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Back to Part 5.
On to Part 7.

Weiss and Schwarz do not belong to me. I'm borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Warnings: Yaoi. Swearing. References to past child sexual abuse. Nonconsensual sex. Bondage. Although I'm setting this a couple of years past the main series, Nagi's age combined with his actions may squick some people. Also, I'm ignoring Gluhen and the drama CDs, so don't expect this to be consistent with them.

Rating: NC-17

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

Author: The RCK
Last updated: 24 April 2003

Thanks to Amy the Evitable and Briar Rose for beta reading this chapter. Thanks also to Amy the Evitable for encouraging me to keep writing and assuring me that it all could and did work.


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 6

I can't wait till Ran-kun's language lessons start. Omi looked down at the pebbles piled around him and smiled sourly. Each one a lesson to teach English to speakers of Taisken... I can't help thinking there must be an easier way. Well, obviously there is, and I bet I could get it if I "woke up." It's just that Crawford takes me a lot less seriously when I'm catatonic, and Schuldig will be a lot harder to fool if he actually starts trying to play with my mind.

But working on this keeps me from giving myself away. The longer I watch Ran-kun, the more I want to smack him. That would do wonders for my image. Although I suppose Ran-kun would be astonished if I restrained myself. We all know someone has to do it from time to time.

I just wish it weren't so obvious that he's refusing to think! Omi sighed. Maybe I should go poke at the surveillance systems again. At least I'm making some progress there. He stood and stretched. God, I wish I could do that in my body! I need to officially wake up soon, or I won't be able to move at all. I'll have to see what Ouka-chan thinks; she's better at predicting Schuldig than I am.

He stretched further and pushed off from his platform. The speed of his movement through the system still astonished him. As he neared his objective, he immediately noticed that something had changed in the flow of information around the apartment he shared with Ran. What the hell? That's the security system, I think.

:Nii-san!  Get back here!: The hint of panic in Ouka's words told him that he didn't have time to waste, so Omi twisted his path to send himself back to the world outside. Settling back in his body hurt as he forced his senses into full alert.

Slow transition's so much easier... :What is it, Ouka-chan?:

:Don't know. Ran-kun left for dinner on schedule. He even apologized for leaving us alone. He's been gone about five minutes, I think. Then the door opened. Someone's come in. It's not Schuldig, and it doesn't sound like Crawford. Besides, shouldn't he be at the dinner too?:

:Right. We'll play it close.: Omi strained his senses. Yes. Someone walking. He's not bothering to be quiet, but he's not very noisy either. :I think it's better to keep my eyes closed, Ouka-chan. Make sense?:

:Yes.: Ouka's agreement came grudgingly.

:I think he knows what he's after.:

:Yeah, us. I don't like this.:

Neither do I. Especially given that something was different about the surveillance system... On one side, change is good; it lets me see what does what. On the other... I don't see why anyone would make changes in order to come look at a comatose body. :I need to check something in the system when we get the chance.:

:Don't leave me alone! I'm not sure I can protect us against... whatever it is.:

:Shh. I won't leave you behind in this. I promised I'd look after you, didn't I?: This has her worried. I forget, sometimes, that she's not as cold as I am, that nobody trained her for this. Omi focused for a moment on creating a mental embrace for his sister.

Quiet footsteps entered the room and approached the bed on which Omi lay. "So you're what he's paying for." The voice was quiet and masculine and quite unfamiliar to Omi.

:Ouka-chan? Any ideas?:

:Sorry, no. I don't think he's been in before, though.:

Omi heard the muffled movement of the chair that Ran had left by the bed. He's sitting. I suppose that's better than some things he could be doing. There're some things we'd have to react to. No, don't think of that right now. We already worked out what mattered that way a while ago.

"Schuldig and Crawford both insist that you can't hear anything anyone says to you. They're probably right, but... They've each been wrong a time or two before, so just in case... We've met before, at least in passing. I'm Naoe Nagi. And I won't hurt you. I made him a promise, well not explicitly, but I won't break it without good reason."

Naoe. What the hell does he want? And who's he talking about?

:It has to be Yohji-kun. Who else could it be? I'm more surprised he's being so polite.: Ouka's comment didn't particularly surprise Omi. He was making no effort to keep his private thoughts private, and when he didn't work at it, she had  to make an effort not to hear.

:I'm afraid you're right. It would fit with Ran-kun's... incoherencies.: Omi curbed his mental snarl in an effort not to let his emotions affect his body.

"Why do you matter so much to him? Oh, I know what Kritiker's psychologists think, but I'm coming more and more to the conclusion that they're idiots."

The slightest rustle of cloth warned Omi before fingers brushed hair off his forehead, and he suppressed a responding flinch.

"So why is he protecting you?" The fingers vanished, and Omi heard his visitor settle back in the chair. "I appreciate it because it makes some things easier, but an attachment that strong will get in my way. And it is strong. Just the thought of you makes him bend." Naoe's tone became a little bitter; then he sighed as if relinquishing that emotion. "Without that, I'd have to overpower him every time I walk in there. Even now when he already knows what he's up against..." Nagi sounded torn between frustration and admiration. After a moment, he sighed.

:I do not like this,: Omi commented. :Whatever's going on with Yohji-kun, Naoe's responsible.:

:And we both know what that "whatever" probably is,: Ouka answered.

Omi reacted sharply to Ouka's response, shifting his focus away from Naoe. :What?:

:Oh, nii-san...: Ouka sounded sad, and this time, she was the one to enclose Omi in a mental embrace. :It has to be rape. What else would have Ran-kun reacting like that? And Naoe... He wouldn't have to overpower Yohji-kun for much else.:

Omi felt like she'd punched him in the gut. He clung to her mental presence for a moment then steeled himself to listen to more of Naoe's monologue.

"He doesn't know you're like this. Crawford thought he didn't need to know. I'm not sure I agree, so I may tell him. Then again, I may not. I'd rather have him thinking about me. And he does. He'll forget about you, about the why, eventually."

Omi tried to focus his attention on the tone of Naoe's voice, on the sounds of Naoe's movements. I have to know what he's doing. He kept finding his thoughts wandering back to the thought of Yohji. I'm not doing very well for my people, am I? Poor Yohji-kun. Then Naoe moved again, and Omi had to fight a shiver as the blanket lifted off his body. What's he doing now?

"At least Fujimiya's keeping you clean. You weren't very before; Crawford didn't want to waste the manpower. I want to look at you so I can tell him you're well. As well as can be expected anyway. I'll mention it the next time he needs comfort..." Naoe's next words sounded almost gloating. "He knows it's a trap when I comfort him, but he can't fight the need."

Oh, Yohji-kun, I'm sorry!

Naoe's hands smoothed the tee-shirt Omi wore. "If what he feels about you is sexual, I suppose it's understandable. You're pretty enough."

:Nii-san--: Ouka hesitated then went on, :You know perfectly well it's not your fault.:

:I know, but-- They're using me to make him cooperate! I should have taken better care of him, of all of them.:

:Bullshit, nii-san.:

Ouka's unexpected profanity left Omi wordless.

"A diaper? I suppose that makes sense. I understand you're not always still, and I can't really imagine Fujimiya dealing with a catheter anyway.

