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

Warnings: Language and mild violence
Fandom: Weiss Kreuz
Rating: PG

Author: The RCK
Last updated: 21 November 2013

Thanks to Gemais and HopeofDawn for cheerleading. Thanks to Gemais for beta reading.

Written for the weissvsaiyuki challenge on LJ and posted late under amnesty.

Under Saturn

Yohji inhaled deeply as he walked along the sidewalk. Mostly, he smelled car exhaust with occasional overtones of garbage from behind the restaurant on the corner, but the air still held the promise of spring's warmth. Things are growing even if they're not growing here.

He was about four blocks from the place where they'd most recently set up shop. The others had sent him off in search of good places for carryout. They expected to stay for a few days, and dinner would be easier if they knew the options. Yohji was grateful for the chance to explore, to stretch his legs and to get away from the others. Quarters were far too close these days, and they all had trouble remembering not to snap at each other.

He sensed someone coming up behind him and started to turn. Something small and hard pressed against his back. "Unless you want another bullet through the gut, keep walking," a masculine voice said in accented Japanese. "There's an alley ahead, turn down it."

Yohji could feel the other man close behind him. His hand went to his watch.

The small, hard something pressed harder. "Don't."

Yohji let his hand fall. He could see the alley coming up on the left. He swallowed hard. He could see no reason for the mysterious man not to kill him once they were off the street. Except that he could kill me now. There'd be witnesses, sure, but he'd probably get away clean. And at this range, he'd certainly kill me. I could drop and roll. That might help, but-- He looked around at the civilians walking past. --someone else might die.

Yohji hesitated at the entrance to the alley. He looked down the alley. It was narrow, just a place for storing rubbish bins. Even if he could get some distance from the gun, the whole place was a kill zone, nowhere to run.

"Down past the bins, then face the wall."

Yohji closed his eyes for just a second then turned down the alley. He passed three bins. They were followed by a stretch of empty wall. Yohji turned toward it, hoping for a moment when the gun wasn't pressed tightly against his back. It didn't come. The pressure followed him so closely that it seemed as if the man behind him knew exactly how Yohji was going to move.

"Put your hands on the wall."

Yohji kept his hands low as he placed them lightly on the wall.


Yohji slid his hands up a little.

The gun pressed hard enough that Yohji suspected he'd have bruise. Assuming I live that long.


Yohji pushed his hands up as far as he could reach.

"I'm going to step back. Don't assume I won't still shoot."

The pressure vanished. Yohji found himself almost missing it. At least then I knew where he was. He turned his head, trying to get a glimpse of his captor.

"Eyes forward!"

Yohji turned his face to the wall again. He doesn't want to kill me. If he did, he'd have done it already. Why doesn't he want to kill me? What does he want? I just need a chance. He's got to slip up somehow, right? Taking a bullet might be better than whatever he's got planned. But bullets hurt, and if he shoots me, I probably won't be able to stop him from doing whatever he has planned anyway. He strained his ears, trying to catch some sort of hint as to what the man was doing behind him.

Then the gun was back, this time pressing against the base of his skull. "Don't move."

Yohji went rigid. A bullet in the back, he might survive, if he got lucky. A bullet to the head was a surer way to die. He felt a prick on the right side of his neck and couldn't help jerking sideways.

A body pressed against Yohji's back, flattening him against the wall. Yohji just managed not to smash his nose. The gun pressed harder. Yohji could still feel the needle in his neck.

He doesn't want to shoot. Why the hell not? Yohji pushed back against the body holding him down and twisted, trying to get free.

The gun moved from the back of Yohji's head but came back in a hard blow against the left side of his head. Temporarily stunned, Yohji sagged, held up almost entirely by the weight of the body pressed against his. By the time Yohji gathered his wits, the needle had withdrawn.

Knowing he was on borrowed time, Yohji twisted again. At least let me get a look at him!

