and had no objective effect that someone else might spot, but he had to admit that he was gambling on that.

To be fair, I've gotten a lot. I can open any door in the place. I've even got a pretty fair map just from knowing where the doors and windows are. Even if I still can't tell a door from a window... I've found the lighting controls and air filtration. I can even bugger the system that's supposed to be keeping me doped. He smiled. I think the system likes me. Thank god it's not a real A.I. His smiled broadened. Yet.

:Nii-san--: His imouto's call sounded distant.

Omi stiffened slightly then relaxed and focused. His awareness of the world around him flickered briefly as he moved himself to a more superficial level of the system. He settled in the subroutines that controlled the doors. :What is it, Ouka-chan? Schuldig again?:

:Not this time. Crawford's here with a doctor-looking type. They're talking Taisken, so I can't tell you what it's about, but they brought a gurney.:

:Damn.: And I still can't interpret that surveillance system. It's back to my body or miss it. His virtual skin crawled at the thought. I hate being that helpless. Oh, well. Nothing for it. :Okay. Here I come.:

He imagined the return as a physical dive with a midair twist. His real world body twitched slightly as he reconnected. :How drugged am I supposed to be, Ouka-chan? I haven't been keeping track.:

:Not much actually. Sluggish, I think. The koi are reporting a stimulant shot.:

Omi felt a surge of affection for his imouto. They'd both been pretty freaked out by the sudden presence of swarms of nanites in his body. Ouka'd been the first to refer to them as fish, and somehow, calling them "koi" had happened naturally. I should thank you for them, Crawford. Of course, I'm sure you think they belong to you.

Ouka moved uneasily in his head. She couldn't hear the thought since he had deliberately masked it, but she could feel the feral hostility that lay beneath it. :Sorry. They bring out the worst in me.:

Omi opened his eyes, carefully keeping his expression blank. He took a brief look around, whimpered deep in his throat and flailed a little as if scrambling to wedge himself more firmly in his corner. He very carefully kept all hints of intelligent awareness from his face. After that single glance, he fixed his eyes on the wall beyond Crawford and his companion and curled himself into an unmoving ball. All those lessons in holding postures come in handy again... 

The "doctor-looking type" with Crawford was a short, thin woman with blond hair. She was on her knees next to Omi and had several small pieces of equipment spread on the ground around her. She froze as Omi moved then drew back a little, her lips pulling in in an expression of distaste. Hey, lady, I don't care much for the smell either. It's been a while since the last sponge bath.

Crawford also froze for a moment, looking at Omi intently. After the briefest hesitation, Crawford shrugged and began to speak again.

Omi could only get about one word in five, not really enough to give him much idea of what was going on but enough to let him know that he was making progress in learning the language.

:We could kill them both,: Ouka commented. :Some of those tools might make good weapons.:

:Not yet,: Omi answered. :I want to know more before we move.: He let her see a slight surge of amusement. :Funny the change a couple of years makes... You used to hate it when I killed people.:

:Nii-san!: she protested. :It's them! I was never against killing them!:

No, Omi admitted privately, you never were. That, in fact, had been the way Omi'd first become aware of her presence in his head, sudden inexplicable surges of visceral emotion interfering with his cold planning for revenge. He'd been afraid at first that Schuldig was playing with him again, but the concentrated hostility the other in his head had aimed at thoughts of the telepath had struck him as beyond Schuldig's capability for deceit. Omi'd also feared for a while that he was simply breaking under the strain of the situation, of his regained memories and his losses, but his imouto had objected strenuously to being labeled as insanity. Finally, Omi'd simply accepted the situation with all of its inherent difficulties and benefits.

"... wash ... Fujimiya... feed..." Omi recognized the two verbs simply from the number of times they'd been repeated in his presence, but it was the name that caught his attention, and he had to  suppress a twitch of recognition. He focused on Crawford's words and wished again that he'd managed to learn more of the language or even had been able to find a Taisken-Japanese dictionary in the files. If Crawford's here, Naoe ought to be, and he ought to find a dictionary useful. It's in there somewhere! :Ouka-chan, did they mention Ran-kun before I got back?:

:No.: Omi could feel a tension equal to his own in her response. :I'd have told you that,: she added, sounding just a little hurt.