"Fujimiya..." Naoe's hand clenched in the fabric of Omi's tee shirt. "Why the hell does he care what Fujimiya thinks?"

He's pissed. What's Ran-kun been doing? What's Yohji-kun been saying?

"Does he think Fujimiya's going to punish him for doing what Fujimiya told him to do? I looked at Kritiker's files on Weiss. Everything we got. It says discipline is 'handled internally.' What does Fujimiya do if you upset him?" Naoe fell silent and began smoothing Omi's shirt.

Of course it's handled internally. You don't think I'd hand one of my people over to Kritiker just because he made a mistake?

:He doesn't think they're your people at all, nii-san.:

:Well, obviously, but...:

:You can't have it both ways.:

Omi couldn't think of an answer, so he changed the subject. :I don't think, at least, that he's going to hurt us. Well, I don't think he intends to.:

:No...: Ouka hesitated for a moment before going on. :I don't think he's very... stable, though. And why doesn't he use Yohji-kun's name?:

:I don't know. I think it's important, but... I don't know.:

Naoe picked up Omi's hand and turned it over. "His hands are covered with scars. What stories did he tell his lovers to explain them? Or were they all too stupid to notice and wonder?" He ran his thumb across Omi's palm. "You don't have those sorts of scars, just calluses. Do you ever need to explain them to anybody?"

Omi kept his response carefully hidden from his sister. No. I don't. It's hard to have a sex life or even a romance with my imouto along for the ride. I even have to watch my thoughts to make sure they're suitable.

Naoe shifted in his chair and sighed. He began a gentle massage of Omi's fingers. "I should be glad about the Fujimiya thing, I know. It makes it so much easier to separate him from the rest of you. Fujimiya's about guaranteed to do something stupid, and then-- But that means I have to let Fujimiya hurt him." Naoe's fingers tightened briefly on Omi's. "I do not like that. He's mine. He even knows it. He hasn't admitted it to me yet, but he will. He keeps getting closer to it."

Rage flashed through Omi's body, almost making him spasm. I'm going to kill you, you son of a bitch! Yohji's mine! He doesn't belong to you-- He's Weiss, and Weiss is mine!

Only Ouka's interference kept him motionless. He snarled at her, but she stood firm. :No, nii-san. Not yet.:


:When we can win. I don't think you can move fast enough right now even with surprise on your side, and if you fail, we'll have lost everything without helping Yohji-kun at all.:

Omi sighed mentally and forced himself to relax. :I think I'd better go look at the security system. It'll at least get me out of here until I've got my temper under control.:

:Yes,: Ouka agreed. :I think that would be best. I'll keep track of what he says, and we'll go over it later.:

Ran barely restrained himself from slamming the door as he entered his apartment. Damn Crawford! And damn Kritiker for selling us to him! He took a deep breath and glared at the wall. His hands wrapped themselves into fists. No. I will not give him the satisfaction. Absolutely not. He will not win this way. He forced his fingers to relax. Putting my fist through the wall will just tell Crawford that he got to me. And give him something else to make me pay for.

Rent! Fucking rent! Ran snarled under his breath. It's not like we want to be here. Hell. What's he going to do? Evict us? He took another deep breath. No. He'll just take Omi away from me and make me ask Aya-chan for everything. Refusing to let his bleak conclusions show, Ran walked toward Omi's room. I'll just check on him...

Omi lay peacefully. Good. He's sleeping. Ran's expression softened. I'll just take care of him first. Then I'll deal with this anger. I just have to channel it properly... "I'm back, Omi. Aya-chan's well. Crawford's... Crawford." His lips twisted. I shouldn't worry Omi with this. "I'm sorry I had to leave you behind.  I hope you weren't lonely. I'm probably going to be in and out a bit now. Aya-chan wants me to spend more time with her." If he were awake, he'd know I was lying. But he's not awake. He can't do anything here. "If I'm gone for long, somebody else  will be in to look after you." He brushed hair back from Omi's forehead. "I hope you'll be good for whoever it is. I suppose I shouldn't worry about that; you're always well behaved." Well, unless you're trying to kill someone, but... Damn. I wish you were up to that.

Finally satisfied that Omi was comfortable and wouldn't need attention for a while, Ran straightened and turned away. "I'll be back later. I need to practice for a while." And he'd know there was more to it if he were... really here. He wouldn't let me lie to him. Who'd have thought I'd miss that?

Once the bokuto was in his hand, Ran felt more certain of himself. I'll just run through the forms until this is out of my system. He focused his attention on his movements. No. Too stiff. Again. Again.

After a while, he paused to wipe sweat from his eyes. This isn't working. Tough. There isn't anything else. Again. I'll work till I'm too tired to think. Then I'll keep going a while longer. Again.

"You're really not getting anywhere, Fujimiya." The words came in a familiar drawl.

An enemy! Ran spun, dropping into a combat ready stance.

Schuldig stood in the doorway, his shoulder leaning on the frame. "Some things just can't be sublimated like that." He straightened up and smiled. "Is violence your answer to everything? We'll have to teach you other ways of sublimating..."

For all the world like I'm unarmed. Ran narrowed his eyes. "What do you want?" Nothing good certainly.

Schuldig shrugged and used a hand to flip his hair back off his shoulder. "I just thought I'd stop by and see how your evening went. Well, that, and drop off a couple of videotapes." Schuldig looked Ran up and down.

How the hell does he manage that? He makes me a toy just by looking. Bastard. I won't be his toy.

"So, Fujimiya, no words of greeting? I suppose it's too much to ask of you. Words aren't really your thing, are they? You're a man of action." Schuldig smiled, and his eyes narrowed. "So if I step in there, are you going to attack me? Not that I object; I'd just rather have it clear before we start."

:Like you don't know!: Ran aimed the thought like a sword thrust.

:Well, you don't, do you?: Schuldig's upper lip curled a little. "A brawl could be fun. Of course, whining afterward would be cheating." Schuldig stepped forward. "No complaints to your sister."

Ran's breath hissed between his teeth. "Leave her out of it!"

Schuldig shrugged and took another step forward. "If you will. Of course, we both know there's no way to do that, not really. She's what everything's all about for you. That worries her, you know. She thinks it's time her onii-san settled down with someone, had a life of his own. Not her life." Schuldig took another step.

Ran took a half step backward. "What the hell have you been doing in her head?" :Liar!:

Schuldig spread his hands in front of him. :That's hardly kind, Fujimiya.: "When people think about things, particularly--" Schuldig's smile had the sharpness of a knife wound. "Particularly when they obsess, I can't keep them out." He took another step forward. "She worries about you, and she'd like to see you happy. Whatever it takes to make you happy." :Whatever it takes. She really means that.:

Ran couldn't produce a retort, so he lunged forward. Schuldig dodged to one side and laughed. Ran snarled and pursued.

:Playing tag are we now?: Schuldig sounded amused. :You should have a better grip on your temper, Fujimiya.:

Aya-chan never asked me not to kill him-- Ran slashed at Schuldig who somehow managed not to be there.

