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

Author: The RCK

Warnings: minor angst, BDSM, telepathy induced amnesia, AU ignoring Gluhen, the drama CDs and so on
Pairing: Schuldig/Yohji
Summary: When Yohji needs to unwind, he turns to Schuldig.

Other Notes: Written for ramenkuri who won my Livelongnmarry Charity Auction offering back in July. She's been very gracious about waiting for me to get done, even though I've gone more than three weeks past my deadline. I hope this is the story she's looking for. I tried to minimize the angst.

Posted: 25 November 2008

Thanks to my beta readers, Hope of Dawn, Chichiri no Da, Daegaer, and Truth. Thanks to Olna Jenn for cheerleading and other encouragement.

Rituals and Observances

Yohji hesitated before ringing the doorbell. I don't have to. I could go to Okinawa. I could go camping. I could-- He pressed the button. I want to, though. When I'm with him, I'm real, not just going through the motions. Him and missions. The rest.... Gray and soft and nothing or hard and sharp and heavy. He felt vaguely that he should care about the rest, should try to feel those times instead of seeking Schuldig and killing so often. Twin vices, aren't they?

Schuldig didn't look surprised to see him. //Well, duh. I heard you coming. And Omi called Brad.// He stepped back so that Yohji could come through the door. "It's too cold to keep the door open long."

I wish Omi would leave me alone. This is my business. He keeps pushing me. Don't I do everything I'm supposed to? Yohji met Schuldig's eyes for just a moment then looked at the floor as he stepped across the threshold. I could do something else. We could do something else. He walked in far enough that Schuldig could close the door and stopped, letting his hands hang at his sides.

"He worries." Schuldig put his arms around Yohji, leaning against his back. //We could. If you want but only if you want.//

Yohji sighed and sagged. I...I'm here, and I don't want to think. I don't want to choose. I don't want to let anyone down. I don't want to-- He refused to allow himself to complete the thought. His hands shook as he tugged on the bottom of his shirt.

//You have to make some choices.// Schuldig laughed against the back of Yohji's neck. //That's the entrance fee. If you want, you have to ask.// "You don't even know how long you'll be here." He licked Yohji's neck.

Yohji shuddered. He tilted his head, yielding his neck to Schuldig. Letting go of everything else forever doesn't sound bad.

"You know what to do." Schuldig stepped away. //You'd miss your friends, Yohji, and they'd miss you.// His mind caressed Yohji's, temporarily clearing away a few of the clouds. //If that weren't true, you'd have...left by now.//

I'd stay for you. Yohji wouldn't-- couldn't-- think of his friends.

//I know.// Schuldig moved close again, just long enough for a kiss. //You need to stay for you.//

Yohji shook his head. He turned his back to Schuldig and removed his shoes then walked further into the apartment. He started stripping before he reached the middle of the room. He put each article of clothing carefully aside. When he was naked, he knelt on the floor.

Schuldig sat on a chair beside Yohji and put a hand on his hair. "Tell me."

Yohji cleared his throat. "Omi says--"

"No." Schuldig's hand covered Yohji's mouth. "Tell me what you want." //Do you want to go to Okinawa? I could take you. If you really want to go camping, though, you'll have to go on your own. I prefer soft beds, regular showers and no bugs.// He studied Yohji's face. //Ken would probably go with you. He's into that outdoor shit, and he likes you.//

Yohji choked on laughter that he couldn't bear to let out. "I wouldn't ask you to go camping." I want--

Schuldig tapped on Yohji's throat. //Out loud. You get nothing unless you say it.//

"I want.... I need to be helpless for a while." Yohji licked his lips. I should have had something to drink before I came. "I...." Omi says I'm trying to get myself killed. That wouldn't be so bad.... The telepathic equivalent of fingers flicked against a forehead hurt.

"Idiot." Schuldig wound his fingers in Yohji's hair and pulled.

We'd all be better off. We belong to death. Wouldn't it be easier for all of us?

"I won't kill you. I won't let you kill anyone you love." //I'm too fond of you, and Brad and Omi would gut me. I'm even fonder of my innards being in the right place than I am of you.//

"Fuck me. Use me. Hurt me. Please." The words came out so fast that Yohji barely had time to know he'd spoken.

"Do you want to remember agreeing or not?" Schuldig stood up.

Yohji felt his breath stop for a moment. Oh. Oh, yes. Schuldig almost never offered that. He said it was better for Yohji to know.

Schuldig took a few steps away. "Should I cherish you, too? I don't have to, but I enjoy it."

"You decide." Please. Yohji closed his eyes.

"No." Schuldig's refusal was adamant. "Once we start, I decide. Before we start, you decide. If you don't, we won't start at all." //And you'll have to go camping. With Ken. I'll make sure he goes along.//

"I...." Yohji tried to make himself think. "I don't want to remember." Not until after. I'll know what you could have done. He looked at his knees. "Cherish me if it pleases you." He looked up at Schuldig and smiled with genuine sweetness. "I trust you." He took a deep breath. "The usual limits. Nothing that would keep me from a mission if one came up. Not that one will. Omi said--" He shook his head. Omi said I'm not safe for missions right now. He was angry. No. Not angry. Frustrated and sad. Why? Why won't he stop caring?

"Ah." Schuldig sat again. He lifted Yohji's chin and kissed him. When he pulled back almost a minute later, he said, "And if I want to share you?"

Yohji flinched. "Not with strangers."

"And if you don't know if they are or not?"

If I don't remember that I had a choice, I won't remember the limits. Yohji shrugged. "If you think it would be good." You should enjoy this, too.

//I will. I always do with you.// Schuldig ran his thumb along Yohji's cheekbone. "You let me indulge my dark side." //I'm still amazed that you trust me this much. Let alone that anyone else does.//

"Do you have a light side?" Now that the really hard part was nearly done, Yohji was more ready to tease.

"I have a lighter side." Schuldig tweaked Yohji's nose. //I'll be careful.// "I want to share a meal, maybe a DVD first." Schuldig sounded hesitant.

Yohji leaned his head against Schuldig's leg and sighed. "I'll just go to sleep here and wake up...there?" He'd expected to start immediately.

"If that's too hard, I have the drink ready now." Schuldig rubbed Yohji's back.

Yohji forced himself to think. Drinking the sedative himself let him choose when to start his imprisonment, but he wasn't sure it was a choice he could manage. It's for him. He wants this, too, or he wouldn't ask. "I'd like dinner." I'd like making love, too. I want the rest, but I want you, too. That surprised him a little. He'd known that he loved Schuldig, but he hadn't thought he had anything left to give. Only things left to be taken. "At least, I'd like dinner if I can wear clothes and if it's here." No other people. I can't.

Schuldig laughed and pushed Yohji's clothes off the couch. "As you wish."

Schuldig whistled through his teeth as he checked to be sure Yohji's wrists were firmly restrained. Yes. Good. He will try to kill me if he gets loose. He might even succeed since I don't want to kill him. He attached a tether to the chain connecting Yohji's wrist cuffs and bolted that to the floor. Half a meter of play. More than enough. I'll shorten it if I need to. He crouched beside Yohji's unconscious body. He ran his hands along Yohji's hip, one up toward the chest, the other down toward the knee. All mine.

He stood up, stepped back and contemplated. The brown of Yohji's skin showed well against the pale blue tile. Need to do something about his legs. He'll kick if he can. Schuldig had no intention of underestimating Yohji's abilities. He selected a spreader bar and fastened it between Yohji's knees. One at the ankles? No. That would be a weapon.

He knelt for a while, just watching Yohji sleep. I have to do this right. He was so fragile yesterday. I should have told Brad where to shove that Hong Kong meeting. I don't care how much money it's bringing in. Two weeks on his own is too long for Yohji. Maybe in a few more months. He brushed fingers over the scars on Yohji's abdomen. The real scars are harder to see. He's starting to see them. Almost. Maybe. He didn't even have to think about pushing aside the entangled hopes and fears sprouting from thinking about Yohji changing. I won't lose you. I won't. He only half convinced himself.

He touched Yohji's memories carefully, not wanting to undo the work he'd already put in. Almost drowning. Twine that with the fear that he wouldn't find the others. From nightmares, add memories of wandering, lost and hurting, in the dark.. Turn down the hurt. We want bruises not bullets. A final memory of seeing me coming from nowhere. All his. Perfect.

He smiled. "You'll believe that, won't you?" He'd hidden Yohji's memories of everything that had really happened since the collapse of the museum by setting up a distraction loop. If he starts questioning too much, he'll keep coming back to thoughts of my hotness. He snickered. Those are his, too. He smoothed back Yohji's hair as he tweaked the loop to keep Yohji from undoing the progress they'd made over the last year. He was falling then and pretending he wasn't. If I hadn't stepped in, he'd have picked up a shovel, once he hit bottom, and started digging. Idiot. My idiot. "No making things worse, right?"

He checked the time. He still had at least an hour before Yohji was likely to wake. Well, wake without prodding. He considered the preparations he had left to make. All the equipment he expected to need was already in the room or just outside. Time for flourishes.

He left Yohji in the tiled room and went to the kitchen. He poured himself a tall drink, heavy on the ice, and decorated it with a sprig of mint. Just iced tea, but he won't know that. Yes. His throat is going to be dry from the sedative. So dry.... Every drop of condensation will be agony. He prepared a tray of fruit slices and crackers. No protein. Will he remember that that's part of brainwashing? I hope so. He grinned in anticipation. We're going to war.

He started whistling again as he walked back to the tiled room. The sound echoed through the empty hallway, bouncing back at him from the stairs. Just the two of us, Yohji, in more space than you can imagine leaving vacant. No one will hear you scream, no one except me. Nobody else will hold you when you cry.

He settled himself in a plastic lounge chair and put his drink and the tray of food on a plastic table. He leaned back, clasping his hands behind his head and crossing his legs at the ankles. //Wakey, wakey, Kudoh. Time for fun!// He prodded Yohji's mind toward wakefulness.

Yohji groaned and started to roll from his belly to his back. He tried to throw one arm over his face to cover his eyes. He froze.

Even if I weren't in his head, I'd know he was awake. "Guten Tag!" Schuldig said cheerfully. He knew Yohji would recognize the words as German and draw the correct conclusion. "I'm planning to have fun," he went on in Japanese, "and you're going to help me."