He sent her a pulse of apology, the mental equivalent of squeezing her hand. :I'm just nervous, Ouka-chan. I think something's finally changing.: He settled in to wait.

Yohji had almost managed to calm himself enough to fall asleep, curling himself around the stuffed cat, when he felt something brush his mind. His whole body jerked, and he pulled himself upright to put his back against the wall.

:Good evening, Kudoh!: Schuldig's mental voice had an almost manic quality. :Still enjoying our hospitality?:

Schuldig's the wrong name for you. Malice would be better. Yohji tried desperately to marshal some sort of energy for this encounter, but he knew he'd almost nothing left.

:You wound me!: Schuldig laughed, and Yohji flinched as the sound echoed through his mind.

I wish.

:Is that any way to talk to someone who's doing you a favor? I'm staying out of things, remember? Or would you like me to interfere?:

Thank you, no. Yohji almost managed to make the response polite then wondered why he'd bothered. Schuldig could read what lay behind the words.

:Ah, but I appreciate the effort. Full points for that. And I'll even answer a couple of your burning questions. I can tell you how Hidaka got hurt and what's going on with Tsukiyono. I won't even ask a return favor!:

Given the resources I've currently got, I don't see what favors I could do you. Yohji worked his fingers deeper into the cat's fur. I'm not going to start shaking again!

:Do you want to know or not? I don't have to tell you, you know.:

Yohji pulled his knees up close to his chest and buried his face on them, using the stuffed toy for padding. I want to know. He was quite sure that his mental "voice" shook, but he was also quite certain of his answer. I have to know. He closed his eyes as his awareness of the cell faded.

Hidaka Ken sat sideways in the window frame, looking up at the sky. No stars tonight. Fitting enough I suppose. I don't think the other guys noticed my mood. Just as well. If Yohji figured it out, he'd feel guilty again...

He let his head tip back. Australia's that way, isn't it? I wonder what she's doing now and if she ever thinks of me. He shook his head a little. Probably not. Anybody sensible would forget after all this time. I hope she's happy. She's the one friend who I didn't pull under. Maybe even part of me is free with her.

Now that's maudlin. Ken closed his eyes just for a moment. A pleasant lethargy began creeping over him, taking the miserable tension he'd carried all day. I didn't think I'd sleep tonight, but maybe...

He sat bolt upright, just barely missing banging his head on the upper part of the frame. The air flowing past him felt warm and heavy. But I turned off the heat because I was opening the window. No point heating the whole city, right? He stuck his head out the window and took a deep breath of cool air. Then he darted back into his room, heading for the box where he kept his soccer shoes.

It'll still be there! It'll still be there! He held his breath as he reached in and rummaged around. And I thought Omi was just being paranoid! Damn, I keep too much crap in here! Ah-- His fingers closed on the metal and rubber of his contraband gas mask. First this, then weapons, then make sure the other guys are awake... I never thought we'd need this plan. Okay, I hoped we'd never need it.

Schuldig and Crawford stood on the roof of a building overlooking the Koneko. The sky was overcast with clouds spread in tatters softening the blackness of night. A chill wind threaded its way around them, almost masking the sounds of the city.

"How does it look?" Crawford didn't bother turning to look at Schuldig.

Schuldig shrugged. A moment later, he responded, "Hidaka's awake. He's gotten a gas mask from somewhere and is trying to wake the others."

Crawford closed his eyes for a second. When he opened them, he spoke in clipped words. "No matter. They won't kill him, and his resistance will burn Weiss' bridges nicely."

Schuldig looked down at the two vans pulling up on the street below. He smiled lazily. "So we don't warn them."