The pressure holding him to the wall vanished, and Yohji staggered sideways. He slid down the wall but managed to catch himself before he ended up sprawled in the dirt. He looked up at his assailant. "Crawford." He barely mouthed the name. He could feel control of his body slipping away. At least it really is a gun. He blinked as his vision doubled. He tried to force himself to his feet but only succeeded in pushing himself partway up the wall before his legs gave way.

Crawford stood a few steps away and watched Yohji struggle. He didn't even bother to point his gun in Yohji's direction. After a moment, he tucked the gun into a pocket and folded his arms across his chest.

This time, Yohji did end up on the ground. He wanted to start cursing, but he doubted he could get the words out. Was it poison, or is he just knocking me out? I suppose I'll know if I wake up... He could hardly see. The last thing he heard was his own voice saying, "Fuck..."

Yohji's head ached, and his mouth was so dry that his tongue felt hard and leathery. He lay on his left side. Under his head, he felt something vaguely cold. Whatever I'm lying on is too soft to be the floor or the ground. His arms were pulled back, and a small tug proved to him that they were bound. He wondered if there was any value in pretending still to be unconscious. What's the point with Crawford and Schuldig around?  Yohji opened his eyes.

Schuldig sat on a chair approximately a meter away. He was looking at the ceiling. "I wondered when you were going to wake up." He sounded aggrieved. "Watching you sleep is boring."

Yohji coughed and wondered if he could speak. Questions chased through his thoughts. Why am I alive? What do they want with me? Where are we? Where's Crawford? What does he want? How long has it been? Have the others missed me yet? His throat tightened in a way that had nothing to do with thirst. What are they going to do with me? I don't know anything, and I'm no good as a hostage.

He could only see a portion of the room in which he lay. He could tell that he was up off the floor, so he suspected a western style bed or a couch. He could see walls and a closed door. One of the walls had a print of a painting of a mountain.

"Print? I'll have you know that's an original," Schuldig said with a disapproving sniff. "As if."

Schuldig's chair was the only piece of furniture Yohji could see. The room looked naked, too large to be so empty. Did they clear out the furniture just to put me in here? That argues that they plan to keep me a while. Yohji swallowed, trying to coax some moisture into his mouth.

"If you're polite, I'll get you some water. And something for that headache." //The dry mouth is from the drug. The headache is mostly from Crawford hitting you. He says you're not concussed.//

Yohji suspected there was something wrong with the offer. It came too easily. But he couldn't think of a reason to say no. He did need water, desperately. He nodded, feeling his cheek rub against whatever it was his head was lying on. That'll get him out of here for a few minutes. That might help. But he might drug me again. He could do that anyway. I can't even sit up. What sort of game is he playing?

Schuldig stood and stretched. He looked down at Yohji. "Better get you sitting up first." He walked over and tugged Yohji's feet toward the edge of whatever he was lying on.

Yohji couldn't help a flinch as Schuldig touched him.

Schuldig grinned. Then he lifted Yohji by the shoulders. //You're in luck. Crawford told me to play nice.//

Yohji found himself sitting on the edge of a bed. Where his head had been, he saw a gel pack, the kind people put in the freezer and pull out to deal with bumps and bruises. What the hell? Why do they care about my bruises? His eyes flew to Schuldig's face. He thought about trying to say something, but it didn't seem worth the effort. He's a telepath. He's a telepath. How am I going to escape?

//Yeah. Crawford gave you a cold pack. From him, that's practically an I love you. He must really like you.// Schuldig stepped back. "You're not going to fall over, are you?"

Yohji was by no means sure, but he shook his head. He really wanted Schuldig to leave.

"Good enough." //I'm going to lock the door behind me. That's more to keep Farfarello out than to keep you in. The lock won't stop Nagi if he decides to kill you as a gift for Tot, but he's out right now and shouldn't be back today.//

Yohji felt a sudden chill. He tested his bonds again.

Schuldig grinned. He watched Yohji for a few seconds then turned and walked out of the room. True to his word, the sound of the door shutting was followed by a clicking of the lock.