:No, she didn't,: Schuldig commented. :As long it's not her, not Crawford and not yourself, she doesn't care. Of course, I don't plan to let you kill me, but I think there are plenty of options for working out your rage. Most of them even more fun than killing me...:

:Somehow, I doubt that.: Ran felt a surge of anticipation. His skin tingled as if Schuldig's blood had already fountained forth, splashing Ran.

:I'd just like to point out that you're not going to get that effect with a stick-- Not unless it's got a better edge on it than I think it does.: Schuldig laughed and dodged again. :Even leaving aside the fact that you're exhausted while I'm just getting started, do you really think you could? If you do manage to kill me, you'll have to watch those tapes in order to know what's on them. You'd have to know, wouldn't you?:

Tapes? Oh, he said something about tapes. Who cares? Ran lunged again. Actually... What the hell is on them? He felt a sudden sinking in his stomach. Oh, no... He stopped dead. "That American son of a bitch--"

Schuldig darted in and tapped Ran on the nose before jumping back out of reach. "Got it in one! And here I thought you'd need at least three guesses. Crawford was sure you wouldn't have forgotten."

Ran folded his arms across his chest. "I don't want them." His stomach knotted. I might be able to get some more clues by listening to Naoe again... No. I can't. Kudoh's shame, his weakness... I don't want to see it.

Schuldig stepped close and pulled the bokuto from Ran's grasp. "Think of it as another way of sublimating, Fujimiya." He tossed the bokuto into a corner. "And you do want to see it." He leaned in to whisper in Ran's ear. "Believe me. I know. I know you watched, that every noise, every touch got you going. You want that again and again. You can't touch Kudoh right now, but you can imagine doing it, can't you?"

No! Ran's breathing became ragged. I do not! I won't. I can't.

:You can. It's not even hard.: Schuldig's breath warmed Ran's ear. "Kudoh won't know, and you don't care what he thinks anyway. After all, who is he?"

Ran's thoughts tangled. Kudoh's-- A teammate. A slut. A friend. Weak... Helpless. "He wouldn't know..."

Schuldig pressed himself against Ran's back. "Not unless you tell him. Does that thought appeal to you?"

Ran's eyes widened, and he stiffened but didn't pull away. No. I don't want to hurt him. But... I do. No. Absolutely not. We're all victims together.

"Are you, Fujimiya? Is that what you want?" Schuldig wrapped his arms around Ran's body. "If you want to be a victim, really want it, I'm sure I can oblige." He sank his teeth into Ran's ear.

Ran jumped a little, more startled than hurt, but still made no move to pull away. Why the hell am I still here? His throat tightened. It would be justice of a sort, wouldn't it? If I let him hurt me... An image of Kudoh, splayed against the wall, terror in his eyes, flashed through Ran's mind. Kudoh with his head to the floor in submission. Kudoh helpless on his back waiting for Naoe... He felt a warmth and a pressure in his groin. No. It doesn't touch me. I'm not--

"Oh, yes, you are." Schuldig fluttered fingers along Ran's collarbone. :You're really delicious, did you know that? Quite a combination of flavors...: "The lust is there. That and the guilt. You want him, and you think you shouldn't. Why shouldn't you? Or do you want me to punish you for it? You can't lie to me; I know you want someone to so you can feel like a victim too."

Ran jerked against the pressure of Schuldig's arms. "Let go of me!" I can't-- I need to-- I want to-- No!

:No. I'm not letting you off that easily.: "Ah, Fujimiya, you don't really want me to let go."

Ran jabbed an elbow backward, aiming for Schuldig's stomach, but it was a half-hearted effort at best. "Let go of me..." :Please.:

:Is that really what you want? Do you want him or do you want me? Or do you want both of us? Will you feel better about your desires...: "It's all about power. You have it. He doesn't. He's weak. You're... not. Just a little demonstration, that's all." :Would you rather be Kudoh or Nagi? Which would you enjoy?:

I don't-- No. I deserve-- Stop it! Ran began to shake.

:You don't have to scream. You're loud enough under the best of circumstances.: Irritation tinged Schuldig's mental voice. He ran one of his hands down Ran's chest and abdomen, stopping just above Ran's waist. "It's not about what you deserve, Fujimiya. It's about what you want, about making you happy. We want to make you happy. It'll make her happy..."

Ran felt his knees give out. "You bastard..." he whispered. "What are you doing to me?"

Schuldig caught Ran's weight easily and lowered him to the floor. "We're just talking about options, nothing complicated." :Is it so bad to want something? It's natural. Very natural. And he is beautiful.:

An image of fingers stroking the length of Kudoh's spine as he slumped forward pushed its way into Ran's mind, followed by an image of the same fingers caressing Kudoh's chin. Kudoh's eyes were closed and his jaw slack. Ran twisted to stare accusingly at Schuldig.

"Oh, he is beautiful, isn't he? Even I can't resist, and he's not exactly my type. Too easily broken. Too weak. But... a delicate beauty that begs to be touched, to be owned. Don't you agree?" :Yes, you see it too. Don't bother to deny it.:

Yes. I see it. I-- No. It doesn't matter. I should strengthen Kudoh, not take advantage of him. Ran curled his body in on itself.

:But if you watch those tapes, he'll never know.: "Whatever you decide, I'll be here for you, to advise, to assist... Whatever you may think you need."

And there it goes back to normal. Omi's consciousness pulled back together at the thought. He'd diffused himself throughout the security system in order to get a better sense of what had changed and when it changed again. I think he had all the monitoring off. I can do that now. It's not quite what I want, but it's a start. With a little practice, I think I'll be able to read the audio and visual. In fact...

He let his attention submerge in the programs again. I know what the apartment looks like, and Ouka-chan can help me tell what it sounds like at any given moment. Now...

An indefinite time later, Omi emerged to hear Ouka calling him. :Nii-san! Nii-san, Ran-kun's back.:

:Actually, Ouka-chan, I'd noticed.: Omi kept his mental tone dry.

He felt Ouka's shock. :What? Oh! You got it working! That's good.: She practically squealed with pleasure. Then her tone became more serious. :That's really good. Schuldig's poking around. He's not interested in us; he's focusing on Ran-kun.:

Omi frowned. :That's not good. Crawford's already got him tied in knots. He's trying to practice to get his anger out, and he can't. There's no flow at all. He really needs to learn some better coping techniques..:

:Can you show me?:

:I don't want to leave our body unmonitored...:

:Like anything's going to happen now. Come on, nii-san, you're leaving me all the boring bits-- I put up with it because this is an emergency, but... Really.: Omi could almost see her indignant flounce.

:Well... I suppose it can't hurt.: Omi extended his senses and shared what he saw and heard with his sister. :Oh.: He felt a sudden break in the power flow. :That's the front door opening.: He fumbled for the appropriate camera and just managed to access it in time to see a flash of orange hair. He shifted his attention forward for a face shot. :Not like there was any doubt. It's Schuldig.: He focused his attention on the German telepath. :What the hell does he want?:

Apparently unwilling to risk distracting Omi, Ouka remained silent. He could feel her continued presence, however, as she bristled at the sight of Schuldig. It's good to know my back's covered...