Crawford turned his head to look at Schuldig. His answering smile consisted of the barest twitch of his lips. "No. No need." He turned back to continue watching. "Just keep an eye on him and let me know if he decides to run. I don't think he will, but..." Crawford extended a hand and flicked the fingers outward. "Better to watch for it."

Ken wanted to howl in frustration. He'd failed to rouse any of the others, and he could hear intruders downstairs. He'd managed to get gas masks on Yohji and Omi but hadn't had time to try to find Ran's. The other three had all had their windows closed. Because we all know that an open window is an unforgivable breach of building security... Damn! Who knows when-- or if-- they'll rouse. I'm it. The last line of defense.

He crouched in the shadows at the top of the stairs. I can't tell how many of them there are, but they won't be expecting me. If I can get them all, I can get us all out of here. But he knew that was a remote hope. I could run. I don't think they'd catch me on my own. But... I can't. A slim hope's better than none, and that's what the guys have if I split.

He drew his lips back in snarl and let his energy coil in his legs. One leap and my surprise is gone. Make it count.

The door at the bottom of the stairs opened, and he caught a glimpse of darkly clad figures with their faces obscured by gas masks. Ken clenched his fists, extending the blades on his bugnuks, and threw himself down the stairs. His battle cry startled the men on the stairs and bought him precious seconds.

One, two, three down. How many to go? The narrow stairway robbed him of a great deal of his mobility, and he realized that he'd made a mistake. Well, not a mistake. The stairs were really the only good spot for an ambush. It's just... If I had Omi, we could do this. Hell, any of the others...

His momentum carried him to the bottom of the stairs and out into the room beyond. He tried to take advantage of the open space, but the opposition swarmed him under. As he went down, his eyes widened. Fuck! That's Hamada-san and Matoke-san. Kritiker finally betrayed us...

He did his best to protect himself from the beating that followed as his opponents vented their rage on his body. He could hear his bones snap, but he continued to struggle, calling out for his teammates to wake and protect themselves. The anesthesia of unconsciousness eluded him, but his movements weakened. Eventually, his enemies stripped him of his weapons and his gas mask. Three of them dragged him through the shop and to a waiting van while the others moved, with more caution this time, up the stairs into Weiss' lair.

Yohji's mouth was full of artificial fur as he bit down on the cat in an effort to stifle his sobs. That was... Oh, Ken, you moron... Ick. He pulled back a little and shifted his grip on the toy to move the soggy patch away from his skin. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. It doesn't matter if you cry, Kudoh. The people watching expect it, and you can't distract Ken or ruin his ambush or... His hands shook, so he pressed them into the yielding surface of the stuffed animal.

:Who're you trying to fool, Kudoh?: Schuldig's mental voice carried a sneer. :I know exactly how weak you are. Or did you forget I'm here?:

Yohji had forgotten.

Schuldig laughed. :Kudoh, Kudoh... You're losing your edge. Forgetting the presence of an enemy! I'm disappointed in you.:

Yohji relaxed the mental discipline that had confined his tangled emotions and let them fill his mind. He wasn't at all sure how Schuldig's talent worked, but Yohji had a vague sense that his thoughts might be harder to find if something else was in the way. Like finding fireflies in a thunderstorm... He closed his eyes and swallowed convulsively. And it's a hell of a storm in here. With no shelter in sight. He tried to pull his limbs in closer, seeking... I don't know what I'm looking for, but it sure as hell isn't here.

:So did that answer some of your questions? Crawford told you the truth about Hidaka at least. Was that what you wanted?:

I think it's working a little. It should; I can hardly hear myself think. Yohji focused his attention on pushing a few words through to where Schuldig was certain to see them. :What about Omi?:

:I think we'll save that one for later. Wouldn't want to push you into falling apart-- The kid'd notice that, and I'm sure neither of us wants him to figure out we've been talking.:

Rage like a wind pushed through Yohji's mind, obliterating all thought for a moment. :You utter bastard!: Normally, Yohji'd have suppressed his anger, bided his time, but this time he couldn't. He threw himself to his feet, letting blanket and toy drop.