"Fuck off!" Yohji pushed himself up, finding the limits of his restraints. He twisted until he could see Schuldig. He snarled as he tried to find a way to free his wrists.

"Fuck off? Not a chance. Fuck you? Oh, yes. I plan to." Schuldig sipped his drink then set it down carefully. He ran a finger through the beads of moisture on the outside of the glass.

Yohji's eyes followed Schuldig's fingers. He swallowed. He inched around, trying to find a position from which he could see Schuldig without turning.

Schuldig stood up. He walked over and put one foot on the spreader bar. His hand struck rapidly, gripping Yohji's hair. "You're filthy." He pulled and tugged, forcing Yohji to look up and back at him. "I have standards. That means we start by washing." He stroked Yohji's neck with the fingers of his free hand. And now you think about buying time. You think about lulling me by cooperating when it doesn't matter. Oh, yes. But Yohji, when does it matter?

Apart from breathing and a slight tremor, Yohji didn't move.

No fool, Yohji mine. Schuldig let go of Yohji's hair and made a show of wiping his hand on his pants. "Two options. First, you cooperate, and we use a nice, pleasant soap. I'll even wash your hair." He smiled, knowing that even the suggestion that his hair was dirty was enough to make Yohji's scalp itch. "Second, you fight me, and I use the heavy hose and douse you in disinfectant. If you keep fighting, I shave your head." Yes. You wouldn't like any of that, would you? //This doesn't have to be miserable,// he whispered inside Yohji's head.

Yohji bowed his head. His thoughts ran in delicious circles, tightening around awareness of his current helplessness and trying to avoid considering that Schuldig might be in his thoughts.

Oh, I am. I am. Schuldig took a deep breath in an effort to keep himself from wallowing. "I'm so pleased to have a chance to play with you," he said. "I'm sure you'll clean up well." He stepped back and retrieved two washcloths, a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner. He held the items where Yohji could see them. "You're not going to fight me, are you?"

Yohji gave the barest shake of his head.

Schuldig wasn't about to let him off so easily. "Say it."

"No." The word was almost inaudible, but Schuldig decided that it was good enough.

"Hold still." Schuldig set everything down again and proceeded to strip. The psychological advantage of being clothed wasn't worth the misery of being wet and clothed. He put his clothes on the high shelf with the towels. "I need to wet you down first. You might want to keep your eyes closed."

Yohji's thoughts announced that he couldn't imagine closing his eyes under the circumstances, but he didn't say anything, and he didn't move. He simply clenched his hands on the tether that bound him to the floor.

Schuldig pulled a showerhead from the wall and used a gentle spray to rinse Yohji's body and wet his hair. He didn't spare Yohji's face, but he also didn't linger there the way he might have if he hadn't liked Yohji. He used the showerhead to fill a bucket. "Later," he said, "much later, we'll have a proper bath. If you please me." He showed teeth. "Otherwise, I'll have a bath and just let you watch." You're realizing how thirsty you are, aren't you? We'll take care of that later. He turned off the water.

Schuldig carefully stayed out of range of the tether. He doubted Yohji had enough slack for a makeshift garrote, but he didn't want to find out the hard way that he was mistaken. He moved the bathing supplies close to Yohji.

Yohji reached for a washcloth then aborted the motion.

"No moving." Schuldig slapped Yohji's hand lightly. "That's a warning. Next time will hurt." He dipped one of the washcloths in the bucket, pulled it out and let it drip. He watched Yohji watching the falling water. //It's clean water.// He smiled, letting his pleasure in his own power show.

Yohji averted his eyes.

Schuldig rubbed soap on the washcloth and began washing Yohji's back. He let himself enjoy Yohji's skin under his hands and the way that Yohji's muscles kept tensing every time Schuldig moved lower on his body. He reached around to scrub Yohji's chest. "How do you feel about tit torture?" he asked. "I think you'd look pretty, decorated and in pain."

Yohji's breath hitched.

Schuldig kept his hands gentle. "I don't plan to give you up, you know." He finally let one hand descend to touch Yohji's cock. He kept the other arm wrapped around Yohji, preventing any unconsidered movement.

Yohji flinched at the first touch of fingers on his cock then set his jaw and didn't move.

Oh, my sweet realist. You know you can't stop me, and you're putting way too much effort into remembering that it's me, into not remembering how much you love to be touched. If I wanted to work at it, I could get you off with a hand job. Could you bear the shame? If Yohji were aware of the game, Schuldig would have tried it. As it was, he moved back up Yohji's body to wash his arms.

Schuldig used the second washcloth to remove the soap from Yohji's face almost as soon as he'd applied it. No dripping in the eyes. He worked the cloth around Yohji's ears then inside the curves of the ear. Satisfied that he'd washed everything above the waist, he sat back on his heels. "I'm going to rinse you again now. Then I'll wash your hair. After that...." He ran a finger across the sole of Yohji's foot. "After that, I'm going to wash your legs and everything you really, really don't want me to touch."

Schuldig used the gentle spray again, giving Yohji mental orders to shift so that the water could remove all the soap. He pretended not to notice Yohji's attempts to drink some of the spray. He soaked Yohji's hair until it dripped then turned the water off.

Yohji tensed as Schuldig came closer.

Schuldig allowed himself a laugh. "You can't change anything, Kudoh. You might as well enjoy the parts that are pleasant." He poured shampoo into his hand then started to work it into Yohji's hair.

Yohji took a deep breath, held it for a count of three and released it. He repeated that over and over as Schuldig massaged his scalp.

Am I that terrifying? I suppose I must be. He's not stupid after all. "Lean your head back. I'm going to rinse this." He tugged on Yohji's hair.

Yohji arched his back and threw his head back, using the tether as an anchor.

Schuldig had to give himself a moment to enjoy the sight. Then he played water over Yohji's head, letting it run and run until he was sure most of the shampoo was gone. He smiled. "Bend forward this time. I don't want anything left underneath."

Yohji bent forward, letting his head dip toward the floor.

Very good. Very, very good. After turning off the water, Schuldig repeated the process with the conditioner, taking more time to comb the stuff through Yohji's hair. He allowed himself a bit of time for caressing Yohji's neck and torso. We're supposed to let the conditioner sit for a little anyway.

When Schuldig stood up to rinse away the conditioner, he said, "You have a choice on the next part. Would you prefer to lie flat while I wash you or would you prefer to be on your feet as far as that tether will allow?" He really wasn't sure which Yohji would choose. Either will be humiliating.

Yohji inhaled in an audible gasp.

"Lean your head back." Schuldig deliberately didn't look to see which option Yohji favored. Too much fun imagining both of them. Well, there will be other occasions, I'm sure.

Yohji pulled harder on the tether this time. Schuldig suspected he was trying to break it.

Good luck. That's rated for several times your weight. At least he's smart enough to grip and pull rather than destroying his wrists.

When the water stopped, Yohji lowered himself onto his forearms and started easing his legs backwards.

Schuldig allowed himself a moment of regret that he wouldn't be seeing Yohji bent at the waist with his ass in the air before he gave himself over to enjoying what he was seeing. He walked over and ran his damp toes over Yohji's back. He put most of one foot on Yohji's ass and pressed, using a fraction of his weight. The tense stillness under his foot told him as much about Yohji's fear as the breathless cacophony of his thoughts. He pushed his toes into the crack of Yohji's ass and wiggled them. Then, as if nothing had happened, he knelt beside Yohji and started washing his feet.

Schuldig worked his way slowly up Yohji's legs. He could taste the dread in Yohji's thoughts and smiled at the realization that Yohji had worked himself up to thinking that something terrible was going to happen. Schuldig spent a lot of time touching Yohji's ass before he parted the cheeks. I don't need to torture you. You're doing it all for me. He sluiced the area with water then ran the washcloth back and forth repeatedly, pressing on Yohji's anus each time. Yes, I could. I won't right now, not yet. He poured more water in to wash away the soap.

Giving in to a different temptation, Schuldig dropped a kiss on Yohji's tailbone. He nibbled, kissed and licked every available bit of skin, reveling in Yohji's repeated shudders. When he raised his head, he said, "I'm not going to hurt you. Yet. You've been very good, and pain is something we'll work our way up to."

Yohji gave a choked laugh. "As long as I don't piss you off, right?"

Schuldig patted Yohji's leg. "Time to turn over." He stood up and stepped back. Can he do it without help? He thinks so. He just doesn't want to.

Yohji lay still only his hands moved, clenching and unclenching.

//If you can do it, I won't make you beg for water.// Schuldig left the repercussions for failure unspecified. I'll think of something if I need to.

Yohji took a deep breath. He pushed himself up so that his hands supported his torso. He dug in with his toes, trying to see-saw forward. His left foot slipped, and he fell. His knee smacked against the floor.

Secure in the knowledge that Yohji couldn't see him, Schuldig winced in sympathy. //Water,// he whispered, knowing that Yohji was desperate enough to have considered licking the floor.

Yohji fell twice more before he managed to get his knees under his hips. He crawled toward the tether anchor then raised himself up on his knees. He leaned back, using tension on the tether to maintain his balance as he worked his feet further forward and climbed toward a crouch. His feet slipped again, and he came down hard on his ass, but his legs were in front of him.

Schuldig applauded. "Very good!"

Yohji scooted around so that he was looking at Schuldig.

He's still holding onto pride. "Say it." //You can't afford pride, Kudoh.//

Yohji looked away. "Water," he said. "You promised not to make me beg."

"Making you ask is different from making you beg." Schuldig retrieved a water bottle and a straw. He held both so that Yohji could drink. He used his free hand to move wet hair off of Yohji's face. "There are rewards for pleasing me."

Yohji closed his eyes and kept drinking.

Smart. I know what you thought of saying, but you didn't say it. You will want the rewards, desperately. "You keep hoping they're going to come through the door to save you. They're not." The instant terror that swept through Yohji cut at Schuldig so that he added, "No, they're not dead." You haven't lost them. You didn't let them die or get them killed. He let the words flow without thinking about anything but not letting Yohji blame himself. "They just think you are. They stopped looking for you when Manx and Birman told them they'd found your body. The ladies lied about the body to give the others closure. Most of the bodies sucked down won't be coming back up."