Schuldig watched Ran silently for a few moments while Ran remained oblivious to the fact that he was no longer alone. Yes, Ran-kun's definitely in a bad way. And Schuldig's not about to help. He watched, and he listened, paying careful attention to details of facial expression as Schuldig made his presence known. Damn! He's playing with Ran-kun, and I'm only getting half of this at best. Damn, Schuldig! I didn't need any more reasons to kill him. Omi spread himself further among the security programs, looking for better visual angles, for more ways to keep track of what was going on. That can be used as a monitor... It's not meant to be, but it'll work. I think he's doing more than playing. Yes... Well, we knew he played those sorts of games, pulling out all the nastiness that people wouldn't normally let escape.

He didn't realize how far the bits of himself had gone in the computer network until his rage spiked as Ran collapsed in Schuldig's arms.

:Don't do that, nii-san!: Ouka's mental fingers clutched at Omi.

He snarled and tried to throw her off. :I'll kill him! I've got to kill him!:

:No. No, nii-san, you don't. Not now. Please-- We've worked so hard!:

Omi's grip on the security system tightened as he tried both to hold everything he'd touched and to pull himself back to his center. He felt the programs begin to tear and forced himself to relax a little. :Go back to our body, Ouka-chan.:

She responded with inarticulate suspicion.

:I won't hurt him. Not this time, anyway.:

:All right...: Ouka's presence melted away.

Omi reached out as far as his knowledge of the computer system would let him go and started breaking things. He very carefully avoided anything in the apartment until Schuldig reached the door on his way out. Once the door slammed behind Schuldig, however, Omi let loose. Circuits exploded. The lights flickered. No. I'll need those. Some of the lights exploded. Oh, well. Just don't harm Ran-kun. I definitely need him.

He slowly disentangled himself from the system. The task proved harder than he'd expected as bits of his psyche caught on newly warped subroutines or encountered areas phasing in and out of existence due to power fluctuations. I can use this. At the very least, I can talk to Ran-kun unmonitored and uninterrupted. Once he had himself reassembled, he twisted himself across the barrier back into his body.

The first thing he felt there was Ouka's fear. :I'm sorry, Ouka-chan. It had to go somewhere.:

:Next time warn me!:

Omi wasn't sure what to say. His tantrum had only taken the edge off his rage. First Naoe, now this! :We have to go talk to Ran-kun-- No, Abyssinian. He won't listen if I address him as Ran, not right now.:

:We're going to wake up?:

:Nobody's watching right now.: He let her see his fierce satisfaction at the damage he'd done to the Taisken system.

:Can Ran-kun keep us a secret?: Her doubt came through clearly.

:No, but Abyssinian can.: Omi thought about explaining the distinction more thoroughly then shrugged. She'll understand on her own, I think. If she doesn't, she's not as smart as I think she is.

Shrugging felt good. It was the first unplanned movement he'd made in weeks. He rolled his shoulders then started stretching, relishing the freedom to move.

:Careful, nii-san. It's been a long time.:

:I know,: Omi responded curtly. He sighed. :Sorry. I need my body to work now.:

:Willpower alone won't do it,: Ouka said tartly.

Something for which Ran-kun should be profoundly grateful. It's all that's going to keep me from slapping some sense into him. Omi threw back the blanket and eased himself toward the edge of the bed. He knew. He fucking knew what was going on with Yohji-kun, and he didn't tell me.

:To be fair...: Ouka's tone told Omi that she spoke reluctantly. :To be fair, nii-san, he thought we were in the middle of traumatic flashbacks. I don't think I'd have told us either.:

Omi's legs proved steadier than he'd expected.

:Ran-kun's been steering us around a bit, trying to keep us in shape,: Ouka reminded Omi.

:Are you telling me I shouldn't smack him?:

:Well... He has been doing his best for you. I just can't like the man.:

Omi refrained from a response, burying his own reactions deep enough that Ouka shouldn't see them. I can't regret our father's death. I can't, but Ouka-chan... She loved him. That's why she has such a hard time dealing with Ran-kun. :What should we do with the i.v.? I don't want to drag the whole thing with us.:

:All we have to do is detach the tube. The shunt can stay in.:

Omi reached out, letting his habits take over the task of disconnecting himself. He smiled. He didn't really need the advice, but the question had served its intended purpose by distracting Ouka.

Finding Ran still huddled on the floor came as no surprise. Omi looked down at him and let his anger surface again. "Abyssinian! Look at me!"

Ran raised his head, his normal stoic countenance missing for once. Oh, yes. Schuldig got to him. The question is how badly? As Ran's eyes widened in startled disbelief, Omi could clearly see the red streaking them. Has he been crying?

"Omi?" Ran whispered. The tension in his face eased a little, and an expression that might have been hope crept in for a moment before the mask slammed into place. "Bombay," he said in a stronger voice.

Shit. That makes it harder. However badly he needs an asskicking, he's pathetically glad to see me. I shouldn't have left it so long. I could have found a way to let him know. "Get up, Abyssinian. We need to talk, and I'll be better off sitting." Omi kept his face and voice hard. "I don't know how much time we have before they get the surveillance working again."

Ran jerked slightly, for all the world as if Omi had hit him. He nodded abruptly and rose. He moved stiffly, showing none of his usual grace.

Did Schuldig hurt him? Can he walk? Omi looked Ran up and down with some concern then realized that the older man was trying to conceal a hard on. Oh. Schuldig really did get to him. Omi used the koi to suppress his urge to blush. My imouto should not be seeing this. I didn't know he felt that way about... He shook his head. "My room. Now."

As he turned his back on Ran, Omi heard Ouka giggle. :Really, nii-san! It's not like he's got anything I haven't seen before.: When Omi growled at her, she simply giggled again. :Besides, you all feel "that way" about Yohji-kun.:

:I do not!: Omi was suddenly very glad that Ran couldn't see his face.

This time Ouka snickered. :A girl can tell, nii-san.:

:Well, right now, the issue is Ran-kun and making him useful. We don't have time for anything else.: There. I kept my temper admirably. A man can only take so much harassment, even from his imouto. Omi walked carefully back to his room and seated himself on the bed. Now is not the time to show Ran-kun any sign of weakness. He'll start thinking he needs to take over to protect me, and I don't have time for a dominance struggle.

Ran pulled up the chair that Naoe had so recently occupied. He sat stiffly, waiting.

I wish I had some real words of wisdom to give him... "From now on, Abyssinian, you will not edit your reports to me except as necessary to deal with eavesdroppers. The bits and pieces you've given me to date are not acceptable." Omi watched as Ran nodded. I suppose I should be glad it's Ran-kun. At least I don't have to listen to whatever self justifications he's told himself. Excuses are beneath his dignity. Of course, so is apology.

"You were conscious?" The slightest hint of incredulity crept into Ran's voice. A tinge of pink swept his face.

"For the most part. Even I need to sleep sometimes. You were simply too... preoccupied to notice any signs."


Omi waved a dismissive hand. "Sees what I want him to see. You are not to let anyone know."

Ran raised an eyebrow. "Schuldig will see it. Trying to keep it from him-- Trying not to think of something only draws the mind to it."

"You'll manage." Omi gave Ran a serenely confident smile. "Now, report."

Ran frowned thoughtfully then nodded, his expression flattening. "I'm not sure what you already know."

"Assume nothing." I probably know almost as much as you do, Ran-kun, but it's just pieces of the puzzle. I need you to give me the frame.

