Back to Index.
Back to Part 7.
On to Part 9.
Disclaimer: Weiss and Schwarz do not belong to me. I'm borrowing
them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no
intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or
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.
Pairings: Nagi x Yohji. References to Crawford x Aya-chan.
Author: The RCK
Last updated: 18 August 2003
Thanks to Amy the Evitable, Briar Rose and Yochan 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
Schuldig strolled along the corridors, feeling more pleased with
himself than he'd been in a while. Give Fujimiya another day or so
to stew, and he'll watch those tapes. Just the right pushes at the
right times, and
I'll be done. Then I can get the hell out of this pit. He
maintained a smiling façade, but very little he saw interested
him. I hate this place. Everything's all closed in. There's nowhere
to really let loose.
A frown almost escaped him as he passed two women chatting. And
everybody knows what I can do, and half of 'em can block me when I'm
being casual. And when I do get in and things get... interesting...
He sighed. Then everybody knows who to blame. He kicked at a
tiny cleaning robot that was wiping up a spill.
The force of the kick propelled the robot a couple of meters along the
corridor. As soon as it landed, it began rapid progress back toward its
starting point. Schuldig kicked it again. Boring. Well, Crawford
will give me someone to play with if I bitch enough. The robot
scuttled back toward Schuldig. He snorted and stepped aside. No
challenge in it.
Schuldig sauntered on. He started whistling, deliberately off-key, just
to enjoy the occasional winces from passersby. I wonder if the
playing with Kudoh again... Might be worth a look. He changed
direction. He reached out mentally. Let's see. Kudoh's mind's
pretty easy to penetrate. Yes. There. He stopped, startled by what
he found. There's no thought there to speak of. He's awake, but...
Schuldig groped for coherent words, images or sensations to tell him
what Kudoh was doing. Water on
skin... Probably showering. "I won! For once--" Not good. Not at all.
the kid there? Schuldig attempted to turn his attention to finding
but found his mind caught by Kudoh's.
Fuck! He stumbled backwards, moving physically to echo the
mental effort required to break free. What the hell? That hasn't
happened since-- Not now. Fascinated, he poked tentatively at
Kudoh's mind. I have to investigate this. First, get closer
physically. The observation room, I think, and see what the hell he's
doing. He doesn't feel quite
the same. Headblind and not... I wonder if Crawford knows?
Schuldig started walking again, only half his attention on his physical
surroundings. What a whirlwind! I have to find a way in. There's
something interesting going on in there. His expression sharpened,
and a genuine smile spread across his face. More than there is out
His forward progress met a sudden interruption as someone barreled into
him. "Hey!" Schuldig grabbed at the offender's shoulder only to have
his hand slip aside. He turned as the figure moved past him. "Nagi?" :Kid?
What's wrong?: Don't think you can get away with
Nagi simply kept moving as if he hadn't noticed either Schuldig's
words or the collision itself. Schuldig made another grab for Nagi and
again couldn't connect. Shielding. He's shielding telekinetically--
And I think he's crying. What the hell? He reached out mentally and
encountered a storm. He flinched, physically retreating from what he
Anger. Self loathing. A cycle of thoughts he can't-- won't-- get out
of. Hell. Last time he got like this, he pulled a building down on top
us, but that was directed outward. This--
He stared at Nagi's back. Shit. The kid's going to hurt himself--
Schuldig turned and started after Nagi. :Crawford!:
bastard damn well better be listening. This is his damn fault. Him and--
Schuldig's eyes narrowed. Kudoh. I'm going to kill the son of a
Maybe take a couple of years doing it.
Nagi didn't really see anything as he made
toward the garden. More than anything else, he craved the oblivion he
he could find there. I'm not-- I didn't-- No! I thought-- He-- No!
He felt his power coiling around his body, pressing in on him, tangling
in his emotions. I've become him...
As he stepped out among the bushes, Nagi felt a little of his pain
drain away. Yes. This is where I need to be. I won't have to think--
He stretched himself mentally, trying to reach as far as he could. Peace.
"If you do that now, you won't come back."
Nagi tried to block out the words as he'd blocked out everything since
he'd left Yohji's cell. I don't want to deal with this.
Crawford stepped in front of Nagi. "Look at me!"
Nagi turned his head away. Go away, Crawford.
"Nagi." Crawford managed to turn Nagi's name into a command without
raising his voice.
Years of habit prompted Nagi to meet Crawford's eyes. "Leave me alone,
Crawford. I don't want to talk."
"Too bad. I'm not letting you wreck things with a temper tantrum."
Sudden anger sparked through Nagi's despair. "Wreck things? Your
fucking plans? Thinking you're infallible just makes your fuck-ups
bigger." Nagi clenched a hand and was pleased to see Crawford flinch.
"What's wrong? Can't see me coming?"
"You didn't bind him this time, did you?" Crawford adjusted his
glasses. "I gave you that order for a reason."
Nagi laughed, a wild sound that vaguely frightened him. I'm right
on the edge of losing control. Would that be such a bad thing?
"What does that have to do with anything? It's the orders I obeyed that
are the problem." If I go, I'm taking you with me, Crawford.
Crawford smiled slightly. "Guilt? Is that what this is about? I didn't
expect it this soon. Kudoh must be very talented."
This time Nagi did lash out with his power, knocking Crawford to the
ground. I want to see some stains on that suit. I want to see it
reflect reality. "It's your guilt, too. More yours. You made me." Made
me carefully, each lesson, each test, each trauma. "I despise you.
I'd have left a long time ago if I'd seen any other options."
Crawford laughed. "Would you choose to be otherwise?" It sounded
forced, but Nagi scowled in response. "You still need me, Nagi. You
don't even know what's hit you. Stop being an idiot and think!"
He makes it sound like another lesson, one I'm being slow picking
up. Damn him! Nagi snarled wordlessly and looked around. There--
He pushed one hand outward, toward a small paved courtyard. The
pavement buckled, and benches shattered. He took a step forward and
spread his fingers wide. The broken pieces flew into the air. He
clenched his hand in a fist. The debris spiraled in together, crashed
and crumpled. Not enough. Not nearly enough. Dust sifted down
as pieces of pavement pulverized each other, trying to occupy the same
space at the same time. After a moment, he lowered his arm and allowed
the remaining fragments to fall to the ground. He turned back toward
Crawford. "The next time we play games like this, Crawford, I'll do
that to something you care about. I know you better than you think."
Crawford had risen to his feet and begun the task of straightening his
clothing. He frowned at his jacket for a moment before meeting Nagi's
eyes. "Where are your shoes?" He looked Nagi up and down. "You look
Nagi narrowed his eyes. Changing the subject? But I think you got
the message. The question is, do you believe it? "I was in a
hurry." He kept his tone icy.
"It's a question of professionalism. If the Taisken see us looking...
disordered... they won't take us seriously."