Yohji growled and flexed his hands. If Schuldig had been present, Yohji'd have hurled himself at the German. A part of Yohji's mind growled satisfaction at the image of his fingers crushing Schuldig's throat.

But Schuldig wasn't there. No one was.

Yohji snarled at the room, baring his teeth. He stepped forward, still combat ready, hands in front of him as if he'd just grabbed an opponent's throat.

And his hands closed on air.

Nothing else moved. The only sounds not coming from him were the humming of the light, the soft whoosh of air through the vents, and an almost undetectable rattle of plumbing.

Yohji sagged as the rage leaked out of him. His legs shook, and he folded himself to the floor before they could give out entirely. He leaned forward and let his forehead rest on the cool smoothness. "You bastard," he whispered.

:Now that was bright, Kudoh. You'll have to think fast. The techs are calling Nagi, and he's going to want to know what the hell just happened. Hope you got a story for him. You'll need it if you ever want to hear about Tsukiyono.:

Yohji answered with another growl.

:Be that way. If you don't want to hear it, all you have to do is tell the kid the truth, and he'll ask me to stay away.:

:Nagi's not a child.: Yohji could barely muster coherent thought, but that single sentence crystallized in his mind.

:Shows what you know,: Schuldig snorted. :I've known him a lot longer than you have.:

Yohji's breathing was starting to even out, and he felt a momentary clarity, the detachment of exhaustion. :How old is he, Schuldig?: He formed each word with exquisite care, as he might speak when drunk, and then pushed them gently out for the telepath to see. And why does it matter to you? He didn't much care if Schuldig heard the second question or not but rather thought that it would remain hidden, cloaked in exhaustion.

Schuldig's response was just a little uncertain. :I don't know... He doesn't know.:

Yohji wanted to laugh but suppressed the urge. If I start that, I won't be able to stop. :I think you're the fool, Schuldig. Children grow up.:

Schuldig didn't answer.

Yohji closed his eyes. It's very pleasant... not to think.

Nagi had just finished heating the rice milk when his cel phone rang. He sighed and reached for the device.


The voice on the other end surprised him a little; he'd been half expecting Crawford. "Naoe-san, something just happened with the prisoner. I think... Well, you said to call if anything unusual happened, and..."

The man sounds miserable. He's not sure whether or not I meant it. "I see. How quickly do I need to be there?" It all depends on if it's actually important or not...

"He's asleep now, sir, but-- Well, I think you'll want to see the tape."

Curious. "I'll be there in a few minutes then." But if he's asleep, I'll finish mixing the hot chocolate. Nagi disconnected without bothering to say goodbye. After setting down the phone, he added cocoa powder, sugar and vanilla to the heated liquid and stirred. And I still don't understand why Schuldig prefers "real" milk. It's disgusting stuff. He poured the resulting mix into a mug and raised it so that he could inhale the steam. Crawford would say that my cultural prejudices are showing. Shows what he knows. If it were true, I wouldn't be drinking something this sweet.

He blew gently across the surface of the liquid. I'd hoped for a little more time. I really need to think. I know more or less what Crawford wants from Kudoh. Okay, what he says he wants. But I have no idea what I want.

Okay, don't start from that end. What can I get out of it? I could destroy him; that would be almost easy. If it weren't for Tsukiyono, I think Kudoh might try to get me to kill him. Do I object to that? It would end the matter, and... I'd regret that. Nagi fixed his eyes on the dark wood of the cabinets in his kitchen but didn't really see them. He frowned and took a sip of his hot chocolate. The liquid scalded his tongue, and he swallowed quickly. Damn! Kudoh bothers me. Maybe I should kill him... If I do it right, Crawford won't be too upset; Kudoh's "disposable" after all. But...