Yohji's breathing stuttered and stopped for a few seconds. His shattering loss sliced at both their minds, breaking the barriers Schuldig had set to protect the already repaired portions of Yohji's psyche, but barely showed on his face. He shook. His eyes widened.

Shit! Of all the times to believe me-- Schuldig dropped the water bottle and pressed himself close to Yohji. //Don't you dare fall apart on me!// He kissed Yohji, trying to get closer physically as he threaded his way into Yohji's mind. Fuck. I forgot how fragile he was then. His scheming was masking it. "They're alive, Kudoh. They're mourning you. If they knew you were alive, they'd tear this city apart looking for you." //You exist. You're real.//

Yohji shook. He turned to press his face against Schuldig's shoulder.

I ought to pull away. He'll wonder later why the vicious sadist cares. No later doesn't matter. What-- No. That's not where he needed to break. Hell, he didn't need to break, just bend and relax a bit. Schuldig searched for the pieces of Yohji's reaction in his mind, blunting the edges, smoothing the tensions. He didn't look at the content of the thoughts. There wasn't time. The texture had to be enough to guide him. //Sleep now.// He forced Yohji's mind into unconsciousness and temporary stillness.

He lowered Yohji to the floor and started unfastening the restraints even as he continued moving through Yohji's mind. I fucked up. He trusted me, and I fucked up. I won't know how badly until he wakes up. If he wakes up. He will. He has to. "Be okay, Yohji. Please." I don't think I can survive without you. No. That's forbidden. No. They can't-- Estet can't-- "If you Saw this coming, Brad, and didn't warn me, I'm going to gut you."

He continued working frantically, trying to make Yohji's mind feel right again. Rest, love. I'll do my best for you.

Yohji woke to soft pillows and Schuldig's limbs wrapped around him with desperate strength. "Hey," he said as he tried to remember how he'd gotten there. Something's wrong. What-- Oh. He patted Schuldig's back, running his hand up and down as far as Schuldig's grip on him would allow.

Schuldig raised his head to look down at Yohji. "I fucked up, didn't I?"

"Um...." Lying to a telepath simply didn't work. "Yeah." Yohji rested his forehead against Schuldig's chest and tried to ignore the hairs tickling his nose. "I'm not mad." That much, at least, was true. He still remembered the desperate fear and loss that had threatened to devour him. "I know it's not true." We were playing. That's all.

Schuldig's arms tightened, and he buried his face in the top of Yohji's head. "I'm sorry." The words came out muffled. //Would seeing them help? Talking to them?//

Yohji nodded. The...despair echoes a bit. "Did you just apologize?" I think the world may end. He closed his eyes. I wonder if my hair is tickling his face as much as his is mine?

//Yes to both questions.//

They lay there like that for several minutes before Schuldig pulled away and sat up. "You need something to eat and something to drink."

Yohji stretched. "Too much trouble." You look like crap.

"You just stay there--" Schuldig started to push himself to his feet, but Yohji grabbed the wrist of the hand he was using for balance and held tight.

No. Yohji met Schuldig's eyes for a moment then looked away. I'm sorry. I should have been stronger, not gotten upset over something so stupid. He remembered being upset, but he wasn't sure why it had struck so deep. "Those were exactly the lies you would have told me." I owe you. "I should have remembered that Ken and Omi would keep looking until they saw a body. We learned that from Kase and from...Neu." And even a body doesn't prove anything. We saw Nagi and Tot and.... Yeah.

"Yohji--" //Look at me, please.// Schuldig settled back on the mattress. "I fucked up. You didn't. That means you call the shots for a while." //Whatever you want. Anything.//

Yohji frowned. Something in Schuldig's voice worried him. "Just don't leave me alone." Stay here until I figure out what's wrong with you.

//There's nothing wrong with me.// Schuldig sighed and kissed Yohji's ear. "As you wish." //It means you'll have to get up a lot sooner than you want to. though. Those sedatives dehydrate, and food will probably help.// He stroked Yohji's neck down to the shoulder then moved on to trace Yohji's shoulder blade. //Then you can set the penalty.//

I'll have to get up soon anyway. I need a piss. Yohji grimaced. "I don't want a penalty. It's not necessary. It's not like you meant to upset me." Hurting you won't make me feel better. Will it make you feel better? He covered his eyes with his forearm. "Punishing you for that.... I don't think it's healthy, not for either of us." I don't want to have this conversation right now.

Schuldig pulled Yohji's head and shoulders onto his lap and started stroking Yohji's hair. He didn't say anything.

Yohji had nearly fallen asleep again when his stomach growled. He tried to ignore it, but his body was demanding attention. He grumbled a little and sat up. "I think we need to get me that food now."

Schuldig started. He blinked at Yohji and yawned. "Right." He took hold of Yohji's hand and started to stand up.

He was almost asleep, too. "When did you sleep last?"

"We'll start with juice. Orange okay?"


"I'm fine." Schuldig tugged Yohji to his feet. "The toilet's across the hall. Do you need it?"

Yohji nodded and raised his eyebrows. "The circles under your eyes have circles under them."

"I'll have some coffee."

"No." Yohji poked Schuldig's chest with a finger. "After I eat, you'll have a nap." If I have to tie you down to do it. And here, I can if I need to.

"I.... I don't think I can." Schuldig wouldn't meet Yohji's eyes. His shoulders slumped a little. "I--" //I wasn't sure you'd be you when you woke up. After a little while, I was pretty sure you'd wake up, but I wasn't sure about anything else.//

Yohji sighed. His head hurt, his belly was empty, and his bladder was demanding attention.

"You trusted me. I let you down."

"Later, please?" Yohji tugged Schuldig toward the door. Let me eat. Then we'll straighten you out.

"Which way to food?" Yohji asked after they'd each had a turn at the toilet.

"Right then up the stairs."

Yohji turned right, tugging Schuldig along after him. "How big is this place?" I can't believe I never asked before.

//You were usually too busy even to think about it, and not knowing added mystique. Why do you think I always drugged you to bring you here?// "Big enough." Schuldig sounded amused. "We keep it for special occasions. We liberated it from the Takatori."

Yohji had a sudden vision of Takatori Reiji and his sons playing vicious games in the same rooms that he and Schuldig used. He felt more than a little sick.

"Yohji...." Schuldig pulled them both to a stop at the foot of the stairs. //We renovated. There's nothing left of the furnishings. Brad said they were a bad influence on Farfarello. Hell, he even had an exorcist in.// He gave a small laugh. "I don't think I told you-- We're trying to push Farfarello toward Buddhism. The God is dead variety."

Yohji decided to let Schuldig change the subject. "Doesn't that undermine his reason for existing?"

Schuldig shrugged and started up the stairs. "We'd rather have him mocking priests for being trapped in an illusion than killing them. Well, unless we're getting paid."

After they reached the kitchen, Schuldig poured orange juice for Yohji and made a large omelet which Yohji then bullied him into eating half of.

Buoyed by the calories, Yohji rummaged in the refrigerator. He frowned at the contents. It's all expensive as hell, but-- "We weren't going to be here long, were we?" He tried to suppress disappointment. He didn't want to add that to what Schuldig was already carrying.

"Huh?" Schuldig rubbed his face, managing to make himself look more rumpled without appearing any more awake. "Oh. Right. No. Somebody should be by in--" He craned his neck, looking for the clock. "Right. Another two or three hours. I didn't have time to shop for more than--" He waved his hand at the fridge. //Unless somebody's staying here, we only stock non-perishables.//

"Is there any reason I can't answer the door?" Apart from having no clothes.... Yohji smiled at Schuldig. "In two or three hours, you're going to be asleep."

Schuldig opened his mouth, presumably to protest. Then he sagged in his chair. "If that's what you want."

Yohji stood behind Schuldig's chair and hugged him. "That's what you need." He rested his chin on the top of Schuldig's head for a few seconds, ignoring the protest from his lower back. "Seriously, you screwed up, but after that, you did exactly what you needed to do to fix it. That's why I trust you."

Schuldig buried his head in his hands and groaned. "You shouldn't." //I had no idea what would happen. You shattered. I could as easily have put you back together wrong-- amnesia, psychosis, permanent damage-- as right.// "We were lucky."

Stop blaming yourself for what might have happened. I'm fine. "Can we have this conversation after you sleep?" Yohji started opening cupboards as an alternative to smacking sense into Schuldig. He didn't think it would help.

"I'm not sure I'll sleep while I'm wondering what you're going to do."

"What I'm going to do?" What the fuck do you mean? Obviously it's important, but....

"I suppose you should just tell Brad and Omi and let them decide." //I'd really rather it was you.//

"Schuldig--" Yohji took a deep breath. "Our friends are already in too much of our relationship. I'm not about to invite them to--" He waved his hands, unable to find the words he needed.

"That's how it works. That's their job. I make sure everybody keeps functioning right. They make sure I know what right is and don't forget it. If I do.... That's how it works." Schuldig managed to sound both utterly certain and completely lost.

Yohji inhaled sharply. Your job. Is that all I am? He closed his eyes. No. I know better than that even if he doesn't. He rubbed his scalp. Hell, at least I got something to eat first. He eyed the coffee maker, longing for caffeine, but he knew that Schuldig would insist on having some if Yohji made coffee or even tea. "Is this another one of those weird Schwarz things? Because I'm keeping a list." He sat down and leaned his elbows on the table. "Seriously, if anybody gives you any shit for this, I'm kicking their asses."


Yohji took one of Schuldig's hands in his and squeezed. "What do you need me to do?"

Schuldig's mouth moved a little, making Yohji think that he was biting his cheek. "I'm not allowed private relationships. It's all for the team, all for--" He shook his head.

Yohji ran his thumb across the back of Schuldig's hand. "You don't work for Estet any more. Their rules don't apply here." I will not let you let them spoil what we have.

Schuldig shrugged, looking terrifyingly helpless. //I am what they made me.//

"No. The person they made you would never have turned on them."

Schuldig laughed.

Yohji winced at the bitterness in the sound.

//Aren't there bits of you somebody else made that you loathe? None of us can help it.// "My job was to be what Brad needed and to make everyone around me be what Brad needed, what he wanted even. If they'd caught us before-- hell, maybe even now-- he's the one they'd punish. They'd probably kill the rest of us for no longer being usable, but they'd make an example of him. He's the one trained to have free will."