Fuss, fuss. Whatever you're doing got away from you just a little,
Crawford, didn't it? Nagi laughed low and looked back at the
destruction he'd wrought. "No. They won't take you seriously,
I can paint myself purple and stroll around naked, and they'll
take me seriously. The High Lord can see what I do, and he hasn't had a
telekinetic this powerful in generations. I don't need you anymore, not
as much as you need me."
Crawford took a step forward. "You can't see what's coming.
You'd be dead in under a year." He started to advance further, but Nagi
held up a hand, palm outward.
"I'm not very happy with you right now. You saw this coming, didn't
you? And decided you wanted it to happen? I'm not a chess piece or a
Crawford seemed to be intensely interested in the cuff of his jacket.
"You'd have given it away." He shrugged and looked up again. "I didn't
want him to see it coming. I told you to keep him restrained."
That makes no sense. Nagi shook his head and focused on the
portion of Crawford's words that he understood. So this is all
Part of Nagi's mind flinched, the wounds seeming too raw to be touched.
How'd I let him hurt me this badly? I know better. And what the hell
was he playing at? He had to know I'd be back, that I'd exact a price.
I don't think-- Nagi shuddered mentally, shying away from quite
looking at how close he'd come to killing himself. I don't think he
was trying to kill me. He doesn't know me that well.
"So, are you done with your tantrum?" Crawford asked in an irritated
Nagi raised his eyebrows. He is rattled. Usually, he knows better.
Of course, if I say yes, he'll assume I'm calm and go away, giving me
a chance to think. But if I think, I'm going to cry. I'm going to cry
anyway-- Nagi turned his back on Crawford and walked away.
Kudoh... Yohji. Nagi forced his spine to remain straight, his
shoulders squared, as memory sliced him. He did want it. At
He clenched his fists and swallowed heavily. If he was acting...
not easy. I-- I never could. When I-- I meant it. He looked up at
trees and beyond. I could fall into the sky... Never come back.
lips twitched. I actually could. Lifting myself isn't that
He sighed. I just don't want to look at... Yohji. He-- He gave
me exactly what I wanted, and then-- Everything changed suddenly. Yes,
don't look at the rest of it, just that moment. Before was a lie, and
after... doesn't matter. A burning in his throat and pain in his
told Nagi that he was lying to himself, but he ignored his physical
reactions and continued looking at the sky. What did he say? "What
have you done to me?" That came first. Then he said, "Get out of my
head!" And he was looking
at me like I'd done something. Nagi clenched his jaw, fighting
Which I had, but... His eyes widened a little. That wasn't
he was talking about, was it? And it wasn't someone else in his head.
was getting, had gotten, something from me.
He spun on his heel and wasn't particularly surprised to find Crawford
still watching him. "You utter bastard!" Nagi hissed. "You callous son
of a bitch! You had me rape an empath!" Nagi struck out with his power.
Crawford rolled with the blow, just managing to keep his feet.
"Saw that one coming, did you?" Nagi strode toward the other man.
Crawford gave an oddly crooked smile. "He's a much better empath now
than he used to be, much more useful." He stood his ground. "For one
thing, now he knows what he is."
Nagi came to a halt a short distance away. Bitter disgust, at himself
as much as at Crawford, roiled his stomach, and he spat, trying to
clear his mouth of the taint. "An unshielded empath, no less! One with
no fucking clue as to what was happening to him-- Sometimes, I hope
there is a hell, just so I can see you there some day." He launched a
simultaneous attack with fist and telekinesis.
Crawford dodged the physical blow, but the psychic one connected.
Crawford stumbled back from the force of it.
"I wish you'd let me punch you. It'd be a hell of a lot more
satisfying." Nagi stretched a telekinetic collar around Crawford's
throat. "If you really wanted to keep me obedient, Crawford, you
shouldn't have pushed my power so hard, have forced me to become so
strong. Oh, but then we'd still be
working for Estet, wouldn't we? Or perhaps we'd be dead? The end always
justifies for you."
Sudden and painful sound lanced through Nagi's head, and he raised his
hands to cover his ears. That only made the scream reverberate more
strongly. Psychic-- Shield it! The noise cut off abruptly. I
didn't do that-- Who-- Nagi staggered forward then straightened. Shit!
I lost hold of Crawford!
Crawford had stepped backward on a small rise and stood with his feet
apart as if he were bracing himself. Like you need the height
advantage, bastard. Hm... I think it hurt him, too, but... He'd
gone white, and his face looked strained, but he showed no sign of
surprise. He was
expecting it, wasn't he?
Crawford adjusted his glasses. "So what do you want, Nagi? We can
continue this if you want, but... I think your toy's in a bit of
Nagi couldn't stop a snarl. But I didn't shield it out.
Something else-- Was that really Yohji? Well, it sure as hell wasn't
Fuck! Schuldig shielded, cutting off the source, which means--
Crawford smiled just a little. "We'll talk again later when you're
"Damn right, we will, Crawford." Nagi forced his voice to coldness.
"Don't think I'll forget." He turned away and headed back toward the
building. I won't run while he's watching. But Schuldig can do a
lot of damage very quickly-- But-- The hell with it! He broke into
Yohji avoided looking at Nagi's cushion. I
won't. Not at that. Not at his shoes, his jacket, his tie... And sure
as hell not at the towel. He ran the bar of soap across his chest
again. I'm never going to be clean again. He stopped moving for
a moment, simply letting the water hit him. What now? I'm calm
again. Mostly. I'd almost rather not be. I am so utterly fucked. He
shifted his weight from one foot to the other and winced. And my
body won't let me forget.
He's going to come back again, and then he will kill me. And I'll
even kind of deserve it. He didn't do anything but what I asked him to,
but... He felt himself starting to cry. At least, the water
from the shower'll hide that.
So what do I do now? I can't stand here forever. I'd like to, but...
If nothing else, my legs won't hold me. I guess I go and sit and wait.
And wait. How long will it take him to pull himself back together? I
him badly, pushed every button I could. And I can't very well
I'd have to explain, and... I don't really want to apologize. It's not
he hasn't hurt me. And how would I explain? It's not like I've got the
slightest clue what happened. No. I know what happened. I just
why or how or... I was feeling his feelings, wanting what
wanted. What's that called? Empathy. I think that came up when
was talking to us about psionics. But... I'm not-- I never-- Not till
He turned off the water and used his hands to scrape off some of the
excess moisture. Squeeze out the water from your hair. Look like
you haven't a care in the world. It's only everybody who knows you're
lying. He moved to the sink and brushed his teeth. God, I
should have done this
first. I-- I let him-- No. I volunteered, opened my mouth and-- He
added more toothpaste and brushed vigorously. That's blood. I can
it. I should stop. I should-- He spat pink tinged foam. Water...
He rinsed then spat again then drank eagerly.