A live Kudoh who belongs to me is an asset. My asset. Not Crawford's. Not Schuldig's. Nobody's but mine. I want that. I want that very much. Too much? No. I want... No. Not now. I've got to get down there and find out what the fuss is about.

Nagi finally compromised by taking his mug with him as he returned to the observation room. I've got to get some sort of feed for images so I don't have to make this hike every time they've got something to show me. Damn well bet that Crawford doesn't. He walked with long strides, taking pleasure in the fact that, now that he'd reached his full growth, he no longer had to look like he was hurrying to get anywhere. Even if I am. I'll never match Crawford's height, but at least I'm not scrawny and tiny any more. I'm tall enough that Schuldig ought to feel silly calling me 'kid.'  Not that he's noticed...

"So what is it I need to see?" Nagi demanded as he came through the door.

"Naoe-san." Mazi Antrin stood and offered his chair to Nagi. "I've got the sequence set to go on this screen. As you can see--" He indicated a monitor displaying a variety of fluctuating charts and numbers. "Right now, the prisoner seems to be sleeping."

Nagi glanced at the numbers. Not like I can read much more than the vitals. He moved his gaze to the images from the cells' cameras. Kudoh lay sprawled untidily, facedown, a step or two from his pallet. The half light gave the scene a sinister cast. Okay. Something certainly happened. "Show me." He slipped into the chair and focused his full attention on what he was about to see.

Kudoh lay huddled on his bed, wrapped in his blanket with his face buried in the fur of his stuffed cat. Yes. That was a good idea. Kudoh didn't seem to be moving. Numbers and words scrolled across the bottom of the screen. I can't read those properly yet.

Nagi looked at Mazi Antrin for just a moment before indicating the screen with his chin. "He doesn't seem all that active."

"No, sir. He wasn't.  This is-- Ah, the time index puts it as about 15 minutes after you left. His breathing had more or less settled. Pulse... Blood pressure... The stress levels were still pretty high, but we expected him to fall asleep. Then--" Mazi Antrin reached around Nagi and pushed a button to freeze the action just as the Kudoh on the screen spasmed, his grip on the cat tightening visibly. "Sudden spikes here, here and here."

Nagi nodded, and the tech let things start again. Kudoh pulled himself up to sit with his back to the wall. Something scared him. Then Kudoh pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them; the cat got folded up somewhere in there, but Nagi wasn't entirely certain where it had ended up. He looks like that when he knows I'm going to hurt him, doesn't he? Sort of nothing to do but endure and get through it. He looks so fragile that way... But he's not, not really.

"Here, sir, is where I think things get interesting--" Mazi Antrin froze the screen again.

Kudoh's not moving so... Nagi attempted to look intelligent as he examined the medical data.

"We've gotten similar readings in the past when he was dreaming, more specifically when he was having nightmares from that first nicotine patch. But he's not asleep here."

No... Damn, I wish I hadn't ordered the lights down! Nagi strained trying to see details as the time indicator started moving forward again. I think he's moving a little... Not a lot. Yes. There. He's tightening in. Nagi touched the screen with his fingertips. As if that would tell me more...

"Now, he's holding his breath. At least, that's my assumption." Mazi Antrin glanced at one of the other techs. "There's nothing to indicate a biological cause for the cessation of respiration, and when he does start again-- He gulps quickly then stops again then goes with a pattern of shallow inhalations. Heart rate and blood pressure have both increased. For the rest-- Well, his autonomic nervous system was already doing wind sprints... And I wouldn't have expected it to have slowed down by that point, so these readings aren't useful." Kudoh moved, lifting his head a little. "Now he's taking deep breaths. Definitely trying to get things regular, I think."

I didn't do anything to cause this. Did I? This isn't what I want--

Kudoh seemed to erupt off of the mattress, shedding the blanket and letting the toy fall behind him. Even the dim lighting couldn't conceal the wide eyes and bared teeth. His hands came up briefly as if reaching to crush something. A throat? Then they fell back a little. Kudoh bent his legs and leaned forward as if ready to spring.