Yohji seriously considered banging his head on the table. Except that would bring back the headache. "How can you punish someone who doesn't have free will for making a mistake?"

Schuldig rubbed his face with his free hand. His smile was only a little forced. "Aversive training isn't punishment, just correction." He shrugged. "I'd still rather have you decide how I should repay you, you and not Omi or Brad."

"It's not necessary, really." Yohji considered. I'm not getting sex any time soon, not until he gets over this. "First you sleep." He made the statement firm. "After that, you pamper me. I want it all-- massage, my favorite foods, good booze, a long soak in a good tub. We'll watch a DVD." That's a good time to see the others, or we could go out and meet them. "Who's bringing supplies?"

"No idea. A member of the team, certainly. Probably Ken or Nagi. Brad and Omi are too important, and Aya and Farfarello are a little...uncooperative. Farfarello gets distracted, and Aya, well, he's Aya."

Yohji nodded. "Fine. I can deal with either of them. You need to sleep." And I need to think. That may work better if I'm not distracted.

"That means leaving you alone." Schuldig's face tightened. "You asked me not to do that."

"I'll be fine." Would I even try to lie to you? You'd know.

Schuldig picked at the edge of the table. "It's hardly a punishment."

Yohji studied him. "Do you want punishment or do you want...?" He took a deep breath. "Do you want to help me feel better?" I could hurt you, but it would be unpleasant for both of us. "Maybe you should just let me give orders and listen. I do know what I want." And this isn't what I came to you for. "Maybe we should go to Okinawa after all." He knew Schuldig would understand that he didn't mean it.

"I'll show you around the house before I sleep." Schuldig didn't meet Yohji's eyes. "Clothes, too."

Yohji sighed and nodded.

The tour took longer than Yohji'd wanted it to, but he finally got Schuldig tucked into bed. Then he went back to the kitchen to brew himself some coffee. There's something not quite right. He watched coffee dripping into the pot. I think there are things I should know and don't and things I know are true that don't make sense. It's like I've been half-asleep for a long time. His head started hurting again.

"I hope Ken brings the supplies," he told his still empty mug. "I can ask him questions." I could call him, I suppose. He didn't want to do that. He felt reluctant about seeing or talking to his friends. I don't think they've given me any shit over Schuldig. That's...weird. Omi and Crawford are cooperating! How did that happen? How did I miss the how? Why didn't I ask? What else did I miss?

He wandered into a room Schuldig had identified as a study. He rummaged in the drawers of the expensive, hardwood desk until he found a pad of paper and a pencil. Back in the kitchen, he poured himself a mug of coffee and sat down to take notes.

He was in the middle of his second cup and his third page when the doorbell rang. He got up slowly, hesitated then stuck the notebook and pencil into a drawer and headed for the door. At least I'm not finding gaps, just things I didn't think about. Lots of things I didn't think about. And I think I was trying to die. He rolled his shoulders to release some of his tension. He wasn't sure what was about to happen and wanted to be ready for anything.

Ken had already let himself in. He had the door propped open and two bags of groceries already inside on the floor. He blinked at Yohji and straightened up. He opened his mouth then closed it. Finally he said, "Where's Schuldig?"

Yohji wondered what Ken had been going to say. Well, I suppose it's good that he thinks before the words come out now. I wish I'd noticed it happening. He shrugged. "Sleeping. He was exhausted." He considered adding a leer to imply a less worrying cause for that fatigue but couldn't quite bring himself to.

Ken snorted. "If he's tired, I'm surprised you're walking around."

Yohji frowned. Just how much do you know about my sex life? More than I've told you apparently. He bent and picked up a bag. "Is there much more? I can start taking bags to the kitchen."

Ken made a noise of agreement and turned back out the door. "There's a lot. Crawford had a long list. I think he expects you-- well, us, actually. Omi told me to stay-- to be here a while." He reddened a little.

Yohji felt his shoulders tighten. "I wish he and Omi would butt out of my--" He clenched his jaw, shook his head and wished he still smoked. Flicking ash would convey what I mean. I don't remember deciding to quit, either. "Why is it anybody else's business?" We don't need a chaperone.

Ken had turned back to look at Yohji. He grinned. "Because they're a pair of mother hens. Look on the bright side, I've heard that Nagi gets regular lectures about...precautions." He laughed. "Including at least one phone call that embarrassed the hell out of him."

Yohji's lips twitched. "Right at the moment he was forgetting something?" He snorted laughter. Ken changed the subject. That's subtle for Ken.

Ken nodded. "I'll try not to get in your way too much. Omi says I just need to lay low until that gang we went after last week forgets what I look like."

Right. You don't believe that either. Why do it here? Yohji carried the bag to the kitchen. Did Crawford See something? Did he and Omi plan this?

He managed to move three bags all the way in before Ken finished bringing everything in the door. Then Ken took over moving the bags while Yohji started unloading the bags in the kitchen.

When Ken brought in the final bag, Yohji was studying a package that he thought needed to be refrigerated but wasn't sure about because he couldn't read the label. He shrugged and tossed it in. "What's with all the weird European food?"

"Hey, I didn't make the list." Ken held up both hands as if pushing the responsibility elsewhere. He started sorting food into cupboards.

He's awfully sure of what goes where. "We don't come here that often."

Ken snorted. "You think you're the only ones ever to use the place? Pretty damned big for occasional games." He set a bag of coffee beans on the counter. "You're just the only one who's never seen it from the outside."

Yohji frowned. He rubbed the back of his head. "And why is that exactly?" The question had harder edges than he'd meant.

Ken froze. He studied Yohji. "You look like you need a drink."

So much for answers. "It's a little early in the day."

"It's past noon." Ken pulled out two brown, glass bottles. He offered one to Yohji. "The cold stuff was all in the first few bags."

Yohji took the bottle then started searching the drawers for an opener.

"Third drawer on the left," Ken said.

"Maybe I should let you get it." Yohji pulled out a chair and sat. "Since you know where everything is." He let himself sprawl because he knew that, if he didn't, he'd pull his limbs in tight. I don't know if I can carry this off. He set his bottle on the table and ran his fingers over the surface. Should I carry this off? Do I need to? "Ken... This is--" He shook his head. I don't think I can explain it. How do I say that I'm missing pieces of why my life is the way it is?

Ken leaned over and popped the top off Yohji's bottle. "A bad time?"

Sort of. Go with it. He looks like he cares. No. He does care. Even when I wasn't thinking, I knew they cared. I just thought they.... Yohji frowned. What did I think? "I kind of...freaked out on Schuldig last night," he said as Ken settled into a chair opposite. I thought they were going to die. If I cared, they'd die. If I didn't...they'd leave.

Ken made a sympathetic noise then took a swallow from his bottle.

Yohji sniffed his bottle. "Will I get into trouble if I call this stuff beer?"

"From me?" Ken shook his head. He grinned. "I don't think Schuldig cares, either, as long as it's good and not chilled. Crawford...he says labels matter."

Why don't I know that? Why does Ken know more about these people than I do? "When did I stop seeing the rest of you?" Yohji blinked. He hadn't expected those words to come out. I wasn't going to admit it to anyone. Well, maybe Schuldig. He'd know anyway, and I.... He hasn't ever betrayed my trust. Even if I do get the impression he's talking to Omi more than I'd like.

Ken set down his bottle. "Today is the first real conversation I've had with you since-- In months. You tease at the shop, and you talk business on missions. Otherwise, you talk when cornered."

Yohji thought about that. "I..." He shrugged. "I don't really remember that."'s more that I haven't paid attention. Everything's...flat and gray except missions and...Schuldig. "I don't...not remember exactly, though."

"I'm the wrong one to have this conversation." Ken reached over and pushed Yohji's beer into his hand. "Drink. I'd rummage for something harder, but...." He shrugged.

"You're here." Yohji tightened his hand on the bottle but didn't raise it. "You know what's going on." And there is something going on. How did I miss it? "Better you than Aya."

Ken nodded at that. "He disapproves. He says we're all damned anyway, so there's no point trying to save each other."

So you think I need saving. Which means Omi thinks so, too. Yohji considered the past weeks. Months. More than a year. He sipped his beer. "Since Neu." Since Asuka. Thinking about it didn't hurt quite as much as he'd expected. "I talked to Schuldig."

"Everyone talks to Schuldig."

So it is just business then? No. I don't believe that. Yohji moved his hands to his knees to give himself something to grip that Ken couldn't see. Waking with him, eating breakfast with him, all of that was easy, and he was worried beyond the stupid punishment business. From the beginning, we fit together. From the beginning-- Do I remember the beginning? "I was business for him." Let's see what you think. Do you trust him?

Ken met Yohji's eyes and held his gaze for a few seconds. "Were. At first. Do you think any of us would have let him near you otherwise, for anything but business? After Ouka? After Sakura? Omi snarled at everyone for the first three weeks." He rubbed the back of his head and looked at the floor. "But the two of you are good together. Good for each other. He's a lot happier than he was, too."

I don't remember Omi snarling. I don't remember Schuldig unhappy, either. Yohji drank more beer. Of course, I also don't remember when we started working with Schwarz or why Omi decided to do it. I don't think I even asked. "You like him. You like them, all of them." I want Schuldig to be happy.

Ken shrugged then grinned. "They're not bad. They watch our backs, don't they?"

You think it's not just business. You just can't say it. Yohji nodded. "Yeah." I'm just not sure why I just...accepted them backing us up. It should have been unthinkable. He considered. "I'm surprised Aya agreed." He must have. He's been on missions like it was normal. "How long has it been, really?"

"Omi and Crawford came to some sort of understanding no more than two weeks after the group swim," Ken said. "Omi brought me in around then. Think he thought I'd be the easiest."

Yohji let that statement sit for a while before he replied. "I was the easiest, wasn't I?"

"Sort of."

Yohji wanted to ask what that meant. But I might not like what I hear. He tried to remember exactly what happened and when. The order of events kept slipping away from him, and some of what he remembered didn't make sense to him. "I was..." He felt his forehead wrinkle. "Asuka was already dead. Why do I remember her talking to me?"

Ken pressed the bottle against his forehead for a second, lowering it almost immediately. "That works better with cold bottles."