He stopped suddenly, letting the water run over his hand. What
if it's in the water? Whatever's doing this to me-- What if it's in the
water? Hell, anything could be in the water. He snorted,
a sound of amusement. Here I've been worrying about the food...
He shook his hands dry. What now?
His eyes wandered the room as he tried to come up with options. He
left the cart. No, no point. They'll just gas me again, and it's not
like I've got anywhere to hide anything. Oh, wait... He left the book. Yohji
shook his head minutely. I bet the offer to lend it to me's been
withdrawn. What the hell. He can only kill me so many times. It's not
like I'm going to get another chance at the damn thing. He
straightened his shoulders and walked toward the book. His feet seemed
reluctant to make the trip, his legs resisting to the point that he
felt like he had weights attached. He won't be back this soon...
That's not helping. He sighed and bent to pick up the book.
A small noise from the other side of the door froze him just as his
fingers brushed the cover. Shit! He stood and began to back
away. Too soon! It's too damn soon, and-- Yohji frowned. There's
something there... Anger? I think so. But not his. So-- The
inner door swung open.
Schuldig regarded Yohji through slitted eyes. "You made the kid cry,
Kudoh." Schuldig took a quick few steps forward. "Really, really bad
Yohji winced as the telepath's emotion slammed into him. No! Ow! No!
He fought to keep Schuldig's rage at a distance. I have no idea how
to do this. Help! Think fast-- Yohji backed into the wall. Nowhere
to go. "I don't suppose you'd believe--"
"I don't give a damn why you did it, Kudoh. But as it happens, I'm
going to give you something you wanted." Schuldig smiled. :You
wanted to know what's going on with Tsukiyono, didn't you? And while
you're in there, you can think about what the kid's going to do to him
now that you've fucked up.:
Yohji found himself slipping less easily into this scene than he had
into Schuldig's presentation of Ken's memories. Yohji twisted mentally
and fought to reject the images, but they washed around him like
Pain. Cold. Terror. Desperate faith and the certainty that that faith
would be broken... Yohji felt himself start to flounder mentally as the
emotions swirled around him. I'm drowning in Omi--
The child huddled against the wall, wishing desperately that the air
were warmer. Even the wall leached away the heat from his body rather
than helping insulate him. He shivered and squeezed his eyes closed
against the darkness. But I can't hope for light-- Light means the
bad men coming back. In the dark, he could almost pretend that he
was grown, not a child, not small, not vulnerable. Not helpless.
"Please hurry, Papa," he whispered. "It's awfully hard staying brave."
He felt tears forming in his eyes and turned his head in an effort to
use his shoulder to brush them clear. At least my arms don't hurt
Heavy footsteps broke the silence, and the child whimpered. The bad
men are coming. Please, Papa-- I don't want them to hurt me again.
No! Yohji wrenched himself away and suddenly became aware of
himself as Yohji again. That's not me. That's not-- I'm not a
child. It's not real. He felt his knees weakening and pushed
himself upright again. He also pushed aside his anguish at Omi's
suffering. It's bad. It's so bad--
:Oh, it's real, Kudoh. Or it was. He was a lot smaller then.
Think about it, how much it had to hurt. And you still can't protect
Yohji opened his eyes and was half surprised to see his own cell rather
than the child-Omi's dank prison. Schuldig had come close, placing his
hands on Yohji's shoulders. The telepath's bitter anger and sadistic
made Yohji shudder. Worked once before... The image of wrapping
his wire around the German's neck in the final battle after the
ceremony flashed through his mind. Very deliberately, he suppressed all
thought as he had done then. He lashed out with his fist and connected
firmly with Schuldig's chin.
Schuldig's head snapped back, and he staggered away.
Free for the moment, Yohji gathered his strength and fled. He headed
toward the still open door into the antechamber. If I can get there
and get it closed behind me--
But Schuldig recovered rapidly, while Yohji'd worn himself to
exhaustion and still hurt from his encounter with Nagi. Schuldig
grabbed Yohji just as his fingers brushed the door. Schuldig spun Yohji
around and smashed him against the wall.
:There's nowhere to run, Kudoh. Nowhere.:
He's doing that telepathically because he's out of breath, isn't he?
Doesn't sound as threatening when he's panting. Yohji pushed that
thought aside as irrelevant. One last thing to try... And he's
already in my head. That should make it easier. If I can do it at all.
Yohji met Schuldig's eyes, forcing defiance to mask his terror, then
deep breath. Okay, you bastard, have it all-- Yohji put every
of pain, terror, shame and rage, every negative emotion he could find
himself, together in a bundle and aimed it at Schuldig.
Yohji felt those emotions explode outward, ripping themselves from his
psyche. He screamed and vaguely heard an echo that could only have come
from Schuldig. Then Yohji felt Schuldig's hands wrap around his throat
and begin slamming his head against the wall.
I hurt him... The pleasure of that thought remained a distant
shadow even as Yohji lost track of everything else. Why bother
fighting it? Whatever he plans'll hurt less if... He let the
darkness take him.
Well, that was fun. Not. Schuldig
panted heavily as he glared down at Kudoh's unconscious body. He's
not supposed to be able to do anything like that. He massaged his
don't think-- Even if he were awake, I'm not up to getting into his
again. Not after that. Not till this headache's gone.
He prodded Kudoh with his toes. Out. Completely. Damn. I'll have to
wait. No point doing anything till he can feel it. Schuldig looked
around the cell. A few things on that cart I can use. Careless of
to leave it-- He scowled. Shows how badly the son of a bitch
him. Pain is not enough. What...
Ah. He worries all the time about what happens to his body while
he's unconscious. Let's start there. I'll tell him all about it as soon
as he wakes-- Schuldig's head throbbed as he bent to lift Kudoh. Okay.
get that after my headache's gone; I couldn't do it justice right now.
Now where? Yes. His eye came to rest on Kudoh's pallet. He
there; that'll make it worse when I show him...
a little, and Omi gave her his full attention.
:What is it, Ouka-chan?: He kept his voice gentle
in spite of his exasperation at the interruption. What I'm doing
right now is important. He sighed. My imouto knows that. She
wouldn't call for something that wasn't at least as important.
:I think something's happened to Yohji-kun. I think...:
Omi stiffened, going suddenly still while the computer system's data
continued to flow around him. :What? Why? Do you need me
back there?: How does she know? :Has Naoe
returned? Or Schuldig?:
:Not exactly... A little bit ago, I felt Schuldig poking at
our mask. Then he kind of... Well, pulled on it. Remember how it felt
when he showed it to Crawford? Like that. I thought it was weird,
but... Well, it didn't seem important enough to bother you about. Not
Omi nodded. :I see. What changed?:
:A few minutes later, Yohji-kun screamed.:
:I-- I don't know what else to call it. It hurt. It knocked
me out for a minute. It... Whatever happened must have hurt him a lot,
and I'd bet Schuldig's responsible.: Ouka sounded scared. :Find
him, nii-san, please. Yohji-kun-- Schuldig might--: Her
shudder crossed the link between them. For a moment, they shared images
of Schuldig's appearance and actions the night she died.