"Kritiker sold us to Schwarz-- Well, actually to Schwarz's new employer, a group called the Taisken. They let me talk to Siberian once, and he confirmed that it was Kritiker agents who came for us and handed us over. They gassed us; he'd stayed up with his window open, so he had time to get his mask. He put up quite a fight, but..." Ran shrugged. "I think they're treating him fairly well. At least, he's in a kind of medical place, and they set his bones and gave him plenty of stuff for the pain. We're in some sort of super secret base. I don't think we're even in Japan anymore..." He shook his head. "I think they've got other people with weird powers, not just Schwarz, and some of the people I've seen look... odd."

He's overwhelmed by this. No, not by the situation-- By not having anything constructive-- or destructive-- to do about it.

"These Taisken, they're some sort of technical wizards. I've only seen bits and pieces, but it's enough to know they've put a lot of money into R&D." Ran hesitated.

"Give me examples later."  Omi waved a dismissive hand. I could probably tell you more about that than you can tell me.

"They have Aya-chan too." Ran looked away. "Crawford got to her somehow when I wasn't paying attention. They've been... involved... for a while, but he didn't bring her here until he brought us."

Ouka snickered softly. :She'd have to sneak around to see anybody at all, let alone Crawford.:

"Are they threatening her?" One more person to look after...

Ran's response came with reluctance. "No." He clenched his hands and reddened just a little. He still didn't look at Omi. "Crawford's keeping me--" Ran turned to glare at Omi. "Now us-- comfortable because it makes her happier. She... She keeps him happy, so we have clothes and furniture and..."

Omi remained silent, watching Ran and waiting. Let him get that out of his system for a while. He'll be useless until he scourges himself a little with it. :What do you think, Ouka-chan, does Aya-chan need rescuing?:

:It's hard to say, nii-san. Is she a lot like her brother? I don't think he could fake affection. Conceal it, yes, but not fake it. But... It's a bargain women know how to make the best of. She might be doing very well out of it and still not want to be there. She might be feeling... betrayed if Crawford wasn't honest with her.:

:Hm. I think you might be over generalizing, Ouka-chan.:

:Well, I've never met her either, you know, so what else are you expecting me to do? Now pay attention to Ran-kun. It'd be a pity to get this far only to lose him.:

Omi sighed. "She's family too, Ran-kun. We'll take care of her." If we can. "But it sounds as if they're treating her better than the rest of us."

Ran brought his fist down on his leg and then stared at it for a moment.

That had to hurt.

"She's pregnant."

You already told me that, but I suppose it matters a lot to you.

:That didn't happen in two weeks,: Ouka commented. :Well, it could have, but she wouldn't know yet.:

:I think the problem has more to do with samurai honor. At least Ran-kun's problem. He's ashamed. She's supposed to die rather than--:

:That's stupid!:

:Yeah, well... He knows that, too, or he wouldn't be so upset. He doesn't want her dead. And he'd have enough trouble with the idea of her having a boyfriend even if it was done "properly." And this is Crawford not some college boy from a good family. And he knows they're sleeping together.: If it were my imouto, I'd be pretty damn upset!

Omi nodded. "We'll take care of that, too." If this were Ken-kun, I'd put my arm around him, but... Ran-kun has never welcomed that sort of thing. Also, it might weaken my position as authority figure...

:Not to mention potentially leading to other things... At least judging by the state he was in a few minutes ago,: Ouka teased.

:Ouka-chan!: Omi suppressed any visible reaction to that and addressed Ran again. "What's the status on Schwarz?" Not that that wouldn't distract Ran-kun from what Schuldig... I can't believe I'm even thinking that!

"I haven't seen Farfarello at all. Apparently, he's off receiving some sort of medical treatment that Crawford thinks will help him."

"The Taisken have advanced medical technology?" Come on Ran-kun, tell me about the koi...

"I don't know exactly... They did put something in us, well not in Siberian, that would make us heal a lot faster. Little machines of some sort." Ran shrugged. "They'll stop working in a few months unless we get boosters, and there's supposedly some risk that having them stop might kill us. I don't know. I can't see the damn things or tell what they're doing."

Ah, temper... A good sign actually. Omi raised an eyebrow. "Have you seen any evidence that these things work?"

Ran looked away again. "I haven't been hurt. Neither have you that I know of."

Is he embarrassed that he hasn't put up more of a fight? Or--

:Don't be silly, nii-san. Notice he didn't mention Yohji-kun? I think he knows a lot more about that than we do.:

:But is it time to push on that yet?: "Abyssinian," Omi said sternly, "that wasn't quite an answer."

Ran turned to meet Omi's eyes. He pushed his chair a little closer to the wall, a little further from where Omi sat. Ran almost seemed to crumple in on himself.

:He's almost breaking now...:

:We won't get anything if you don't push.: Omi was certain from Ouka's tone that she was actually pleased at the idea of causing Ran discomfort. :And it'll devour him if you leave it be.:

Ran raised his chin and forced his shoulders back. "They hurt Balinese pretty badly a couple of days before they moved you in with me. He... healed faster than he should have."

"Why did they hurt him, Abyssinian, and how do you know about it?" He'll answer the second part first. I'm sure of it.

"Early on, I made Aya-chan ask Crawford to let me see all of you regularly. The son of a bitch said that visiting would represent a security problem, so he gave me monitors. I could watch all of you, all of the time, as long as I never turned anything off. He likes putting traps into things... This place--" Ran gestured around the room. "There are two traps here. I had to give up the monitors because, according to Crawford, they might upset you." His lips twisted briefly. "And now he wants me to start doing jobs for him 'to pay rent!'"

"Good." Omi felt a surge of satisfaction.

For a moment, Ran looked stunned.

I really have to explain this? "He'll have to give you a weapon for that, let you out of here for a while," Omi explained patiently. "At least-- I assume that by 'jobs' he means killing. Eventually, someone will drop their guard."

"I... promised Aya-chan I wouldn't kill him."

:Oh, nii-san, I think she's a lot more of a volunteer than Ran-kun wants to think.:

Omi nodded. "I'm not surprised," he told both of them, glad that the response could do double service. "As it happens, I don't want you even to try to kill Crawford-- or any other member of Schwarz, for that matter. I don't see any way that he wouldn't See that coming. It would only be a stupid way of getting ourselves killed." Omi grinned. "I'm holding out for a much smarter method... I'm sure, between us, we can come up with one." He sighed. "Don't think of it as killing for Crawford-- It's for Weiss."

Ran actually smiled. It was just the faintest shadow of an expression, but it was more than Omi'd expected. Good. He's not beyond reach. Not that I thought he was.

"Now, Ran-kun, tell me about Yohji-kun." Omi kept his voice gentle but firm. "I can guess some of it-- Naoe stopped by while you were out."

Ran went rigid. His eyes widened slightly then narrowed as he looked Omi up and down.

"He didn't hurt me. Just looked at me and... talked. He said that he'd made a promise about me, that I was what 'he' was paying for. Naoe sounded... obsessive, possessive..." Omi kept his eyes on Ran. I swear, if he were a little less obsessed with his façade, Ran-kun'd be curled in a ball by now. How much of that is Schuldig and how much... whatever else? Schuldig wanted Ran-kun to do something, and it sounded like it involved Yohji-kun. I need more information.