They're a little loose. Maybe I can-- And do what? He twisted around to see the rest of the room. I don't feel my watch, and I can't surprise Schuldig when he's watching for it, and he's not stupid. Vicious, yes. Remember Ouka. And Sakura.

There was a window in the wall behind him. He couldn't see much through it, not at the angle he had, just blue sky and sunshine.

I wonder if I can stand? One way to find out. Yohji slid forward to put weight on his feet. I wonder what they did with my shoes? He swayed as he got to his feet, but he didn't fall over. He walked cautiously to the window.

He was up high, at least third floor. There were trees out there that didn't reach the window. The building he was in seemed to be a large house. It had a small, walled garden. Yohji could see other houses nearby. They've got money. Why doesn't that surprise me? I can't get out the window, not safely. That leaves going through the house. Okay. I can do that. He resolutely didn't think about the human roadblocks to his plan.

The door handle rattled once, twice, then stilled.

Yohji spun to face the door. He tugged at the cords that bound his wrists. I should have-- No. Don't second guess. He crouched a little, ready to rush at whoever came through that door. Assuming anyone does. Schuldig said the lock would stop Farfarello. He strained to reach the knots on his bonds and waiting to see what would happen next.

Nothing further happened. Yohji relaxed a little and walked back to the bed. He sat down once more and continued to work to free himself. The cords were relatively loose in as much as they weren't going to make his hands go numb, but they weren't loose enough to make reaching them easy. His fingers couldn't quite get to anything useful, but he persisted.

Crawford came looking for me. Why? Would any of us have done? Does he think I know something that he can torture me for-- or just have Schuldig dig out of my mind? Does he want to kill me creatively? Why now? Whatever it is, it can't be good. I'm just lucky they let me wake up. That gives me a chance, not much of one, but a chance.

Yohji froze as the door rattled again. After a second of indecision, he stood again.

The lock clicked, and the door swung open. Schuldig was standing there with a tray that held a pitcher of water, a glass with a straw and a small bottle that Yohji thought he recognized as a common painkiller.

Not that that means anything. Yohji relaxed a little then wondered why he should feel safer with Schuldig. I'm definitely not safer with him in the room. He suppressed a shudder. He likes to play games.

//I listened when Crawford told me not to kill you or even hurt you.// Schuldig flashed a grin as he pushed the door shut behind him. He set the tray on the floor near his chair. As he straightened, he said, "I will, however, tie you more tightly if I think you're getting close to freeing yourself. I will also beat the shit out of you if you try to escape. I'll enjoy it, too." //Crawford told me not to play with you, but that wouldn't be playing.//

Yohji heard Schuldig's words. He put them aside to consider later. For the moment, his attention focused the pitcher of water. He licked his lips.

Schuldig followed Yohji's gaze and smiled. This time, the expression wasn't remotely friendly. He bent and poured water into the glass. He picked it up and looked at it. He put one finger over the opening in the straw and pulled it out of the water. He watched as water dripped slowly from the straw. "You want this?"

Yohji closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Swallowing hurt, feeling as if the sides of his throat were trying to stick together. "Yes," he managed to say. It came out as more of a croak than a word. How is this not playing with me?

//I've got to have some fun.// "I don't think we start with the straw. You need a bigger mouthful to start." Schuldig let the straw empty out then laid it on the tray next to the pitcher. He walked over to Yohji.

Yohji didn't like having Schuldig that close, but he didn't see any other options. I need the water, and it's not like he has to care what I want. He opened his mouth as Schuldig placed the edge of the glass against his lips. He let the water in, letting it run over his parched tongue. He closed his mouth, and water ran down his face, wetting his shirt.

Schuldig pulled the glass away.

Yohji swished the water around in his mouth then swallowed.

They repeated the process three times before Schuldig retrieved the straw. Glad to have that much control, Yohji drained the glass. "More," he said.