:I wouldn't bet against it.: Omi set his mouth in
a grim line. :Thank you for telling me. If you're okay, you
should probably go back now. I need to look for Yohji-kun, and...:
:I'd distract you.:
:I'm afraid so. Will you be all right?:
:I think so. And nii-san-- I hope...: Then her
presence was gone.
Me too. Omi turned his full attention to the surveillance
systems. If only this place weren't so damn big.
Nagi skidded to a halt in front of the door
cell. I'm going to have to do this the hard way. He'd stopped
way at the observation room and hadn't been particularly surprised to
everyone there unconscious. At least, I think they were
not like I stopped to check, but there wasn't any blood to speak of.
gone straight for the door controls only to discover that Schuldig'd
the inner door open. Which means I can't open the outer door
overrides. Well, actually, other people can't open it without
overrides. I, on the other hand--
Too much time gone. Too damn much. I know what Schuldig
can do in fifteen minutes-- He stepped back, pressing his body
the far wall. Breathe. Even it out, no time for panting. Focus--
He raised his hand. Damn, I wish I hadn't played around out in the
Waste of energy I've got a better use for-- Of course, then I'd have
Crawford. Would that be such an awful thing? He wove the tendrils
his power through the tiny gaps around the door then squeezed,
the materials. Then he smashed the full force of his ability squarely
the barrier. Once. Twice. It's giving-- Hit it again!
The door and part of the wall surrounding it exploded. Nagi didn't
pause to study the destruction. Instead, he charged through the debris
and into the cell. Once inside, he looked around quickly. There--
Schuldig crouched beside Yohji's unmoving form. Nagi extended a hand in
a sweeping gesture and used telekinesis to hurl Schuldig against the
wall. Schuldig hit hard and bounced sideways before falling to the
Nagi crossed the room rapidly and knelt beside the pallet where Yohji
lay. So much blood... "Yohji-kun?" Nagi reached for the other
man's neck, feeling for a pulse.
Yohji's eyelids twitched. "Nagi-san..." The name barely came out as a
No, everything's superficial. Painful but superficial. At least,
physically... "I'm here." Schuldig just barely got started.
Going for pain, meant to take his time. Yohji'll be all right in a few
"Kid--" Schuldig had regained his feet and started to move toward
Nagi looked up and scowled. "Don't you think you've done enough?"
:Back off! He's mine! No one else touches him.:
"He hurt you! I couldn't just ignore that." Schuldig hesitated for a
moment then started forward again. "I suppose you've got some
interesting ideas about what he deserves..."
Yohji whimpered. Nagi looked down again. He reached out with gentle
fingers to stroke Yohji's hair.
Schuldig's shadow fell on Yohji's body. Nagi looked up.
"Stay the fuck away, Schuldig." Nagi's voice took on the cold tone of
command that Crawford used whenever Schuldig really went too far.
"You don't mean that--" Schuldig's expression changed rapidly,
different emotions flickering across his face. "You can't mean
that." He took another step.
Nagi hit him telekinetically, slamming Schuldig against the wall again.
This time, he heard bones snap. "Someone will be in soon to take care
of you. I've got other things to worry about." He turned his attention
back to Yohji. Moving him is going to hurt like hell.
I'm going to knock you out so I can move you. It'll hurt less." Without
waiting for a response, Nagi put slight pressure on Yohji's carotids
waited. Okay, now. He released the pressure and lifted Yohji
As Nagi turned to go, he met Schuldig's eyes for a moment. Schuldig had
wrapped one arm around his body while the other hung limp. His eyes
burned with accusation, with disbelief, with betrayal. "Someone will be
in for you soon," Nagi repeated gently. "I'm sorry, sempai." He left
without any further backward glance.
Omi raced through the system, searching for
signs of Yohji. I shouldn't have put it off. I just figured he
wasn't going anywhere-- No. I just didn't want to watch Naoe touching
Yohji-kun. I didn't trust myself.
No. Not here. Omi looked around. Too damn slow this way...
He closed his eyes and let go of his visual construct. How does it feel?
He stretched himself. Double door cells there and there and there...
He focused his attention on one of those areas. This is too weird.
I'm not supposed to be shaped like this.
Sudden pain flared in... My right shoulder? No. I don't have one
right now. Never mind! I can't afford this. For a moment, he was
too busy coping with the unexpected sensation to guess at its origin. Control.
Pain is in the mind, and I'm nowhere else right now. Separate. Yes.
Pull back. Yes. Now go there.
He twisted himself mentally and opened his eyes again. There--
One of the icons indicating a double doored cell flashed an angry red.
Omi reached out to touch it then recoiled briefly as the system
shrieked its alarm. He set his jaw and pushed his awareness forward. Inner
open. Outer door closed but... Yes. Something-- someone-- is trying to
force it. Surveillance system, that's what I need. There. Naoe outside
trying to get in. That's-- Omi felt a snarl of rage curling
his virtual chest and realized dimly that it reverberated through the
network, disrupting normal functions. That should be me! No.
Better Naoe on the outside, coming to the rescue, than-- I may not have
intervene. I shouldn't want to intervene.
Inside the cell, Omi saw Schuldig standing over a battered looking
Yohji. Schuldig glanced toward the door then shrugged. He crouched
beside Yohji and rolled him onto his back. He's bleeding. Both
shoulders dislocated looks like. Hell of a lot of external damage.
Omi snarled and flexed his fingers. Access the nanites to check for
internal-- No. No time. Naoe's almost in. Judging by how he's acting,
he's pissed. I can get Schuldig later.
We'll get Schuldig later. He could feel ripples from his anger
running through the system. I'm not even going to think about what that's
doing to the computer.
Omi watched until Naoe carried Yohji from the cell. Should I
follow? I don't know... I need a way to communicate with Yohji-kun, and
that means using Ran-kun. At least, that's the simplest. First-- Can I
get a signature on Yohji-kun's nanites? The system's been tracking his
physiological reactions which means it can find the nanites. If I can
track that... I don't know if that'll work outside the cell. Well, time
to find out.
I suppose if I lose track of Yohji-kun, I can always look for Naoe.
I don't think he'll leave Yohji-kun for long. Not now. Not given how he
looks. Trust Yohji-kun to manage a seduction, and trust Ran-kun not to
any of it happening even when he did.
Omi sped along the path back to his body. It seems a long way...