When Ran finally spoke, the muscles in his face tightened as if the words tasted bad, and the rhythm of his words seemed to indicate that the words had sharp edges, were cutting him on their way out. "Crawford... gave... Kudoh to Naoe as a... toy. They made it clear to Kudoh that... They said if he fought or even said no, it'd be you instead. Hidaka's still too badly hurt, and I... Aya-chan wouldn't like it."

Ran stood and began to pace. As he moved, he clenched and unclenched his hands. "He got them to give him a few things, a futon and blanket, a cup, that sort of thing, but..." Ran turned to look at Omi.

Omi pulled his legs up onto the bed and wrapped his arms around his knees. "I see." And I do. It's definitely one of the frames I was missing. "How long has it been?"

"Since about three days before they moved us in here. I-- There were two... encounters." Ran folded his arms across his chest then moved his left hand up to his right shoulder. He shivered slightly as if with cold, and his fingers tightened briefly then released several times.

I have to make him be more specific. I need to know for Yohji-kun's sake, and Ran-kun needs to face it so he can understand what Schuldig's doing to him. "'Encounters,' Abyssinian? What kind of encounters?" When Ran turned away again, Omi went on, "If we're to complete our mission, we need complete intelligence."

"Mission?" Ran spun to look at Omi and almost snarled.

Omi lowered his legs, folded his hands and regarded Ran calmly. "Mission. Do you remember, Abyssinian, what I said Weiss should do if captured?" I hope he does. Of course he does. He never forgets something like that. I just have to remind him.

Ran's response was so quiet that Omi had to strain to hear. "First... Don't die." Ran's voice shook just a little, and he turned away.. "Second... Help your teammates. Third... Escape. Fourth... Rescue your teammates."

Omi rose to his feet. "That's the mission. We've all managed priority one, at least so far. Yohji-kun's doing his part toward priority two, protecting me. Our job is to protect him." Omi crossed the room to stand close to Ran. "But I need to know-- Protect him from what?" Omi let the last word snap out and wasn't surprised when Ran flinched as if struck. "Well?"

"I-- He-- They--"

"Fewer pronouns, Ran-kun." Omi reached out a hand and grasped Ran's arm.

"Naoe..." Ran looked at Omi.

He's trembling! Well, big surprise. He's been carrying all of this alone. "Come on. Let's sit down again." Omi tugged on Ran's arm, urging him back toward the bed. And he's letting me lead him. I bet he was near breaking before Schuldig shoved his oar in. I absolutely am going to kill that German bastard. Slowly. He'll be happy to go to hell after I'm done with him.

"Naoe..." Ran began again. "He... hurt Kudoh. Fairly badly, I think. No, I know." Ran stumbled as they walked slowly back across the room. Omi put an arm around the other man, offering symbolic support.

"You saw it?"

"No." Ran pulled away from Omi. "I-- I didn't watch. Kudoh... didn't need more... witnesses. I couldn't... watch." Ran wrapped his arms around himself once again, this time not even bothering to disguise the movement.

If I don't get him sitting down, he's going to fall down. I am not up to lifting him right now. Damn. Omi stepped in close again and touched Ran's cheek. "None of us can manage everything. I'm sure we'll find out what happened some other way."

Ran flinched from Omi's fingers then sighed and leaned in. "I know what happened. Schuldig watched." Ran scowled. "He wouldn't shut up."

Oh. Ran doesn't feel bad that he didn't watch. He feels bad that he didn't make Schuldig not watch or at least keep his mouth shut. Omi slipped his arm around Ran again and exerted just the slightest pressure to push him forward. "I don't think you watching or not watching made much difference."

Ran's response came in a whisper just as they reached the bed. "He was so ashamed. All I could do was tell him I wouldn't watch and then... Not watch."

"Tell him? Here sit down." Omi suppressed an urge to smack Ran. Yohji-kun knows how to put shame aside; he'll be fine. Ran-kun's still not telling me everything, damn him. No. Mustn't yell. Mustn't hit him. Can't afford the time to put him back together. Not right now. "Now, start from the beginning. Start from when Crawford gave Yohji-kun to Naoe."

:Yohji-kun knows how to put shame aside, nii-san. That doesn't mean he doesn't feel it.: Ouka commented softly. :And he knows Ran-kun. He'll expect to be despised. I think Ran-kun may have been the only witness who mattered.:

:Do you think Ran-kun despises Yohji-kun? That could be a problem.:

Ouka hesitated. :I think that's what Schuldig was digging for... and I don't think he can create something out of nothing that way, so-- Yes, but Ran-kun feels guilty for it. Without Schuldig, he'd probably pretend it wasn't there.:

Ran curled up miserably on the bed, and Omi, before sitting down himself, arranged the blankets around Ran.

"I knew there was something going on when Schuldig showed up in my room. He was like usual... You know."

"Yes. Yes, I do." What would be going too far here? Omi put his arms around Ran and was surprised to feel the embrace not simply accepted but welcomed.

"He told me to watch Kudoh's monitor, that there'd be a show. He was just sitting there then, pretending to smoke, just being... Kudoh. Then Crawford and Naoe..." Ran gestured vaguely with one hand.

Careful not to let it show, Omi ground his teeth. Just tell me! You'll feel better once you do.

:I don't think he wants to feel better, nii-san. He thinks he deserves it.: Ouka sniffed thoughtfully. :If it weren't so inconvenient, I might agree.:

"They said he could help Naoe... learn... better than the rest of us. That's why he... got a choice," Ran spoke the last word as if it were bitter, "and you wouldn't."

"Help Naoe learn what?" Gently now. Steady pressure. No sudden shocks.

Ran shuddered and tried to pull away from Omi. Omi held tight. Ran continued to shake for a moment before whispering, "Sex."

Omi squashed a surge of pleasure at having guessed right. Yohji-kun being raped is nothing to be glad about. I'd rather have been wrong.

:I would too. Yohji-kun has a kind heart.: Ouka hesitated then went on, :But nii-san, he's the one of you best able to survive that. With luck...:

We can't count on luck. "What happened next, Ran-kun?" Omi stroked Ran's hair, ignoring the heavy scent of the other man's sweat. It's okay. You can relax. I'll take care of you now. I won't let Schuldig hurt another member of my family. Omi felt a surge of emotion from Ouka but didn't have time to ask her about it. :We'll talk more later, Ouka-chan. Ran-kun needs us right now.:

Ran took a deep breath and seemed to steady a little. "Crawford showed Kudoh footage from all of our surveillance cameras. Kudoh and I were able to communicate a little. I could hear him, but he could only see me. We used hand signals."

"Clever." Omi let approval sneak into his voice. "But then you're both good at improvising."

"Schuldig noticed and told Crawford." Ran's body tightened. "Crawford thought it was funny. Bastard."

Right. We don't want to talk about Crawford. The rant's easier to come by than the facts. "Good. As long as we amuse him, he won't notice we're a threat."

Ran relaxed a little. "Then I let Kudoh know that I wouldn't watch. And I didn't. I think he was glad."