Yohji raised his eyebrows, trying to underline his unwillingness to change the subject.

"Why the hell do you think?" Ken leaned over and flicked a finger at the point between Yohji's eyebrows. "You had emotional--" He waved one hand back and forth rapidly.

Yohji blinked. What? "Is that supposed to mean something?"

"You got jerked around, played with, beat on." Ken shook his head. "You kind of stopped thinking or feeling when you had to. Any time you started again, you got...well." He shrugged. "Omi used big words to convince Aya to shut up and keep out of it. I don't remember all of them."

Yeah, I bet you don't. You just don't think I should hear them. Yohji frowned. I remember missions. Missions and Schuldig. What did I miss? Are friends still there? People don't stick around for months with people who aren't keeping up their end of things. But Ken's here. He's talking to me. He's happy to talk to me. "Why are you even talking to me?" Why don't you hate me?

Ken eyed Yohji with an expression that Yohji recognized as signaling Ken's intention for some sort of male bonding, semi-violent, physical contact. "I missed you." He stood up, gave Yohji a light punch in the arm and pulled out a second beer. "Want another? I can go get more if we finish it. I've still got Crawford's credit card."

They drank all of Schuldig's beer before Yohji ran out of questions. I'm not sure I'll ever run out of questions. All of Ken's words can't make it feel real. He was no longer sure he wanted to talk to Omi or Aya. Not yet.

Ken had dropped a few hints about calling them, about asking them to visit. Yohji had put it off on the grounds that Schuldig was still sleeping and wasn't expecting to find anybody but Yohji in the house when he woke.

"You're going to be enough of a surprise." Yohji wondered if there was a way to get Ken to go away or to fall asleep so that Yohji could think in peace again. At least he hasn't found the notebook. I don't know if he'd worry or if he'd tease me. Neither seemed an attractive option.

"At least think about it. Omi worries." Ken got up from the table. "Why don't we go somewhere more comfortable? I think there's a game on."

Of course. Some things don't change. "There's always a game on." Yohji stood up, too. Ken watching a game would give Yohji a little more space.

Yohji gave the game and the one that followed it very little of his attention. His thoughts started going around in circles early on and refused to settle, so he started picking bits of lint off one of the pillows. After a while, he closed his eyes and tried to nap. He managed to drowse for a while but eventually gave it up. I'm not getting anywhere thinking, I don't really need rest, and the pillows don't need my attention.

He stood and stretched. "I need a workout." He looked down at Ken who was sprawled across most of a sofa. "Schuldig showed me a weight room earlier...." Give me something else to do. Please.

"But you need a spotter?" Ken looked at the screen for a moment then shrugged. He pushed a button on the remote, and the TV went dark. "Sure." He swung his feet to the floor and stood. "Need to work off the beer anyway."

"You should probably replace that before Schuldig wakes up." Yohji started to lead the way toward the weight room then realized that he really had no idea where it was. I could find it, but....

Ken slipped past Yohji. "This way."

Yohji didn't find weights as generally satisfying as other forms of exercise. He preferred more movement, more activity, but he didn't feel ready to go running or to ask Ken to spar. Schuldig would be certain to wake at the wrong time, and...I'm not ready.

By the time they both finished full sets, the sun had gone down. Ken dragged Yohji back to the kitchen for dinner then accepted Yohji's claim of exhaustion without argument.

Even though we both know I could easily stay up for hours. I'm so glad you were the one who brought the supplies. Yohji tried to imagine carrying on a conversation with Nagi and failed. Have I ever talked to him about anything? He cast his mind back as he walked toward the room where Schuldig slept. I must have, on missions, at least. It just wasn't important enough to make an impression.

Schuldig roused when Yohji walked in but didn't do more than open his eyes for a few seconds and mumble something Yohji couldn't quite make out.

"Yeah, whatever." Yohji undressed quickly, in the dark, and seated himself on the edge of the bed. "Move over and give me some room." He gave Schuldig a shove with no force behind it. "Unless you don't want company."

//Long as it's you.// Schuldig rolled over, giving Yohji a few more inches.

"Do you really need three quarters of the bed?" Yohji pushed a little harder now that he was touching Schuldig's back and considered tickling. Except that he's immune.

//Acquired immunity.// Schuldig moved a little further toward the other side of the bed. //Survival necessity. Even before Nagi moved in.// He turned back and put his arms around Yohji. //Just what I need right now.//

Yohji shook his head. "How do you ever manage to sleep when you're alone?" He stretched out on the bed and tugged the blankets up. At least he's doing better. Bet he wakes up before I do. Which reminds me-- He poked Schuldig in the ribs with one finger. "Don't fall asleep yet. Ken's upstairs, and he's staying. Something about orders and needing to lay low." And Schuldig won't believe that any more than I do. "Don't know where he's sleeping. Maybe he won't. That monster TV system up there has more than one twenty-four hour sports channel. Anyway, don't be surprised to run into him."

//When am I ever surprised?//

Yohji chose prudence over truth and made a non-committal noise. "I'm going to sleep now. That all right?"

//As long as you're going to sleep here. Don't want to have to chase you down....// Schuldig's mental voice grew dimmer as he let himself slip back into sleep.

Yohji smoothed hair back from Schuldig's face. You really wore yourself out, because of me. You trust me enough to sleep with me still awake. I'm not stupid enough to fail to see that as a big thing. He closed his eyes. I wish I understood how we got here better, but I'm not about to waste what we have.

Schuldig wandered upstairs. He ran his fingers through his wet hair, trying to speed drying. He tugged at the drawstring on his sweatpants. Not that I'm not proud of my assets, but I only want to show them off when I choose. He had checked when he woke to see if Ken was sleeping and had touched Ken's dreams. He hadn't looked again even though his shower had taken a while.

No need to borrow trouble. Besides, he'll want to talk to me. If he's staying, that means Brad Saw something. When he Saw it determines whether or not I need to kill him. Ken might know even if Yohji thinks he doesn't. Schuldig smiled. He'd left Yohji still asleep, lying half on top of the covers. His thermostat always does run warm. Schuldig had pulled the sheet over Yohji's feet, judging by the fact that that didn't rouse him, that Yohji still needed more time to sleep.

Schuldig yawned and scratched his chest. This time, nobody's keeping me away from the coffee. Let's see.... I made an omelet yesterday. Is it worth the work to do something else? Nah. He paused at the top of the stairs. Not quite dawn yet. He could see the sky through a window in the library. It was barely gray.

The eggs were easy enough, but the sausage came out of the microwave rubbery. But using a pan would have been more trouble. For Yohji, Schuldig might have bothered, but calories were all he really needed for himself at the moment. Once he'd eaten half of his meal, Schuldig allowed himself to start thinking. I think I scared Yohji yesterday. Maybe. I was a Okay, a lot. He seems to be okay, maybe more than okay. I need to look at that more deeply. If he falls apart again after seeming better, Weiss will shatter. It's too much to hope that Ken hasn't told Omi. Can I hold Omi together if Yohji gets depressed again? That depends on how depressed he gets. Aya should be fine. He won't believe in change until it's been there for weeks.

He rubbed his face. Worry about Omi when you see him. Right now, you have Yohji and Ken to manage. Ken's mostly sane, for Weiss, but you need to know how he's going to affect Yohji. Also, if Yohji's not really better, if it's temporary or wrong, Ken's likely to kill to ease his frustration which will upset Omi which will-- No. Don't borrow trouble. Wait until one or the other of them wakes up. He growled under his breath and suppressed the urge to force Ken awake.

Instead, Schuldig took advantage of the elaborate game system to amuse himself while his breakfast settled. He expected Ken to be up soon but thought that he'd do some Tai Chi if Ken slept longer than expected. In the mean time, a little Grand Theft Auto should be perfect.

Schuldig had been playing for about forty-five minutes when Ken looked in. "I'm going for a run before breakfast. Want to come?" Ken grinned.

"Not a chance." Schuldig kept his eyes on the screen. //Have you already called Omi?// "We need to talk. Before Yohji gets up."

Ken paused in the doorway. "I can skip the run."

"Probably wise." Schuldig killed the game and swiveled his chair so that he could look directly at Ken. "What did you tell Omi?"

Ken walked into the room and dropped into a chair. "I told him Yohji seemed different. Omi wasn't surprised."

Schuldig growled. That means Brad knew. He rubbed his temples. //That may mean that Brad thinks it's going to come out okay.//

Ken's expression sharpened. "You don't think it will?"

"I don't know." //I wasn't expecting...what happened. I wasn't sure what the hell I was doing while I was in the middle of it. The bastards didn't warn me.//

Ken snorted. "Well, that explains part of my orders. I'm not supposed to let you leave the house without me until further notice."

Schuldig's shoulders twitched. //Do they really think I can't wait to retaliate? Revenge served cold and all that.// "And Yohji?"

"With me or with both of us." Ken shrugged. After a few seconds, he said, "Omi wants to talk to him. Yohji doesn't want to talk to Omi."

"You didn't push did you?" Schuldig looked into Ken's memories of his talk with Yohji.

Ken shrugged again, not bothering to put his irritation with Omi into words.

You don't think we need house arrest. You...may be right. "There's still coffee in the kitchen if you want some."

"Caffeine's for when I haven't had enough sleep." Ken was studying Schuldig's expression and body language. "What's your plan?"

"Yohji asked me to pamper him today. I'll start with a fancy breakfast." Schuldig grinned as Ken raised his eyebrows, questioning Schuldig's ability to manage 'fancy' without help. "After that depends on him."

"Why didn't you call for help?"

"What could you have done?" Because I was too fucking panicked and then too worried and too tired and too hysterical. I'm damned lucky Yohji wasn't reacting like normal. The demands I was making would have wrecked him. Schuldig sighed. "I wasn't really myself," he admitted. "There's a reason I slept--" He turned to look at a clock. "--almost twenty hours." //Even if Brad Saw it coming out okay, he and Omi took one hell of a risk. They came close to losing both of us.//

Ken frowned then nodded without saying anything.

And that's why they sent you and not Nagi. I couldn't tell him this without upsetting him. You just accept that we've survived and assume all's well. "I'm not sure exactly what state Yohji's in. I wasn't able to evaluate much beyond the fact that he was conscious, had his memory and wasn't nearly as upset with me as he should be."