Getting into the system is becoming easier. Getting out on the other
hand-- He twisted his perceptions and slid back into his body. He
sensed Ouka's relief at his return and her anxiety over what had
:It's okay, Ouka-chan; at least, I think so. Naoe smashed
Schuldig against the wall to rescue Yohji-kun. Yohji-kun, he was hurt
pretty badly, but... I think he'll be okay.: He reached out
mentally and nudged the surveillance system, looking to see what Ran
doing. Reading. Perfect. He created a short loop that included
turning a page and set the system to repeat it. That's getting a
easier. I bet I could fabricate records fairly easily. I'll have to
with that a bit more-- Later.
He stretched and cleared his throat. "Ran-kun! Come in here for a
Omi heard sounds of movement from the other room, and after a moment,
Ran walked in. He looks so much better. Omi smiled. He
wouldn't admit it, but he'd lost hope. Okay-- How do I explain this?
to have to tell him about Ouka eventually, but... He'll be certain I'm
:You most certainly are not!: Ouka
:Look at it from his point of view--:
Ouka snorted. :Like he's in a position to talk. At least,
you haven't asked people to call you by my name!: She
sighed. :But you're right. We can't afford to have him
questioning your ability right now. We need him too much. Maybe he'd
She hesitated. :There's part of you that doesn't entirely
believe in me, you know. You hide it, but it's hard for me to miss that
Omi's eyes widened slightly. :I-- I'm sorry, Ouka-chan.
"Omi? Is something wrong?" Ran had halted in the doorway, and his
face showed concern.
Oops. Omi met Ran's eyes. "Well, it's not entirely good, I'm
afraid. Come, sit down." He gestured toward the chair beside the bed.
Ran advanced and sat down. He perched on the very edge of the seat,
regarding Omi solemnly.
Omi sighed. "First the good news. I located Yohji-kun. The bad news is
that Schuldig was... working him over. I was thinking seriously about
intervening even though it would hurt our chances of escaping, but Naoe
burst in and put a stop to it."
Ran's jaw set in a hard line; then he raised an eyebrow. "A setup?
Something to make Kudoh-- Yohji-- more dependent on Naoe?"
Omi shrugged, ran his fingers through his hair then shook his head. "It
didn't look like that. At least... Naoe hurt Schuldig. A broken
arm, probably some ribs. I'd bet that Schuldig could take a fall better
than that if it was planned." He shook his head again. "Doesn't matter,
Ran-kun. Either way, Yohji-kun's alone, and we need to find a way to
contact. He needs to know that we haven't forgotten him. And--" Omi
Ran with a glare. "He needs to know that we don't think less of him
Ran looked away.
At least he looks ashamed of himself now, not like it's all someone
else's fault. "Ran-kun... We have to watch those tapes. I need to
know what happened, and you-- You need to make them think Schuldig's
sick game is working. It's the only way they'll ever let you near
"I won't-- I can't do that. What Schwarz wants..." Ran
folded his arms across his chest and pressed himself back in the chair.
"I'm not going to hurt Kudoh."
Ouka snorted. :What Crawford wants, he means.:
"Ran-kun--" Omi put a hand on Ran's shoulder. "If I could see another
way, I'd take it, but I don't. And I can't... I can probably either cut
the sound or substitute a sound track, at least as long as you're
careful about not letting the cameras catch your lips." Omi frowned,
considering. If I can manage a time delay, it'll be better. I can
that fits what they're doing. How long can I get away with? Tremors
passing through Ran's body pulled Omi's attention back to the present
"Omi... I'm afraid I'll hurt him, really hurt him. Schuldig didn't put
that there, just brought it to the surface." Ran looked directly at
Omi, his face showing an unusual pain and vulnerability.
:I didn't think he'd see that,: Ouka commented
softly, her tone much kinder than was normal when she discussed Ran. :Be
gentle with him. That can't have been easy to say.:
So you do trust me, Ran-kun. I've wondered sometimes. "Come
here, Ran-kun." Omi pulled Ran toward the bed. Ran resisted for a
moment then allowed himself to be embraced. Omi managed not to react
when he felt Ran's tears soak his shirt. He's really worried about
this. "People have... impulses. All people," Omi insisted as he
felt Ran's body stiffen in rejection. Yes, Ran-kun, you too. Much
as you'd rather not be human... "Some of them are ugly. Some of
them..." Careful. "Some of them just need to be channeled so
that--" No. Not that way. "You're Weiss. Yohji-kun is Weiss.
You can do whatever's necessary. I have faith in you, both of
Yohji stared up at the ceiling. This is
wrong. This is just... strange. He closed his eyes for a moment and
let the drugs in his system start him floating. Soft mattress.
Smooth sheets. Warm. Nagi's bed and only me in it. And he promised...
Promised not to let Schuldig-- Yohji shuddered and then froze at
the pain the movement produced. Don't even think of him. Just don't.
He heard the sound of movement from elsewhere in the apartment and
seized on the distraction. My nurse, my babysitter. What's her name
again? Telat. She'll come if I make any sound. See if I need more
medication, food, water, a trip to the toilet. Change my pants. Pants.
He gave me clothing. Only sweatpants, but... Social armor even against
a nurse. And I need it. Not counting my name, she knows all of
about a half dozen words in Japanese, and all of them are on that
little list Nagi gave her.
What the hell did Schuldig do to me that Nagi thinks I need a
someone to watch me? No. I wasn't going to think about that. But I do
need her. I still can't walk to the toilet on my own. What the hell did
Schuldig do to me? Fuck it. I'm not going to be able to leave it alone.
He turned his head a little to one side, ignoring the pain the movement
caused. I can smell Nagi in the sheets. I never thought that would
Schuldig... He shuddered again. I... did something. Even
hurt him I think. Then he... Yes. He grabbed my throat and beat my head
against the wall. There's time missing then. At least, I think so. And
think... He tensed, clutching at the sheets. He raped me. I'm
sure he did. I'm glad I wasn't really there for that. But I was
awake for the rest of it. He wanted me to know, to hurt, to fear,
and... it worked.
Then he came-- Nagi. And it wasn't a set up. He was too
angry, too worried. He chose me over Schuldig. I-- He concentrated
for a moment on his breathing, trying desperately to even it out. I
couldn't understand the words by then, but he was gentle and so very
with Schuldig, and he brought me here, to his own place. If I could
walk... If I could, I bet it's even a door I could get through.
When I'm feeling better... When I'm feeling better, I'll figure out a
way to use that.
Ken shifted in bed. He glanced at the stack
on the nightstand beside him then looked away. Not like I haven't
read 'em all. Twice. I just wish I could disbelieve what I read, but...
I accept certain givens, it all makes too much fucking sense.
He stared up at the ceiling and started counting speckles. Anything
to keep from thinking for a while. Damn! I wish I could move. I could
work this through better, and I'd worry less. Even watching curling
would be better than this...
Familiar footsteps interrupted Ken's attempts to distract himself.
"Crawford." Ken didn't even bother to look; the American's gait was too
distinctive to be mistaken. Ken heard Crawford pull up a chair and
settle into it.