"And what did they do to him?" Ran twitched, pulling his limbs in closer, and a tiny almost sob forced its way from his throat. "Shh. It's okay, Ran-kun. It's not your fault. You didn't do anything to him."

Ran reddened a little but didn't say anything for a moment. "Crawford bound his arms and then left. Naoe... stayed. They talked, and Naoe fed him a little. Then... Kudoh pissed Naoe off, and... Naoe beat him." Ran shifted slightly as if his position had become uncomfortable. "It went on forever, but Kudoh didn't make any noise. I... I don't think he could. Then Naoe..." Ran fidgeted again. "Then he..."

Ah. "I know, Ran-kun. Was it..." Brutal? Cruel? Frightening? Did it take long? God, I don't want to know. But I have to know. Is Naoe right in thinking that Yohji-kun's breaking? Will he even be able to cooperate if we show up to rescue him? How clever is Naoe about this?

"Quick. It was quick. I turned back... after. Naoe put him on the futon they'd given him. He didn't look too bad then, but... After Naoe left, he threw up." Ran tried to curl himself tighter, and Omi pulled him in a little closer. "Schuldig thought it was funny as hell."

He doesn't want to give details. That's okay. I don't want to hear details.

:We need some, nii-san. Well, at least two details... I know you don't want to ask, but... Did Naoe use lubrication and did he use a condom?:

:Ouka-chan! You're not supposed to know about things like that!: Omi felt himself start to blush and ordered the koi to suppress it. Ran-kun would not understand, and under the circumstances...

Ouka made a rude noise. :Grow up! Kaa-san made sure I knew that sort of thing, probably well before you learned it. Papa may have acknowledged me, more or less, but I was only as respectable as he bothered to make people think I was. The bastard daughter of a woman who ran a restaurant.: She fell silent for a moment. :Anyway, we need to know. It says something about Naoe's intentions, either way.:

:Damn.: Omi sighed audibly. :You're right.: "Ran-kun," he began, squeezing Ran's shoulder gently as he spoke. "You may not know, but... Did Naoe-- Did he use... protection? Did he do anything to make things... easier for Yohji-kun?"

Ran twisted in Omi's arms, turning away. "He said that even Kritiker didn't know where Kudoh'd been."

And you agree, don't you, Ran-kun? At least, judging by your tone, you do.

:I think half of him believes Yohji-kun deserved it.: Ouka's words burned like acid. :At least half. Maybe Schuldig didn't have to work very hard after all..:

Omi closed his eyes, acknowledging the truth of his imouto's words. :And he feels terrible about it, too. Show him a little compassion.: Omi forced some humor into his voice. "Assuming Yohji-kun was doing his job correctly, that's entirely true." He felt Ran twitch and heard him snort softly. Good.

Eventually, Ran went on softly, "I don't know for sure about... lubrication, but... I think the damage would have been worse without, and he did use it the second time. Also, he... took time to... prepare him both times."

:How does he know about the amount of damage?: Ouka asked.

"How do you know how much damage there was?"

Ran pulled away abruptly, and Omi let him go. Ran moved to face Omi. "Crawford offered me another devil's deal. He said I could go in to treat Kudoh's injuries, clean up the vomit, that sort of thing. I... couldn't say no. I knew it was a trap; it had to be."

:Ouka-chan, you're better at this than I am-- Should I reach out now or should I leave him space?: Omi met Ran's eyes, carefully keeping all hint of judgment hidden.

:Not yet. Wait till he gets out whatever he thinks is really going to piss you off. There's something, or he wouldn't have pulled away.:

"I hoped we'd have a chance to talk, to try to figure out what to do next, but... They had him drugged. He didn't even know I was there. I washed him and bandaged him. Crawford must have laughed at that!" Ran growled, and his face hardened. "I didn't know about the nanites then. The bruises were... I've never seen him hurt that badly before. His shoulders... I didn't expect him to be able to use his arms for... well, for a long time." Ran's hands clenched.

"Careful you don't draw blood," Omi said mildly. But he's going to anyway, I expect.

"I looked... there. Kudoh'd bled some. Naoe'd... Before he..." Ran set his lips in a thin line then nodded abruptly. "Before raping Kudoh, Naoe'd threatened to tear him apart using telekinesis. Kudoh'd pissed him off again. It sounded like... like it hurt badly. I think the blood was from that mostly."

I am going to kill Naoe. Slowly. Very, very slowly.

Ran's hands clenched tighter, and he drove a fist into the mattress. "I couldn't do it. I should have, but I couldn't." He looked down at his fist for a moment before looking back up at Omi. "That American son of a bitch knew exactly what he was doing!"

I knew we'd get back to Crawford eventually... Omi simply nodded. Come on, Ran-kun, tell me. You want to, and we'll never get anywhere if you don't.

Ran's voice lowered into a hoarse whisper, and it was obvious to Omi that Ran no longer saw the room around them. He's back in Yohji-kun's cell.

"Crawford told me to shave Kudoh, made some remark about not wanting Naoe putting a razor to Kudoh's throat. He also said that it was up to me to decide when Kudoh was "used up," when Naoe should move on to you." Ran hunched his shoulders for a second then relaxed them. He raised a fist and took aim at the wall.

Omi put a hand over Ran's fist. "No. That might leave a mark. You'd have to explain it."

Ran blinked then stared at Omi for a minute before lowering his arm. "It was a good razor. A sharp blade. Easy to use. I calculated it. We'd have had at least five minutes if I'd used it. Five minutes before they could even try to bring him back. He'd have been free of it all. But... I couldn't. I'm sorry. I couldn't."

For just a moment, all Omi could do was stare at Ran. He really thinks that'd have been a good idea--

:Don't be so surprised, nii-san,: Ouka commented dryly. :You already explained to me how he feels about rape victims. By everything he believes, Yohji-kun should want to die and be better off that way.:

:Yes, but...: Omi shook his head. "Ran-kun no baka," he said softly.

Ran showed no signs of having heard. He started rocking back and forth. "Kudoh's a slut. It's better that it's him. He didn't even try to fight. It's not like he hasn't done this before. He's a slut. Just--" The words came rhythmically, in time with Ran's movement.

Without even thinking about it, Omi swung hard, cracking the back of his hand across Ran's cheek. "Shut. Up. Just shut the hell up!"

Ran froze, his eyes locked on Omi's. "I'm sorry. I couldn't. I just..."

He still thinks it's about not killing Yohji-kun. "Moron." Omi spoke without rancor but let his anger show on his face. "Yohji-kun-- Balinese-- is doing his job. It's a job only he can do; any of the rest of us... You do not have the right to make moral judgments about Yohji-kun, and you especially do not have the right to decide that he should die." More cold rage, condemnation aimed at Ran, slipped in with each word. "Every time you call Yohji-kun a name-- every time you even think it-- Crawford wins. He gets exactly what he wants."

:Calm down, nii-san. If you lose your temper now, you'll lose him.:

Ran opened his mouth then closed it again. He put a hand to his cheek. "Omi--"

He sounds hurt and betrayed. What right does he have to feel betrayed? Omi took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds before exhaling slowly. Am I asking more of him than he can give? No. If it is then I lose Yohji-kun, and that's unacceptable. He narrowed his eyes. "What's happened is not your fault, but your reaction is your fault. I will not have you hurt Yohji-kun any further, not even by disapproving of his actions. Do you understand?"