Ken grinned. "He's fine. We had a long talk, drank all your beer, watched a couple of games, lifted some weights." He waved a hand as if to indicate an etcetera.

Schuldig knew he ought to protest the beer, but he really didn't care. "The only reason I was sure that I didn't just hallucinate most of yesterday was that he talked to me when he came to bed." //He wanted to warn me about you.// "He was Yohji, but he wasn't exactly the Yohji I know."

Ken started his chair spinning.

Schuldig took that to mean that Ken was thinking and waited.

Finally, Ken stopped and glared at Schuldig. He clenched and unclenched his hands a few times. "Is he too different for you?" Ice and threat lay under the words.

//That looks more threatening when you're actually armed.// Schuldig held up his hands in a warding gesture that was only half humorous. "It's one thing if he doesn't want me, but.... It's more like sunlight on something I've only seen before in twilight."

"Good." Ken nodded firmly. "Killing you would upset Yohji."

And you think that I'm too slippery to blackmail. That...might be true. If nothing else, Brad wouldn't allow it. Schuldig sighed. //Even if he were...too different, he's a teammate. I take care of the team.//

"Family," Ken said softly. "Use the right word."

"Whatever." Schuldig flapped one hand in dismissal. "When he wakes up, I'll talk to him about calling Omi. Yesterday, he said he wanted to see all three of you. If he can handle Omi on the phone, a visit might not be a bad thing." He pushed back resentment at having his time with Yohji stolen. "You can go running now if you still want to. I'm waiting for him to wake up."

Some time later, Yohji climbed the stairs, yawning and rubbing the back of his head. His eyes widened slightly as he spotted Schuldig in the kitchen.

Schuldig smiled. That's not surprise. Why does he--? Oh, he's trying to look more awake. "I made coffee."

Yohji stopped in the doorway. "That sounds good." He hesitated then added, "Are you done with the freaking out now?"

//I'm sorry for worrying you.// "Ken made miso and rice." Schuldig set a mug three quarters full of coffee on the table. //And no, you're not forgetting. I haven't done that around you before. You'd remember.//

"Where is he?" Yohji looked around as he sat down.

Schuldig snorted and shook his head. I could tell you it's never happened before, but I'd be lying. "Outside, climbing trees. He says it's useful practice." How much are you really ready to know?

Yohji agreed with Ken but politely didn't say so. "He told me a lot of things yesterday." He  added soymilk to his cup and stirred.

"Oh?" Schuldig served miso, rice and pickles, placing each in front of Yohji.

"He couldn't-- or wouldn't-- tell me why Omi agreed to work with Schwarz."

Ah. That. "Did he ever ask?" Schuldig knew perfectly well that Ken hadn't.

Yohji blew across the surface of his coffee and shook his head. "At least, I don't think so. He seems to have guessed that it had to do with me and to have left it at that."

And you don't believe it. "I think that was one of the factors." Schuldig pulled out a chair. "Ken was heading for a different cliff, metaphorically speaking, so stopping that made two." He frowned. "Some of it is Omi's business. You can ask him. He might answer." But he probably won't. That poisonous old man and his plans for Mamoru are nothing you need worry about. "The rest is Kritiker and room for negotiation."

Yohji made a face as his coffee scalded his tongue. He turned to his food for a while. A few minutes later, he looked up. "What's in it for Crawford?"

//I don't know.// "I think he likes Japan," Schuldig said lightly. I've only asked him enough to be sure it's real. If he plans to leave, he plans to leave me behind.

"Ah." Yohji retreated to his food again.

Schuldig considered leaving Yohji to his thoughts but realized that that would be as much a betrayal as looking. There's a lot he's not letting himself think about. He'll have to eventually, just maybe not yet. He cleared his throat. "So-- What were you thinking of in the way of pampering?" Better to do that now, to see where he leads. That and what he thinks about while it's all happening will tell me a lot.

Yohji looked up, his eyes wide again, this time truly startled. "But you-- You know you don't need to--" He shook his head.

//I was very tired and a bit hysterical. I...regressed.// Schuldig smiled. "I want to." //Are you implying that you won't enjoy it?//

Yohji grinned. "Of course I will. You'll make sure of that, won't you?"

Schuldig warmed a little oil in his hands then ran them up Yohji's calves. He spread the oil until the skin of both lower legs was covered before starting on Yohji's feet.

Yohji's breath hissed out as Schuldig pressed his thumbs gently against the arches of Yohji's feet. "Oh, yes. There."

Schuldig grinned. The lightest touch on Yohji's mind told him that Yohji wasn't exaggerating his response. He looked deeper, but Yohji was still doing a spectacular job of not thinking beyond the moment. That won't last. For today maybe. For tomorrow possibly. Eventually though.... "Good to know." He kept his hands steady but not quite impersonal. Not too hard. That's a different game. "Is there anything you particularly want me to work on?"

"Probably." Yohji wiggled his toes. "I'll know when you get there." He sighed and turned his head to one side. "Everything hurts about equally."

Only some of that is from me. "Let me know." Schuldig wasn't sure if he should feel proud or embarrassed. His mind is so much calmer now. He's feeling lost still, but everything's more or less where it should be, and he could think if he let himself. He saw the question coming almost before Yohji did, but he decided to wait until it was actually asked to answer.


"Yes?" He pressed his fingers into a knot in Yohji's calf and stretched the muscle above it. I'm glad he's willing to think that much. Of course, sex has always been safe.

"If that-- what we played-- If that really happened, how would you have done it?"

He doesn't doubt that I would have. I suppose it's good he has no illusions. No illusions and is still willing to let me touch him. "If Brad hadn't been adamant about not 'provoking unnecessary hostilities,' you mean?"


Schuldig decided to tease a little. "You're assuming I'd bother. Kidnapping is a hell of a lot of work just for a hole to fuck. Think you're worth it?"

"You seem to think so." Yohji lifted his head so that he could look over his shoulder to smile at Schuldig.

That's caught your imagination, hasn't it? "We used to talk about it, you know, about kidnapping you or one of the others or all of you. Brad encouraged it, the talking, I mean. He was damned clear about not actually touching you without orders." And that should have told me something. He wanted us thinking of you all as desirable. "It was a fantasy we could share. We all knew who you were and how you'd fight. We needed something to get off on when we were stuck waiting. There was a lot of waiting." Waiting and having to trust Brad and his visions. Schuldig moved to Yohji's other leg. "If I were going to do it... Well, it depends, doesn't it?"

Yohji's breathing speeded up just a little.

Schuldig grinned. "Do I have a place like this, a place to hold you as long as I want? Do I have other deadlines, some place I have to be, a point when I have to let you go? Do I have to share you? Do I only get you or do I have the others, too?" Let's encourage thinking. It may not go anywhere, but it might.

"Would you want to keep me?"

You'd like to think that I would. I'm glad you still want me. "For a while. Until I got bored. Would you let me get bored?"

Yohji's breath caught. "No."

Yohji's mind had started to wander into fantasy of what he might do to keep Schuldig's attention, so Schuldig left him to his thoughts, keeping a light touch on Yohji's mind in case of changes and focusing on Yohji's muscles. After a few minutes, he said, "We wanted to, but Crawford said no. It wouldn't have been hard, not with this house and our money." He chuckled. //You do remember that we're not nice people, right?//

Yohji certainly remembered, but his thoughts suggested that 'not nice' held a lot of appeal, at least in fantasy.

"We'd have put each of you in a different room." Schuldig kept his hands moving. A full body massage is what he asked for, and he started this conversation. "We'd have shared you. If one of you misbehaved, we'd punish the others. Would that keep you in line?"

Yohji clenched and stretched his hands several times.

"You'd all have hated Aya after not very long. If he weren't pretty, we'd probably just give him to Farfarello. Maybe. Rebellion and rage are fun. He's the one who wouldn't learn to crawl to survive. He'd survive because we wouldn't let him die." What else? "You wouldn't see each other very often, just when we chose. I don't know if we'd even have let you hear each other. Which would be harder-- Hearing everything that happened to the others and knowing that they heard what happened to you or hearing nothing and wondering and being so alone that they wouldn't know if you died?"

Yohji groaned.

Schuldig laughed, glad that Yohji couldn't tell how hard his own words had gotten him. "You asked. You also said today's about pampering you." //Not about fucking you into the mattress. I'm following orders.//

Yohji laughed. "I hate you." He ground his hips against the mattress then stilled. "We talked about fucking you, too. You and Crawford, at least."

Schuldig froze. They what? They were the good guys!

"None of us were very keen on Farfarello. I think we thought he could make knives out of air, and the fantasy's a lot less fun when you can't pretend it wouldn't kill you. Nagi... First we didn't know about him. Then he seemed too young and harmless anyway. Then...we all knew there was nothing we could do to keep him if he didn't want to be kept."

Schuldig made himself move again. "He wouldn't want to be," he said dryly. "You could hold him by threatening the rest of us." Not for long. "I don't think you could do more than hold him, though."

"Ripping up buildings with your mind is the sort of thing that makes jailbreaks easy." Yohji's tone matched Schuldig's. "Anyway, we got off, too, on talking about what we'd do to you and Crawford. We hated you, and we were helpless, but we could see that it was possible that we might do better. If we just managed to take you down once, just once, we'd have you. I don't know exactly where we'd have put you so that Kritiker wouldn't find you, but we'd have managed."

"Kritiker always underestimated you." Schuldig's hands shook. He wasn't sure if Yohji noticed or not and decided not to search Yohji's thoughts for the answer. "I thought you considered yourselves above cruelty." //Above rape.// "I never thought you'd admit to having fantasies." //Let alone use them to jack off together.//

Yohji sighed. "I don't know what we'd really have done if-- Well, there's no way to know. It didn't happen, after all. And think about it... We were four horny guys with lethal secrets, short life expectancy and limited outlets. You were villains. We didn't feel bad about anything we imagined doing to you."

Schuldig felt a little relief in realizing that Yohji wasn't at all sure they wouldn't have felt guilty if they had caught him or Brad. //It would have destroyed you, love. Be glad you didn't have the chance.// He stroked Yohji's back. It would have destroyed you, you and Ken, at least. Omi would simply have become Takatori Mamoru. Aya.... I'm not sure about Aya.