"So have you given my proposition some thought?"
Yes, and I damn well don't like it. Ken nodded. "If it's that
important to you, I don't understand why you're giving me a choice." He
kept his eyes on the ceiling.
Crawford cleared his throat, and Ken's mind pictured the other man's
probable movement. Push up the glasses. Settle his expression so he
looks like he knows everything. Move the hand to attract my attention.
Tough. You're not getting it. Deal. I can damn well multitask.
"No matter what happens, you hate me. I don't have time to change
that, and... The whole effort's wasted if you lie to me."
Ken turned his head and met Crawford's eyes. Now the question I
really want to ask... "You think I'm going to lose it, don't you?" Go
completely bugfuck crazy, judging by his reactions.
Crawford didn't flinch.
Not that I expected him to. He's got guts. Wonder what he'd be
like on the field? Ken raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything
Crawford's response came softly enough that Ken might not have
understood it if he hadn't been paying attention. "The odds do favor
that." Crawford's fingers twitched, and Ken wondered what the other man
wanted to do. "Most seers can't... interface... with the present very
well. They get lost."
"You do pretty damn well." It's possible. Anything Crawford can do,
I can. But the whole idea scares the hell out of him. Is he losing his
nerve? Closer to that edge than he wants me to know? Probably.
Crawford actually looked away. "My gift isn't very strong as such
things go. I don't See all the time. Beyond that, it's a question of
And you don't think I've got any. Moron. I was a goalie.
Minutes of boredom punctuated by seconds of urgent action. "I see."
Ken looked away again. And I bet you hope I do go nuts. Otherwise,
have to deal with me and my agenda. Whatever it turns out to be. I
those files you gave me, Crawford. If I stay sane and if I swear to
High Lord, I'll have the more powerful gift, so I'll outrank you. If.
"You know, Hidaka-san, there's a certain irony in this."
Ken turned to look at Crawford and narrowed his eyes a bit. You're
actually pretty honest with me, I think. Trying to get me to trust you?
Maybe. Probably looking for emotional engagement. That's where my files
say my weakness is. Hell, that is where my weakness is. I just know
than to let it get personal. Most of the time.
"Out of all the members of Weiss," Crawford went on, oblivious to
Ken's inner monologue. "You're the last I'd have expected to have this
sort of talent." He pushed his glasses up again. "With the strength of
the potential, it ought to have manifested at least a little before
just hunches but enough to keep you out of trouble."
Since Ken had already considered this question, he was able to hide his
reaction to Crawford's words. Just because you don't know about
it! And it's not like I paid attention when I wasn't on the field. They
were just hunches, and I didn't want to be another superstitious ball
player, and... Kase was my friend. The pain of thinking about Kase
had eased a little over the years, but the memory still cut deeply. Maybe
going crazy wouldn't be all bad... No! Stupid! I promised Omi not to do
again. Besides... He shook his head once.
"Is something wrong?" Crawford's tone revealed a little anxiety.
"What are you giving me to make this worthwhile?" Ken made his voice
"Saving the world isn't enough?" Crawford raised his eyebrows.
Ken waved a hand at the files. "You've given me some facts. Maybe. If
you're not lying. The rest... You're asking me to take a lot on faith,
and, as you recently mentioned, I don't like you. There are only a
couple of reasons I haven't already told you to go fuck yourself
sideways... You asked, and you didn't have to, and... You might be
telling the truth." And you've got my friends locked up somewhere
in this place. If--
"You want a gesture of good faith? I suppose we could heal you up
"Real good faith, Crawford." Be damned if I'm giving him a
'san!' "Let the others go, and I'll do it."
Silence stretched between them for a long moment. Then Crawford shook
his head regretfully. "I can't. Aya-chan would never forgive me if her
brother got himself killed fighting us, and he would. You know that.
Tsukiyono's not up to being out on his own right now. I've got Ran
looking after him. When he's doing better... That I could do if you
really want it, let Tsukiyono go, that is." Crawford sighed almost
inaudibly. "And Kudoh, he's no longer... His situation is no longer
under my control."
Ken stared at Crawford for a moment. "You're really bad at this people
stuff, aren't you?"
A brief flicker of offended indignation crossed Crawford's face. Then
he smiled with conscious irony. "Let's just say I'm not accustomed to
asking, to being the petitioner."
Ken nodded. "Your strategy's not bad, but your tactics suck. You'd get
run over in your first five minutes on the field. Well... I suppose
this whole precognition thing would help. Call it ten minutes. Anyway,
the way I see it, I'm the one with something you really want, have to
even. And I won't get anything out of giving it to you." I don't
this, not really. Why hasn't he played up the potential benefits if I
make it through? That's the attractive looking package. So
what'll he offer? How badly does he want this? You can't convince me
he's never done contract negotiations.
Crawford's jaw clenched. After a moment, he replied, "I don't
need it." He shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "You're the
idealist, the one who cares about making things right. Or have I
mistaken Weiss' purpose?"
Ken suppressed a snort of laughter. Idealist? I murdered that along
with Kase. And then again and again and... I suppose he's still leaning
on the files. For someone with the instincts he's got, he relies too
damn much on documentation. But he's not going to let them loose unless
someone higher up orders it.
I'm going to have to play this game, ignoring the odds, and I'm going
to have to win.
"No!" Nagi shook his head. "Absolutely not!"
He glared at Crawford. "Haven't you and your plans done enough damage?"
And I only just got him resting comfortably! Babysitter and all.
"I don't think Hidaka will do him any harm, Nagi," Crawford replied
mildly. "It's not like I'm asking you to leave Schuldig alone with him
Nagi narrowed his eyes. You're not usually this clumsy, Crawford.
"No." He folded his arms across his chest. "I may still be able to put
Kudoh back together now, but Hidaka's a complication I don't need." You've
been misreading Yohji, and I wouldn't put money on your being right
about Hidaka. If he's anything like Fujimiya...
"Kudoh doesn't have to be conscious." Crawford turned away and walked
over to the window.
"What does Hidaka have that you want that badly?" Maybe he'll even
answer... Hell, he'll answer if he really wants it because I'm not
letting Hidaka anywhere near Yohji without a damn good reason. Nagi
fidgeted in his chair. I am not getting up to follow him.
Let him pace and demand and worry. He deserves it. "Just bearing in
mind at the
moment, Crawford-san, that I'm still looking for a reason why I
cut ties with you entirely, take Kudoh and walk. I can."
"I know." Crawford didn't bother looking back. "It would be a bad
idea, but you could do it. The High Lord would be happy to accommodate
you. As you commented yesterday, he hasn't had a telekinetic like you
a long time, and he wants to keep you happy." Crawford turned to face
"I just want to keep us all alive."
Nagi shook his head. No, Crawford, that one won't fly anymore.