Nagi felt that his eyes had gone wide. Mine! I want that! No. I don't.

Kudoh froze for a second before looking around the room. He started to tremble visibly and began, slowly, to crumple in on himself.

"He was out just seconds after he hit the floor, Naoe-san. That outburst took all the energy he had left."

Nagi nodded absently, not really paying attention to the tech's words. But I do. I want the fragile and the feral. To have them both when I wish... I... Not now. "You were right to call me," Nagi said. "I needed to see this." Nagi pushed back  the chair and stood. "Leave him where he is, and proceed according to my previous instructions. Again, call me if anything unusual happens."

Nagi picked up his mug and left the room.

Ran was grateful for the distraction provided by the arrival of the packing materials, flattened cardboard boxes, tape, bubble wrap. Packing'll give me something else to think about. Not Kudoh. He started with his books. I'll have to read to Omi. It always filled in the gaps with Aya-chan. Maybe my voice will help him feel safe.

Kudoh doesn't feel safe.

I am not going to think about Kudoh. He's acting weak. I can't believe he cried like that. Clinging to Naoe... Weak.

Kudoh's weak.

But I watched, and... Kudoh's weak. I'm not. I won't be. His eyes wandered to the trio of monitors; then he turned away abruptly. I should find a way to help him, but... I can't think of one. He slammed book after book into the box. I shouldn't have fucking watched. At least, Kudoh doesn't know I did. Doesn't know I-- No! The cardboard flap of the box tore as he pulled it closed. Slow down! You don't want Crawford to see you're rattled. Rattled! God! Poor Kudoh... How he looked... He shook his head. Beautiful. He looked beautiful. What kind of sick bastard does that make me?

Not me. It's not my fault. Kudoh's weak.

Ran took a seat next to Omi's bed. He looks peaceful enough. I think I like it better when his eyes are closed. It's easier than when he stares through me. Which is in turn easier than when he panics. But he hasn't panicked since Crawford left.

Good enough.

He took Omi's hand in his own for a moment. No. That feels wrong. He set the hand down, straightening Omi's arm so that it lay along his side. "Hello, Omi. I don't suppose you can actually hear me. They say you're not getting anything much from out here, but... They've given us a nice apartment, Omi. It's a lot nicer than where you were before. The furniture's in Western style, but you always said you liked that, so I guess you won't mind."

Ran looked around the room. "They let us have most of our stuff from home, too. Nothing really useful, but we've got our clothes, our books, our music. There's even that picture of Ouka-chan that her mother gave you after-- I put it over there where you can see it if you ever do really open your eyes.

"I have to apologize in advance for the food. They gave us a kitchen, said it was easier to have me cook for you when I'm ready to feed you than to keep bringing stuff in for me to use. I've got instructions about what's okay to feed you, but I'm not sure I understand them. Nobody much here seems to speak Japanese, so I had to rely on my English and Crawford's translations.

"That's right, in case you didn't know-- It's him. Him and all the rest of Schwarz. They're working for somebody new now, but Crawford won't answer my questions. Aya-chan's been more forthcoming, but I'm not sure she really knows much. She calls the group the Taisken and says they want to take over the world. Like that's a surprise with Schwarz involved. And that asshole, Crawford, is using her again. Just like last time."

Ran fell silent. I know there are cameras in here. They're hidden, not like in the cells, but... There's no way Crawford's giving us any privacy. Oh, well. It's not like he doesn't already know my opinion of him. He twitched the blanket higher on Omi's body then rearranged it to cover the arm he'd straightened earlier.

"He bought us from Kritiker. He wanted me so Aya-chan would-- Would-- Hell, Omi! She's pregnant, Crawford's child, or so he says. So she says. He's had her longer than the rest of us." Ran stood up and walked to the other side of the room. Calm down. I've got to calm down. If I yell, I might push him deeper. An even voice is better. He'll hear the tone not the content. He stopped and leaned his forehead against the wall. After a moment, he turned back and returned to his seat.