"What would you have done if we'd caught you?" Yohji's thoughts acknowledged Schuldig's words as true before focusing again on the fantasy.

Still pushing things away. Schuldig hesitated. He licked his lips. "I'd have looked to see what was in your heads, whether I could bear it." I'd have split myself if I had to, but you don't need to know that. I don't think it would help you.

Yohji nodded without raising his head. "It would have been all of us for you. We were pretty sure you couldn't fuck with all our heads at the same time."

"No tinfoil helmets?"

As Schuldig had hoped, Yohji snorted laughter. Then he went silent for nearly a minute. "That would probably be worse for you. One of us, even two of us, might back down. With all of us together, I don't think we could have stopped." He sounded almost apologetic.

"It didn't happen, not in either direction, not to any of us." That's real thought and not happy. Is it a good sign? Schuldig rubbed Yohji's back. Any thought is good after so long.

"I know, but it still gets me hard to imagine it. No matter which of us is the victim." Yohji sounded plaintive.

Schuldig ran one hand the length of Yohji's spine. "I'm supposed to be pampering you today. If you want to pretend it's because I'm your slave...." I can do that. I can even enjoy it as long as he does.

Yohji's thought shaped itself with sufficient precision that Schuldig knew it was deliberate. I may hurt you, even without meaning to. I don't have your experience.

//I know.// Schuldig planted a kiss between Yohji's shoulder blades. //If I was reluctant, I'd have made you ask. What do you want first?// He caught Yohji's intention before Yohji moved. He dropped to his knees.

I want you to take care of this. Yohji rolled over and swung his legs off the side of the bed. His cock was hard and red. "Make sure I remember why I bother protecting you from Aya and Omi."

Schuldig shivered. Yohji's voice was husky and carried an undercurrent of cruel amusement. His thoughts swirled contradictions, combining love and happy lust with a vicious grip on the fantasy of Schuldig as broken slave and Yohji as capricious master. He half believes that he can turn me over to his friends. He shivered again. The Omi and Aya in Yohji's fantasy would hurt him, and Yohji would enjoy watching. He'd help.

Schuldig crept forward, trying simultaneously to show submissive eagerness and to figure out the logistics of the blow job. He's too high up. The table adjusts, but.... He came up underneath and kissed Yohji's balls. He licked them then rubbed his hair along Yohji's cock.

Yohji buried one hand in Schuldig's hair and twisted. "So eager to be more than just a hole to be fucked." He slid off the edge of the padded table to stand over Schuldig. "Maybe I don't want more than that."

Schuldig didn't try to move. He wants more than that, but he doesn't, too. Should I remind him that I'm listening? Not while I can handle it. Not while he can handle it. He waited, trying not to notice the pain in his scalp.

Yohji moved Schuldig's head so that Schuldig's lips touched the damp tip of Yohji's cock.

Schuldig opened his mouth and extended his tongue. He ran it over the skin he could reach. He pulled minutely against Yohji's hold on his hair, trying to suggest enthusiasm for the task. It helps that I do want to. He always tastes good.

Yohji's hands pulled Schuldig forward, and Yohji's cock hit the roof of Schuldig's mouth and slid even further in.

Breathe. You can breathe. Schuldig clenched his hands in his pants and fought his need to struggle. He searched Yohji's thoughts, trying to find the threads of fantasy within the fabric of sensation. Surrender or defiance? Either. Both. He's not sure which he'll enjoy more. He's not even thinking about it. Which will I enjoy more? He sucked and moved his tongue from side to side.

Yohji pulled his hips back until his cock was barely touching Schuldig's lips.

Suspecting what was coming, Schuldig gulped air and kept his jaw wide. The tightening grip on his hair burned. Seeing in Yohji's head that tears would add to his pleasure, Schuldig allowed the pain induced prickling in his eyes to become more.

Yohji's cock hit the back of Schuldig's throat.

For a moment, Schuldig had no room for thought. All that existed was pain, the thing in his mouth and the desperate, rippling convulsions telling him to vomit. When Yohji pulled back, Schuldig had half a second to recover before Yohji's cock was back. Schuldig lost track of everything but his fight to breathe.

"Just. Another. Hole. To. Fuck." Yohji's hands remained rock steady against Schuldig's head as he drove himself into Schuldig's mouth.

Schuldig's first indication that the ordeal was almost over came when Yohji's hands tightened again. The fact that Yohji's hands could tighten further surprised him. I couldn't have gotten away if I'd wanted to. Not once he had his hands on me. Fuck. That's hot. And scary.

Yohji went rigid with his cock deep in Schuldig's mouth, and Schuldig swallowed as fast as he could. When Yohji stepped back, pulled out and let go of Schuldig's head, Schuldig let himself fold down toward the floor. His entire body shook. He felt a mist of concern, of not quite regret settle over Yohji's fantasy.

//If I wanted you to stop-- if I needed you to stop-- I'd tell you like this.// Schuldig wasn't entirely certain that he would. Yohji's desire pulled at him. Knowing where it ended was hard. But I could tell him to stop. I could and didn't, and I said I wanted to. He would have stopped. I think. He shuddered. He's not sure he would. He wants to think he would, but he's afraid--

"Get out of those clothes." Yohji's voice was hard. "I'll be back in ten minutes for the rest of my massage."

He's giving me time. If I say stop when he comes back, he will. If I don't.... He knows where I keep everything. Schuldig's fingers fumbled at the drawstring to his sweatpants. I'm glad I dressed for comfort today. No. He stilled his hands and took a deep breath. Think. You're not Yohji. You're supposed to be detached and not get carried away. It's your job. Think. He deliberately narrowed his connection to Yohji so that it wasn't more than a location tag. What do I want? What does he need? The fantasy's hot. Yohji's hot. Still...he had no control.

Schuldig scrubbed a hand over his face. He's not ready, and I'm not sure I'm ready to risk it. I don't trust him for that. He pushed himself to his feet. But I can't tell him that. I don't think.... He seems pretty damned steady, but he's probably still fragile. I need to give him something else. What--? Yes. He extended his mind to brush Ken's. Watching football. Drinking my beer. Celebrating Yohji's recovery. Not even wondering if that's premature.

Schuldig filled a cup with water then splashed water on his face and used his t-shirt to dry off. He is better. He talked to Ken. He talked to Omi on the phone. He took the lead here, choosing something other than surrendering. He straightened as he really understood. He took the lead yesterday, too. He took care of me, accepted responsibility, thought things through. It was Yohji, too, not Balinese. That wasn't mission mode. It wasn't cover mode. It was just him.

Schuldig looked more deeply at Ken's thoughts. Yohji the way Ken remembers him. He closed his eyes. He'd been taught not to pray, but he wanted to. It might be temporary. It's too fast. He's been improving little by little or Omi would have dismembered me by now, but-- He leaned his forehead against a wall. Colossal fuck-ups aren't supposed to improve things.


On the other side of the house, Ken sat bolt upright and narrowed his eyes as he checked for possible threats, threats Schuldig might be planning to warn him against.

Schuldig allowed himself a laugh and let it carry over into his mental link to Ken. //Nothing like that. Just....// He let his embarrassment leak into his words. //Yohji's decided that he wants to play instead of just having me pamper him. I'm not sure it's a good idea, but I'd rather distract him than tell him why.//

Games? Ken blinked.

//We started to talk about...ah...shared fantasies. Team shared fantasies about captured enemies.// Schuldig hadn't thought anything could make his face burn like this.

Ken started laughing.

//You guys aren't supposed to have had fantasies like that!// Schuldig knew he sounded ridiculous. //You're supposed to have been repressed and frustrated. Up until I came along.//

Ken only laughed harder. And sex with you fixes everything.

If they hadn't been talking about Yohji, Schuldig would have closed the link with the mental equivalent of a flounce and a slammed door. He suspected that Ken would find that even funnier, but he didn't care. //Sex just makes it easier for me to get my claws in.// Schuldig kept his mental voice light. //In this case, though...I'm afraid of things coming out that he's not ready for.// He sighed, sensing Ken's disbelief. //There's a risk of me getting in over my head, too,// he admitted. //I'm not sure I could tell him to stop or even tell when I needed to tell him to stop. I'm too...emotionally involved.//

Ken wasn't laughing any longer. You're asking for help.

//Why the hell else are you still here? Brad and Omi wouldn't put all three of us on 'vacation' without a reason, and they told you to stay here, didn't they? Distract him. Come up with a reason why playing games today won't work.//

If I can't? Ken stood up and walked toward the stairs. Where is he?

//If you can't, I lie to him. I tell him that I don't switch. He won't entirely believe it. It will shake our trust. It just won't be anything like as bad as if he hurts me. That would shake him. He can live without me. He can't live without himself.// Schuldig checked his location tag on Yohji. //He's still on this level, three rooms further down the hall. That's...a playroom. Come up with something.// He only just stopped himself from adding 'please.' He let go of his connection to Ken, letting it dwindle to awareness of Ken's proximity. If I did, he'd never let me live it down.

Trying to calm himself, Schuldig checked to make sure he had everything ready to complete the massage. Of course, he may not even want a massage now. He shook his head, rejecting the possibility of checking Yohji's thoughts. If the news is bad, I don't want to know. Why do I think the news will be bad? Ken's smart. Hell. I've got it bad. I knew that. I think everybody knew that. If Brad knew this was going to happen and didn't warn me--

He stopped himself from kicking the table. Bruised toes will only make everything worse. He moved the oil for the third time. I didn't even know he liked to switch. I didn't know. No. He didn't. Before he didn't. He wasn't sure enough to be in control. Now he's sure enough but not...stable enough.

His tag on Ken pulsed suddenly as Ken asked for his attention. Schuldig set his jaw against the noise. I wish he wouldn't yell. //Yes, Ken?//

You have your delay. Omi and Aya are coming to visit in an hour. Aya picked the movie.

Schuldig sighed and started putting things away. //Tell Yohji I'll be up as soon as I clean up here. We need to make sure everything's up to Aya's standards.// He hesitated then added, //Thank you, Ken.// He let his affection for Ken give the words texture.

He froze with a rolled towel in his hands. Will Yohji understand that part? I love him, but I also love them. He's special, but I have to take care of all of them. Everybody else understands. Don't they? If he's better, is Brad going to-- I won't let him. I need Yohji too much.