Ran seemed torn between nodding and shaking his head.

Ouka laughed softly. :He's confused. You're going to have to explain in very small words.:

"Which is it, Ran-kun?" Omi sighed and forced himself to relax a little. I'm not up to hitting him again. I doubt the first time even hurt him, just startled him. "Okay, Ran-kun. Step by step. Crawford made sure you'd be watching when he talked to Yohji-kun and wouldn't miss any of it, so that you, either explicitly or tacitly, endorsed Yohji-kun's decision to protect me." And judging by how guilty you look, it was explicitly. "Then he had Schuldig make sure you didn't miss any details, made you a part of the violation. Yohji-kun knew you were there. Then he made you decide twice, once by asking and once with the razor, that Yohji-kun should continue to be Naoe's victim, him instead of me. That made everything that happened to him your responsibility because you could have prevented it. Having you wash Yohji-kun, touch him, that gave you a physical connection to the whole thing."

Ran nodded several times as Omi spoke. Ran's shoulders slumped, and he bent forward, supporting his weight on both hands. "I should have found another way. I should have. I..."

Omi watched silently for a moment before going on. "Naoe said today that he should be glad that Yohji-kun cares what you think." Though I can't imagine why Yohji-kun cares. He knows what you're like. "Naoe thought they could use that to finally cut Yohji-kun off from the rest of Weiss. They think you're our leader, by the way; don't disabuse them of the notion. I suppose they assume Ken-kun and I will follow your lead." You get it now, don't you? I bet you even understand that Schuldig wasn't just torturing you. That most definitely wasn't all he was doing.

Ran straightened up and frowned. Yes, that's right, Ran-kun. Think it through. You can get it from here. I know you have a brain. Use it. Omi sighed again.

:He won't get it, nii-san. You'll have to spell it out.:

:He'll figure things out. He's not stupid. Obsessive, overly focused, yes. Stupid, no. Don't underestimate him just because you don't like him:

Ouka snorted but refrained from further comment.

:Just watch the thoughts chasing across his face.: Omi prodded her a little to make sure she continued to pay attention.

:He usually doesn't have that much... expression.:

:He's very near to breaking, Ouka-chan. The certainties of his life... Well, let's just say that this situation overturns all of them. All he's had left is his self-control, and Schuldig and I, between us, have broken that.:

:Schuldig would have done it even without you. And he wouldn't have Ran-kun's best interests at heart.:

:And we do?: Omi had to voice his doubt.

:Oh, stop that! Pay attention, nii-san. You'll do what you have to to get as many of them as you can out of here. Whatever it takes.:

:Even if it means you have to be nice to Ran-kun?: He hadn't meant to express that doubt.

:Well... I'd already made that decision you know. We need him. Besides, he may be an ass, but he is good looking...: She giggled at Omi's stunned silence then became more serious. :I think it would work, nii-san. It might be the only thing that'll protect him against Schuldig.:

:I--: I can't believe you're doing this to me. :Sex, Ouka-chan? I don't know if that's a good idea.: And I don't think I can do it with you here. It might work, but... Omi couldn't quite block a shudder.

:What, are you planning to live celibate forever? This is something we're going to have to deal with, nii-san. If not with Ran-kun then with someone else. I'm not about to let you cut out part of your life like that. I think I've been very patient about it, but I do notice when you get... frustrated. And I am here when you wake up aroused after one of those dreams.:

Ouka's tirade startled Omi into a temporary silence.

Ran finally looked up. "They want me to rape Kudoh." He made a flat statement of fact, and his face showed no doubt as to his conclusion. "They want me to pull the last supports out from under him." He frowned in the way that Omi recognized as a veiled snarl.

"Yes." Omi nodded and traced a gentle line along Ran's cheek. "That's what they want, Crawford, Schuldig, Naoe. They're not taking you very seriously, I think. They believe they can make you jump any way they want to, but I know better. You know better."

"I'll die first!"

Omi sighed internally. Right. I should have known. "I don't think it needs to come to that, Ran-kun." He let a little humor leak into his voice. "I'm sure there are less drastic solutions to the problem."

:But none so appealingly melodramatic.:

"After all," Omi went on. "We have some advantages that they don't know about. They think, for example, that I'm catatonic. I don't plan to enlighten them."

Ran looked sharply at Omi. "Just how are you managing that anyway? Schuldig's certain, and Crawford seems convinced, too."

Omi hesitated, groping for the right words. "I've learned some things over the last few years. I wasn't sure they'd work, so I never said anything. With Schuldig, it's a matter of mental discipline and knowing what he's expecting to see, what he wants to see." Will that be enough? He met Ran's eyes and saw more questions there. No. I guess not. "With Crawford... I'm not exactly sure. I have the impression that I'm sort of a blank spot for him. He's assuming I'm not important because he's not Seeing anything about me, but..." Omi shrugged. I know why Crawford's not seeing me, but I'm not going to tell him about Ouka-chan. Not now.

"There's more, isn't there?" Ran sounded almost eager.

"Um... I've noticed a certain affinity for computer systems... beyond what I'd thought I had. I can get into their systems now, Ran-kun." Omi let a little excitement, awe, leak into his voice. "I don't know what I'm playing with there, yet, but I think... I think that given enough time I'll be able to get most of their systems working for me. I just cracked the surveillance system on our apartment today. Fairly soon, I'll have them seeing and hearing exactly what I want from here."

Ran's eyes widened.

Yes. Pay attention to that. It's more important than my being able to hide from Schuldig or Crawford not seeing me. You can quantify it, plan around it.

:Just kiss him, nii-san! That'll keep him distracted.:

:I told you to hush!:

:It's not like you don't want to--:

:It's a bad idea.:

:He's not pulling away when you touch him. In fact, he seems to find it comforting. He'd let you, and he'd like it.:

:Somehow,: Omi responded dryly. :I don't think Ran-kun would let me... dominate the interaction, and anything else... I need him to follow my orders right now. He's never been easy to control under the best of circumstances, and these definitely aren't.:

:I told you there were drawbacks to controlling them by making them protective.: Ouka sounded amused.

:Yes, but we decided it'd be easier to fool Kritiker that way. You agreed to that!:

"Omi-- Are you all right?" Ran's concern broke Omi's focus on his argument with Ouka.

"I'm just a little tired, Ran-kun." Omi forced a smile. "This charade hasn't been easy physically or psychologically. Once I get the surveillance system fully under control, I want to wash thoroughly and then walk around for a while. My personal ambitions are small right now."

"I'm sorry, Omi. Now that I know..."

"You'll act exactly as you have done." Omi put iron into his voice. "We can't let anyone guess. No one. Not even Aya-chan."

Ran looked pained, but he nodded.

Omi hooked fingers under Ran's chin and tugged till their eyes met. "Don't make things harder for her. There's no need to do that now."

Ran froze for a second then very deliberately leaned into the contact. "Just let me know when it's safe for us to talk. I'll assume we're deep cover otherwise."

:I think, nii-san, that Ran-kun agrees with me about the possibility of being distracted...:

:Shut up, Ouka-chan. Just shut up.:

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