"I'm sorry, Omi. I get upset about this sometimes. They told me I need to stay calm with you. At least, I think they did. Apart from Schwarz, nobody in this place speaks Japanese.

"Wait. I already told you that didn't I? Don't suppose it matters; you're not going to notice repetition. Anyway, Crawford says he'll be making sure I learn the language after you and I get settled in." And I'm not sure how I feel about that. I need to know it. I really need to know it. But... It's what Crawford wants. I don't see the trap yet, but it's bound to be there.

"Hidaka-- Ken-- He's fine. Well, they beat the crap out of him after he killed some of them. Nothing too serious, I don't think. Just some broken bones." Just. Makes it sound like I expect him to be up and around any minute now. I don't think I'll mention the chains... "He's in a sort of infirmary and was being treated well the last I knew." Ran heard his voice break a little on the last sentence and clenched his hands tightly. I will not show weakness.

He sighed. "It was a trade, Omi-kun. Crawford said... I had monitors that let me see how all three of you were doing, but... The bastard gave me a choice, said I could have the monitors or I could... We could share rooms like this. Said they'd only upset you. So anyway, I don't know what's going on right now, not any more." I'm not going to mention Kudoh. Omi may not hear me, but... It's better if he doesn't know. Much better. I couldn't tell him about it.

Omi kept his eyes closed and his breathing even as he listened to Ran talk. He's leaving things out. I wish I could ask him questions. Hm. Should my condition improve? No. I've got to figure out the surveillance system. Then I can look him in the eye and demand answers.

Like what's happened to Yohji-kun? It must be bad, or Ran-kun wouldn't try to hide it. Not when he's quite willing to talk about Ken-kun's broken bones as if they're nothing.

"So how long has he been like this?" Nagi made an effort to keep his tone even. This idiot's annoying me. I thought I left clear instructions about this.

"Since he woke up-- Ah--" The tech, a woman whose name Nagi wasn't sure of, looked at a screen. "Two point five hours ago."

"And you didn't call me because?" Come up with a reason for me not to hurt you, and maybe I won't. Nagi gave her his coldest glare, just for a moment, before looking back at the displays from the cameras in the cell. Kudoh hasn't stopped moving since I got here.

"Sir?" The woman sounded puzzled.

I don't think she's figured it out yet. If it weren't for the fact that I can see the note on the wall that outlines my orders, I might be convinced that she didn't know what I wanted. "I believe I left explicit instructions." Nagi used his power to turn her so that she faced the paper posted on the wall. "There. You were to call me when he woke."

The woman squeaked slightly and then fell utterly silent. Oh, good. She understands. The other two techs on the shift were cowering, trying to stay as far from Nagi as the room would permit. You two are lucky. She's senior; she catches the shit.

"So why do I find myself discovering that my prisoner is awake only two and a half hours after the fact?" Do I give her a warning or do I make an example of her? I have to work with these people again, and some of them may like her. Or may not. "Did you send in food?" Yes. I'll let that question settle it. If she tried to feed him, I won't kill her. Nagi turned to look at her again. Oh.

The woman had fallen to her knees and had her forehead pressed to the floor. I guess she really has figured it out now. "Did you send in food?" Nagi repeated, a bit impatiently.

"Yes, sir. We did, but he hasn't touched it." The woman's response was muffled by her posture. "I'm sorry, sir. I--" She stopped abruptly.

Probably can't think of any real excuse. She just didn't take me seriously. Nagi looked down at her for a moment, then glanced at her subordinates. They were staring at him. He smiled slightly. "I accept your responsibility for this lapse." The formal Taisken phrase came more easily than he'd expected. "I will not demand further recompense from you. This time." But I will have you transferred. Moron. After I look around to find someone to replace you.

I have no desire to be fair. Nagi focused his attention on the image of Kudoh again. He really is graceful when he's free to move. I bet it was better before he started to tire. I'll have to get the tape. "Has he taken any breaks? Has he had any water?"