"I need a hell of a lot more than that. I hate to be the one to tell
you this, but your credit's run out. I forgave you for Tot. Mostly. I
understand why you set me up like that. Now. Mostly. That pales in
She wasn't permanently damaged. This time--" Nagi shook his head again.
Yohji may survive what Schuldig did, but... I can't be sure of that
And that doesn't address what I've done. What Crawford told me to do.
I still want to do...
Crawford sighed, and his shoulders seemed to droop. "Yes. This time..."
He straightened abruptly. "It was necessary. Then and now."
Nagi met Crawford's eyes, keeping his expression hard. He looks
exhausted. "Not good enough. You can label anything as necessary.
Especially after the fact." I don't trust you anymore, Crawford.
"So tell me.
Explain it to me in simple words. Explain it all, or I will
Crawford stared at Nagi for a moment.
That's right. Look at me. Me. Not some factor in your damned
Crawford's expression changed just a little.
Yes. I'm not irresponsible and impulsive like Schuldig. I'm not
crazy like Farfarello. And I'm not a child anymore. You have to deal
with me, not just use me.
"All right." Crawford almost collapsed into his chair. "All right,
Nagi. You win." He sighed and closed his eyes. "Give me a moment. I
need to get my thoughts in order."
Nagi leaned back in his chair, schooling his face to conceal his
amazement. I win? What the hell? He must be exhausted. He
watched as Crawford sagged forward, supporting his head in his hands. Yes,
he is. I wonder... I don't think he ever really looked at me, thought
about me like that before. Oh. Nagi's eyes widened. I bet he's
having more trouble with Hidaka than he expected. A lot more trouble.
And I bet he has no clue why. He's treating Hidaka like one of us or
like a minion, like someone who won't
question. But usually, Crawford can See how people will respond to his
Crawford looked up. "Have you swept for bugs recently? It's better if
this is private."
Nagi responded with an ironic half-grin. "You wouldn't even ask unless
you were already sure of the answer."
"Well... You have been a little distracted lately."
Have I? I don't think so. "You assigned me a task, but Kudoh
hasn't required all of my time, not even most of it. Getting this place
properly set up has taken rather more." Okay, maybe by your
standards I have been distracted. I haven't been devoting myself only
to what you want. Tough. Deal.
"This part isn't any great secret really, but..." Crawford steepled his
fingers and tapped his index fingers together. "You know now that
Kudoh's an empath. His power level will never match Schuldig's, but
should be able to learn a much greater measure of control than Schuldig
ever will. He's not the only one of Weiss with potential." He hesitated
for a moment before going on. "Hidaka's... He has a large and
untapped potential as a precog, a seer."
Nagi straightened is his chair. I suppose it's not surprising that
somebody else would have potential. What's the Taisken estimate? Half
the population? Two thirds? Assuming that holds true on Earth.
"Precognition?" He raised his eyebrows. "I thought that was your area."
"He could be a lot stronger than I ever will be if we can force his
abilities to manifest. Left on his own, he won't take things anywhere,
but with the proper pharmaceutical assistance..."
Nagi frowned. If he's stronger than you are... Can you afford the
competition? "I thought it was the rarity of your ability that made
"Not exactly. Not... The thing that's really rare is controlled
precognition, the ability to See consistently without... without Seeing
"And Hidaka will be able to do that?"
"No." Crawford made an abrupt slashing gesture, a rejection of the
possibility. "He'll be too strong. He'll See all the time. He won't be
able to tell what's real and what's not."
What's useful about that? Well, obviously Crawford's got something
in mind. "And that will help you how?"
Crawford's expression seemed to imply that he thought less of Nagi for
not having figured it out already.
Nagi ignored the expression. I grew up looking at that, Crawford.
I'm immune. Nagi waited.
Crawford sighed. "I'll be able to tell which of his visions are what we
Just a bit too much emphasis on the "we," Crawford. I haven't agreed
to anything yet.
"And we will need what he Sees." Crawford frowned, apparently offended
that reality hadn't chosen to make things more convenient. "There are
things I... Things I know we're going to need-- people actually-- that
I--" His voice broke just a little, shocking Nagi. Crawford looked away
for a long moment before meeting Nagi's eyes again. "That I'm not
strong enough to See."
For a few seconds, Nagi couldn't breathe. Crawford not strong
enough? The man who brought down Estet? The man who-- Nagi inhaled
slowly, using every bit of his self control. He really is leveling
with me. What
happened? He used to spend hours sorting through possible futures,
for the one he wanted, figuring out the paths that led to it. And how
get us on those paths whether we liked it or not.
Crawford remained silent and very still. Oh. He's waiting for my
judgment. Will I use his weakness or will I help him? Which do I really
want to do? Does it matter to him except as a branch on his logic tree?
I wish I thought it did. Nagi sighed almost imperceptibly. It's
not really a question at all, is it? Except in his head. No wonder he's
been such an ass. He never actually understood what I wanted with Tot,
why I'm still angry about it. He doesn't believe that people can care.
Wonder how the hell he manages with Aya-chan...
Nagi nodded. "I understand. So we really do need Hidaka." He
gave the pronoun the slightest extra emphasis and saw from Crawford's
expression that he got the message. I can't-- won't-- abandon you
Crawford. You're the closest thing I've got to a father. Crawford
to speak, but Nagi held up a hand. "I haven't forgiven you,
Crawford-san. That's... harder. But..." Nagi spread his hands as words
eluded him. And the questions pile up... Does the High Lord know?
Will he care? Crawford's position has rested on three things, my power,
his own power and his intimate knowledge of Earth's politics,
economics, and so on. But he gave the High Lord Kritiker... Hell.
Crawford's eyes widened just a little at Nagi's words, and he seemed to
lose a certain tension from his shoulders.
Did you really think I'd-- Of course you did. You don't actually
know me, do you? When did you stop Seeing what I'd do next? You treat
us all the way you were treated, don't you, Crawford? What did they do
you to make your gift stronger? How close did they push you to
"If Schwarz sticks together, we'll survive regardless of whether we get
Hidaka or not," Crawford admitted quietly. "At least as long as we're
more loyal to the High Lord than we were to Estet."
You weren't planning to be? "I see why you asked about bugs.
Even saying that-- even if you don't mean anything by it--" Nagi shook
his head, suppressing a shudder. "I'd rather avoid another deep scan."
To say nothing of the things the High Lord does to people who betray
"I Saw... The Taisken finding Earth was inevitable, unavoidable, at
least from Earth itself. If I could have gotten us into the
Empire somehow, we might have stopped it, but--" Crawford waved a hand
dismissing the thought. "The High Lord is only the first of many and,
best of the lot. We want his claim on Earth to be upheld. If it comes
to war with other Taisken-- They won't give a damn about 'collateral
Nagi leaned back in his chair. Why that sounds almost altruistic!