Schuldig bent to refill the glass. //Just bear in mind-- When you need to piss, you're going to need my help.// "Won't that be fun?"

Yohji shifted uneasily. It's not urgent. Yet. Shit. I don't want his hands on me.

//Like I want to touch your junk.// Schuldig sniffed. "As if. You're not that interesting." He held the glass so that Yohji could reach the straw.

Yohji couldn't help thinking, as he drank, that it was safer for Schuldig to think him dull. Bad things happen when he's interested. He suppressed a shudder. I've got to get out of here.

"You're not going anywhere until Crawford gets back from his meeting." //I don't see why, but he's gone to a lot of trouble over you.// "He even rescheduled his meeting for you."

Yohji released the straw. "I didn't ask him to." Why would he bother? Suddenly the water that he'd swallowed felt hard and heavy. Is that when things are going to get bad? When Crawford returns? He couldn't help remembering the feel of the gun pressed against the base of his skull. This time he did shudder.

Schuldig pushed Yohji's hair back from his face. "That bruise is going to be spectacular. Crawford's pissed about it." //I owe you for that. It's getting me out of a month of dishes. I bet him he couldn't get you without marking you.//

Yohji jerked his head back from Schuldig's hand. "A bet? He did this for a bet?" He heard the rising emotion in his voice and forced himself to shut up.

"Oh, no. He has other reasons." //Not that he's shared them with me.// "He just thought he could do it without any fuss." Schuldig stepped away. //Maybe he intends to fuck you. I suppose you're pretty enough.// His smile was pure malice.

That idea had never occurred to Yohji, but now that Schuldig had brought it up, Yohji couldn't entirely dismiss it.  For all that we're pretty sure about Schuldig-- not that Sakura would ever say-- we don't know that Crawford's a rapist. I could survive that. He might even let me go afterward. Maybe. He felt cold and wished he could rub his arms. What does it say that that's potentially better than the other possibilities I've been trying not to think about?

"I'm not going to sit with you all afternoon," Schuldig announced. "If you want more water, now's the time to tell me, and we'll take a trip to the toilet before I go."

Yohji almost persuaded Schuldig to leave the glass of water, but he couldn't keep his mind from focusing on how useful the shattered pieces of the glass would be. Schuldig laughed and took the glass.

I'll have to break the window, Yohji thought as soon as Schuldig had gone. This house is big enough that Schuldig might not hear it break. Maybe I can cut these cords before he can get back here. He stood up and looked at the window. I'll have to kick it. If I use my shoulder, I might carry on through, and the fall would kill me.

He waited, hoping that time would take Schuldig out of earshot. He bounced on his toes, trying to loosen up so that he could manage a kick that high. I can do it. I have to. I can't just wait to see what Crawford has in mind. He stretched his legs. My right leg has more force. That's what's wanted. He tried a couple of kicks into the air to see if he could get the necessary height. It was harder with his hands tied as he couldn't use his arms for balance.

He thought that about ten minutes had passed. Schuldig's elsewhere, or he isn't. I could wait forever and never know. He paced in front of the window. This is going to cut the hell out of my feet. I wish I had my shoes. I don't think socks are going to help much. My pants'll be less than useless, too. He looked around the room, trying to find an alternative.

I might be able to get the blanket off the bed. It's keeping it in place while I kick that'll be hard. It's worth trying. I'll run better if my leg isn't all gashed up. He backed up to the bed, crouched and tugged at the blanket. It took some doing, but he got it loose.

The weight of the blanket threw him off enough that his first kick hit the windowsill. Pain shot up his leg. He clenched his teeth in an effort not to make any noise. He hopped twice, not daring to lower his leg for fear of losing the blanket. Higher. I can manage higher. I have to.

With his next kick, the sole of his foot struck the glass, carrying through it and through the screen beyond. The sound of shattering glass seemed incredibly loud. Yohji could only pray that no one had heard it. The blanket stuck in the window as he pulled his foot back. He had to turn backward to tug it back in. Small pieces of glass fell from the blanket as he pulled, each hitting the floor with tinkling ping. I hope those don't end up in my feet.