One of the other techs, a man, answered, "He hasn't stopped moving. He voided his bladder right after he got up, and then he drank some water, but he hasn't stopped otherwise."

On the screen, Kudoh stumbled. He's really not up to this. But I don't think he's going to stop. Not until his body makes him stop. "I want a copy of the tape for this waking period on my desk after he falls asleep again. Replace the tray as many times as he'll accept if he actually eats before sleeping, and replace it anyway the next time he wakes up. At that point, call me no matter what he's doing. Oh, and next time he wakes, bring the lights up to full."

Nagi stood for a few seconds longer, watching Kudoh dance his katas. Then Nagi turned and left the room without another word.

"I think he'll be passing out again soon, Naoe-san," Mazi Antrin observed. "He's too dehydrated to keep this up."

Nagi allowed one corner of his mouth to quirk in an almost smile. "I'm astonished he's continued moving this long." At least, I've got someone intelligent to work with this time. "We'll let him exhaust himself. I think it's better if he's responsible for his own passing out. After that... You're clear on my instructions?"

"Yes, Naoe-san. As soon as he's unconscious, we'll gas him. Once the air clears, you'll be able to go in. Do you have everything you need?"

Nagi shrugged, not bothering to look away from the screen. "I think so. My assistant's very efficient. Besides, if I need anything else, I just have to ask." My assistant... I should have found one sooner. It's good to have somebody else to deal with the running around.

"Anything... esoteric... may take a little while to provide for you."

Is that humor? Yes. I do believe it is. Good. Nagi smiled. "I don't expect miracles, Mazi."

Kudoh tripped over his own feet and fell to his hands and knees. He forced himself up again and continued his interrupted movement. Just a hint of rage there, I think. His weakness angers him, and he knows I'll be back.

Nagi pulled out a chair and sat down. "I was going to see about taking care of some other business, but I don't think he's going to last long enough to make leaving worth my while."

"Of course, Naoe-san."

Nagi watched intently as Kudoh fell again and dragged himself to his feet again. How long can he keep going? He can't manage any precision at all now; he's shaking too badly. I wish I was in there with him. He's got an intensity... Ouch! Kudoh drove a hand into the wall then stared at his fist grimly. Ah, Yohji-kun, that won't do anything for you. I could break down the wall, but I doubt you can.

I want your soul, Kudoh Yohji. I'll just have to get comfortable with the rest of you.

Note 1: "Dissociation" is a term used in psychology and psychiatry to refer to the fragmentation of a personality under pressure. The mind simply separates from whatever it can't deal with. It's the technical term for what most of us mean when we say "split personality." Here, Nagi's thinking that he may have pushed Yohji too hard, that Yohji's breaking down in a way that Crawford won't like and that Nagi didn't intend. The possibility that Balinese has always been a mask for Yohji has occurred to Nagi but isn't yet something he takes entirely seriously.

Note 2: I'm drawing non-canonical Japanese names from the following site:
These names are not meant to be references of any sort to real people, other fictional characters, etc., and the site doesn't give meanings of names, so I'm also not intending anything clever in that direction.

Note 3: For those who care, Omi's abilities with the computers and such here are modeled after some stuff found in GURPS Psionics, basically an ability called "cyberpsi." The level of power Omi's showing would be rather expensive if one were designing a role playing character, but this is a work of fiction, so I don't have to worry about how many points things cost or about balance of play. There may well be some secondary ability involved in his ability to deceive Schuldig, but I haven't decided exactly what it would be. I'm not sure a precise definition's required, at least not yet.

Note 4: Yes, I know how Omi and Ouka are really related, but nobody's told them that, and even if they knew, the basic situation wouldn't change. And I'm not committing one way or another as to whether this is a case of genuine case of mental cohabitation or a bit of insanity on Omi's part. Believe as you prefer; I don't plan to resolve the question.

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On to Part 5.