He forced himself to put that aside. If Omi's coming, he's going to want a report. That means I need to know what's in Yohji's head right now, even the stuff he doesn't know. He touched Yohji's thoughts. He's annoyed and.... Afraid? Why is he afraid? Oh. Oh. That's what this was about. He wanted a way to make things the way they were before Neu but without giving me up. He still hasn't let himself think about it. He's changed. They've all changed, too, and she's still dead, and he still killed her. He's missed more than a year, with part of him stuck with her and me prying him loose millimeter by millimeter, keeping her from whispering lies in the back of his head.

He pulled the towel taut between his hands. Playing 'prisoners' today would be a bad idea. He can't go back. He even knows that. The towel refused to tear. What the hell is it with Weiss and finding ways not to see reality? He's better at it than the others, but they all do it. Was it a requirement for joining?

He snorted and threw the towel down on the table. Probably.

Yohji stretched, interlacing his fingers above his head and pulling against them as he reached toward the ceiling. "I thought they'd never leave."

//They're afraid you're going to vanish again.// Schuldig looked up at Yohji. He seemed to measure distance, and his hand came up a few centimeters before dropping back. "I'm too tired to tickle you." He grinned. "Even with an almost irresistible target."

"Hey!" Ken smacked Schuldig on the head with a pillow then hit Yohji's temporarily bared stomach with it. "Save it. They haven't been gone ten minutes, and I'm still here."

Seeing the expression on Schuldig's face, Yohji guessed that he was telling Ken to make himself scarce.

Ken laughed. "I'm on vacation. I don't have a bedtime." He threw his pillow at Schuldig.

Yohji narrowed his eyes, evaluating the available ammunition. He bent to one side as if stretching and grabbed a pillow of his own. As he straightened, he hurled it at Ken. He laughed and dove for cover.

Schuldig didn't bother getting out of the way. He simply smiled serenely as the pillows flew. "I don't know where you get the energy," he said after a few minutes. "It's been a long day."

Yohji took a moment to kiss the top of Schuldig's head. "You did all the work." Thank you. I needed to see them. He was a little surprised that Ken didn't take advantage of his distraction for another attack. Instead, he looked up to find Ken grinning at him.

"Maybe you two old men ought to head for bed."

Yohji blinked. Ken's telling us to-- Does he mean that? Or does he just mean we should sleep? This is Ken--

//Yes. He means 'that.' And you're welcome.// Schuldig yawned. "You're right, Ken. Just think, in another three years, you'll be as decrepit as we are and have to go to bed early, too." He used Yohji's arm to pull himself to his feet. "Come on. He just wants to get back to his game. I bet Omi interrupted it."

Ken nodded. "I recorded the rest, but I need to watch it." He made a shooing motion then grinned. "Unless you want to watch with me...?"

Yohji wasn't sure if he was supposed to take that seriously or not. When Schuldig started tugging him toward the door, he decided that he wasn't. He waved as he went. "Enjoy the game." I wonder who--

//No. This is not the time to wonder who's playing. The game's been over for hours. We can go online and find out if you really care, but you're coming with me now.// Schuldig squeezed Yohji's arm. //I've shared you long enough. They're sure you're okay. Now I want to see for myself.//

"I'm fine!" Yohji was more than a little tired of having to say that. You should know.

//What I know,// Schuldig said as he pulled Yohji toward the stairs, //is that, two days ago, you were in a severe enough depression that we weren't sure you'd ever come back. Forgive me if I, too, am afraid of losing you.// Once they were out of Ken's sight, Schuldig stopped to cup his hand along Yohji's jaw. "I want as much of you as I can get."

Yohji put his hand over Schuldig's, pressing them both against his cheek. He smiled. "Okay." Everybody knows we're together. Omi and Ken like you. Aya...doesn't hate you any more. He started walking and led the way down the stairs. "I don't feel fragile."

Schuldig sighed. He seemed to hesitate. Then he said slowly, "How do you feel when you think about Asuka?"

"About Asuka or about Neu?" Yohji didn't want to think about either of them, not right now. Still, he has a right to know. "I've mourned Asuka. She died stupidly. If she died then. If Neu was Asuka, she wasn't...." He took a deep breath. "Asuka wasn't in there. She wouldn't have...done that. It's like I killed a demon, a thing wearing her body." I need to believe that. "Asuka would have loathed Neu."

Schuldig didn't say anything for nearly a minute. As they reached the door of the room they'd been sharing, he said, "You are.... Not fragile. You're right about that. You're balance, not inside but between the inside and the outside. I'm afraid that will hurt." He pulled away. "I'm going to brush my teeth."

Yohji watched Schuldig go and wondered if he ought to say something. Or do something. He stepped into the room and started taking his clothes off. Once he was naked, he sat down on the rumpled bed.

When Schuldig came back, he stopped in the doorway to look.

Yohji smiled. Like what you see? He stretched. He stood up. "My turn at the sink."

Schuldig cleared his throat. "Usually, one strips after finishing everything outside the room."

"Ken's not coming down here unless we call him." Yohji shrugged. He very deliberately brushed against Schuldig as he passed through the doorway. I want to get laid tonight. "You're the one who said we had his blessing." He strolled down the hall, enjoying the awareness of Schuldig's gaze upon him.

Yohji made quick work of his preparations for bed. He knew he was going to have to spend some time thinking. I just don't want to do it alone. I think he'll let me think when I need to. Of course, that's 'need to' by his definitions.

Schuldig had taken time to straighten the bed. He had removed his shirt and was folding it carefully.

Yohji cleared his throat. "I don't see that often." I'm sure of that. I remember him better than I remember myself. "Are you upset or are you expecting me to be?"

Schuldig turned and looked at Yohji. "Why aren't you?" //I know you're not, but maybe you should be. I would have told you 'no' earlier. If your friends hadn't come visiting.//

"Why?" Yohji wasn't sure if he meant why the honesty or why the no. He stood just inside the door and studied Schuldig.

"Neither of us are ready. I don't think that I would stop you even if...I knew I should." //I don't know if I'd be detached enough.//

Yohji blinked. I guess that's the why I meant. "Would you be too afraid or too caught up?"

Schuldig licked his lips. //Both,// he admitted. //Well, all three. There's more than one fear.//

Yohji remembered the urgency he'd felt earlier, the barely leashed violence. Barely leashed? I'm not sure it was leashed at all. "Did I hurt you?"

Schuldig shook his head. "No, but I wouldn't have stopped you if you had, not even if you needed me to." //We might have wrecked each other.//

"Does that mean we can't--" Yohji shook his head. He wouldn't have let me come down here like this if we weren't going to--

//As long as we don't play games, I think we'll be fine. We don't always need that.//

Greatly relieved, Yohji allowed himself a pout. "I like 'that,' and you made me some promises before we came here...." Will we be able to play at all?

Schuldig crossed the distance between them, pressed a finger to Yohji's lips then drew a line down Yohji's chin and along his throat. "I won't break my promise." //You'll have to remember, though. No amnesia until I'm sure I won't fuck it up again.// "The risk of losing you isn't one I'm willing to take."

Yohji shook his head slightly. You all seem to think I was gone. I wasn't.

//You weren't entirely here, either. You were coming back but slowly and reluctantly.// Schuldig pressed against Yohji's body. Their lips met. //I wasn't sure you'd still want me when you...were yourself.//

The problem with a telepath, Yohji thought, is that kissing doesn't shut him up. He slipped a hand into Schuldig's pants so that he could squeeze Schuldig's ass. After a few seconds, he shifted so that his lips were on Schuldig's cheek then nibbled Schuldig's jaw line. He lifted his head. "I'm glad I'm getting laid tonight. This 'vacation' has been damned frustrating."

Schuldig laughed a little even as one hand caressed Yohji's cock. "You got off today. We've been here days, and I still haven't. Your ass and mouth were supposed to be mine."

Yohji tugged at the waist of Schuldig's pants. "If you get the rest of this off, they still can be." He very deliberately formed an image of himself sprawled on the bed with Schuldig fucking him. He let himself think about the taste of Schuldig, about the way he felt when Schuldig was inside his body, about rubbing their cocks together until they were both sticky, sated and soft again.

Schuldig groaned and pushed himself away from Yohji. //You do not fight fair!//

"Am I supposed to?" Love and war and all of that. Yohji ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his face. He grinned.

Schuldig stopped with his pants halfway off. "I don't know," he said. He sounded a little sad to Yohji ears. //I love you, but I don't know you. That is, I know you, just.... I met you when you were...damaged. I don't know how you play when you're happy.// "I want to know."

Seeing Schuldig uncertain felt wrong, but Yohji wasn't sure what he could do about it. "Whatever you want. Really. I trust you." I love you. I don't quite know how it happened, but I do.

Schuldig finished undressing in silence. He sat on the bed. "Whatever I want is a lot." //And not for tonight.// He held out a hand and waited.

Yohji took Schuldig's hand and let Schuldig pull him toward the bed. "Just us tonight?" Pleasure and comfort and two people taking care of each other.

"That's what I need." //For tonight. Tomorrow, I expect we'll both want something more...complicated.// "I need to know you're all right before I risk our balance, even for something we both want."

Yohji pushed Schuldig back on the bed and started sucking on his collarbone. Did I sound like I was objecting? Moron. He licked Schuldig's chin then made a face as the stubble caught his tongue. "I should make you shave." He hoped that the laughter in the words would tell Schuldig that he didn't mean it.

Schuldig tucked his chin against his chest, trying to see the point Yohji'd been sucking. "Did you give me a hickey?"

"What if I did? Afraid Ken will ask about it?" Yohji went after the spot again, intent on making sure that it was a spectacular hickey. You need to laugh. Now. His hands darted to the spot where Schuldig's legs met his hips and tickled. Yes! I win!

Schuldig drew his legs up, trying to cover the ticklish portions of his body. "Stop that!"

"You don't sound like you mean it." I knew you had to be ticklish somewhere!

Schuldig's hands pressed both sides of Yohji's head and pulled him up for a kiss. Schuldig ran his tongue over Yohji's lips then gently pressed his teeth into Yohji's lower lip.

Yohji gave up the tickling in favor of trying to use his lips and teeth and tongue to convince Schuldig that the kiss should never end. I'm not giving you up.

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