Who are you and what have you done with the real Crawford? "Since
when do we care about collateral damage?" And what the hell does
this have to do with Hidaka?
Crawford laughed bitterly. "It becomes important when we're likely to
be part of it. That, and... Whatever I pretend, there are some things I
care about." He also leaned back in his chair, suddenly appearing more
confident. "Tell me, Nagi-- Yesterday, in the garden, why did you only
destroy the artificial, the pavements, benches, fountains? Why be so
Because-- Oh. I guess you can still teach me something. Nagi
looked away. He licked his lips. "They wouldn't be selective."
"The High Lord's conquest will be... messy... anyway, but he will
take some time about it and co-opt existing institutions where he can.
Most people won't ever encounter the darker side of his regime. Hell,
a lot of the world, the corruption in his administration, the cruelty
some of his people, his personal... vices, will still be an improvement
over what they've got now."
That sounds like you've run through it a thousand times, and it's
all true, but it still doesn't tell me why we need Hidaka. "What do
you See about it?" Nagi felt daring asking the question which was not
one Crawford had ever been inclined to tolerate.
Crawford hesitated before replying but finally took a deep breath
and said, "Nothing really. I'm relying on chance flashes which don't
me much. I can't afford to look that far ahead right now. Half an hour,
even an hour, I can manage safely, more than that if there's a fight
involved and I focus on that specifically, but..." Crawford shrugged
with exaggerated indifference.
Nagi stared at the older man for a moment. "You almost got lost, didn't
you? Ended up where you say Hidaka's going to be--" I was ready to
walk away just a few minutes ago, but... The thought of Crawford gone,
especially that way-- That scares me. He's-- He's Crawford, for
god's sake. He's supposed to be indestructible. Maybe we all paid a
for destroying Estet.
Crawford just shrugged again, not bothering to answer. "But I have Seen
Hidaka as the key. I just have to get him to volunteer." His expression
became decidedly sour. "He has to agree for two reasons. First, I have
to be sure he won't deliberately lie to me later, and second, the High
Lord won't let me activate that sort of potential pharmaceutically
the subject agrees. The latter reason's really more important. It won't
take long for him to end up too tangled in the possible to be sure who
talking to at any given moment."
Is that why you used torture on Yohji, that the High Lord didn't
want you to use drugs? Or were you just being nasty? To Yohji and to me.
Or don't you know any other way? Nagi suppressed the impulse to
ask. "Have you Seen that?" Yeah, what if you're wrong? He already
hates us, I'm sure. How's he going to feel after he sees Yohji? Do you
really think he's not going to blame you, blame us?
"No, but the odds... I don't think even one in a thousand Seers can
manage the trick. I can't guarantee that he won't make it, but that's
the way to bet. If I'm wrong... Well, he'll See what I Saw."
Nagi got up. He paced toward the window then turned back. He stood very
still and watched Crawford. Crawford turned to look at Nagi. "All
right. I'll allow the visit, but there are conditions. One-- Kudoh's
mine. No more games, no telling me what to do with him. Two-- Tell me
what's going on
from here on out. I'm willing to work with you. Not for you."
"All right." Crawford nodded. "Kudoh's yours. As to the other... I'll
try. I'm not very good at... that sort of thing. Aya-chan keeps telling
me I've got to be better about talking to people." He smiled slightly.
"I think she means better about talking to her, but I suppose
generalizes too." Crawford seemed to hesitate then asked, "Will you
"I'll listen to it. I may not take it."
"Apologize to Schuldig."
Nagi turned away and moved to lean his forehead against the window. No.
Absolutely not. "I told him more than once to stay the hell
away from Kudoh. It's not my fault Schuldig didn't listen." His mouth
tightened. "He's lucky I didn't kill him."
Nagi heard Crawford sigh. "Even a week ago, you would have."
What? Nagi went rigid and only barely kept himself from
spinning around to stare at Crawford. Well, I asked for honesty.
"Oh, yes, Nagi." Crawford's voice carried the soft venom he reserved
for revealing unpleasant truths to people he couldn't afford to kill.
"I've spent the last two years watching to make sure you didn't kill
any of us. Power like yours doesn't mix with... rage. It's been very
Nagi heard Crawford stand. It's a lie. The son of a bitch is just
trying to get control back.
"You'd have felt terrible afterward, but it doesn't take much to set
you off. Didn't take much with Kudoh, did it?"
"I didn't kill him." Nagi wasn't entirely sure whether he meant
Schuldig or Yohji. He felt a purely psychosomatic pain in his chest. But
I wanted to... But I didn't. I just went in knowing Yohji'd try things
that would piss me off.
"I know. That was a bit of a surprise. A pleasant one, but a surprise
never the less. You'd have regretted killing Kudoh, but it wouldn't
have wrecked you... or Schwarz."
How many different stories does he have? First it's sex education.
Then it's breaking Yohji to make him work for us. Next it's hurting him
to make his empathy stronger. Now it's teaching me self control, giving
me something-- someone-- to take out my anger on. "What the hell
you really trying to do with Kudoh, Crawford-san? You've given me a
of a lot of different stories." Nagi turned and raised a hand and
ticking off points. "Sex ed. Assassin on a leash. Empathy through
A punching bag for me."
An odd smile tugged at Crawford's mouth. "You forgot my dislike of
Nagi raised his eyebrows. "I'd discarded that one."
"Perhaps you shouldn't have." A note of bitter humor escaped in
Crawford's words. "I'm quite capable of being petty."
Are you? I think I need to figure you out. Maybe... I wonder if I
can come up with an excuse to talk to Aya-chan... "Just how close
did you come to the edge, to losing yourself?" Will he answer? Do I
even want to know?
Crawford rose to his feet. "I'd better be going. Let me know, Nagi,
when you're willing to let Hidaka see Kudoh. And--" He seemed to
hesitate for a moment before saying softly, "You might want to think
about why Schuldig did what he did. It matters."
Nagi sighed and felt his shoulders relax a little. He can't answer
me, can he? He'll never be able to bend that far. But I can. I have to.
"I can manage that much, I think."
Author's Note, 29 April 2003: This may
be the last section posted for a while. I've reached the point in my
pregnancy when the baby could arrive at almost any time, and I've been
having pregnancy related health problems that have limited my ability
to write. I will
be coming back to this story, I promise; it's simply that my priorities
will be different once the baby's here. I can't be sure how quickly
write then or how often I'll update. Right now, I have one more full
roughed out, pieces of two other scenes and the ending written. I do
where this is going.
23 May 2003: My daughter arrived on May 17th. I've done pretty
much no writing since. I've been thinking about "Rheotaxis" a bit
though, so it hasn't entirely vanished from my mind. I'll get back to
writing after I adjust a bit more. Of course, right at the moment, I'm
spending a lot of my time just staring at my little girl and admiring
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