Once the blanket was free, Yohji turned to look at the broken window and at the pieces of glass on the floor. None of what was on the floor looked large enough to be useful. Just as well. Getting down there to pick it up would be... difficult. The jagged edges of the glass remaining in the window didn't appeal much either, but he selected a protrusion and backed up to it. His fingers reached cautiously, trying to find what he was looking for. He thought he managed not to slice his fingers, but he suspected he wouldn't know right away.

He did slice and gouge his arms as he rubbed the cords against the jagged glass. Still he felt the cords start to part and counted that as a win. As long as I don't lose too much blood, it's not a big deal.

The door began to rattle just as he freed himself. He stepped away from the window, moving closer to the door and trying to pick a spot free of broken glass. At least this answers the question of how I'll get the door open. He settled into a ready stance. I hope there's not too much glass in my socks. I hope he doesn't have a gun. No, he doesn't want to kill me. A gun's a lot less of a threat than it could be. He resolutely didn't think of all the places Schuldig could shoot him without killing him.

Schuldig burst through the door. He dodged right, avoiding Yohji's first blow. His hands were empty, and Yohji felt a surge of hope.

Yohji shifted closer to the open door. He'd rather run than fight. Though turning my back on him seems like a bad idea.

Schuldig moved almost impossibly fast. He closed the distance between himself and Yohji. His left fist drove at Yohji's gut. His right hand came in higher.

Yohji twisted to avoid Schuldig's left. He wasn't sure what Schuldig's right hand was doing, but he tried to dodge that, too.

Schuldig's right hand grazed Yohji's cheek.

Yohji felt a wave of utter despair. He was unarmed. He had no hope of getting by Schuldig, and even if he did, Farfarello was lurking somewhere in the house. I'm bleeding. There's glass in my feet. No. What the hell am I doing? He straightened up, but the distraction had cost him.

Schuldig's left came up again, catching Yohji just below his diaphragm and punching upward.

Yohji doubled over, gasping for breath.

Schuldig's fingers brushed the side of Yohji's face then pressed in hard.

Yohji felt the overwhelming despair again. I didn't even get in one good punch. I'm a fuck up. I deserve whatever they're going to do to me. Vaguely, in the back of his mind, he knew that he was over reacting, that something was wrong. He simply couldn't focus enough to figure out what that something was.

Schuldig leaned in close. "What did I tell you about trying to escape?" he asked.

Yohji didn't even try to answer. There wasn't any point. Why did I think I could get out? No. I couldn't-- I can't-- give up. He pushed against the despair, trying to find room to think.

//Oh, very good.// Schuldig's fingers still pressed against Yohji's face. His other hand tangled in Yohji's hair, pulling Yohji's head upward. "You're more work than you're worth." Schuldig's eyes met Yohji's, and he smiled. //I promised you a beating, but right now, you wouldn't even resent it. No fun. An escape for you.//

Yohji closed his eyes. Whatever.

"I was wondering when you'd get here."

Confused, Yohji opened his eyes. He couldn't see anything but Schuldig.

"Looking after him is your job," said an accented, male voice.

Yohji couldn't place the new voice. I don't recognize the accent. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. No. I can't think that way. There's only one person this could be.

"And I'm doing my job," Schuldig replied. He sounded irritated.

The newcomer strolled into Yohji's line of sight. Yes. Farfarello. What's he going to do to me? Yohji couldn't quite muster the energy to be afraid.

"There's a limit to how long you can hold him like that," Farfarello said.

"I know that."

The two men fell silent. Yohji could only assume there was a private conversation going on.

"Oh, all right," Farfarello said at last. "But you can't leave him in here. No matter how you tie him, he's too likely to find a way out the window."

The window... Yes. The window. It's far enough down that it'd be over. I could do that.

Schuldig snarled and shook Yohji's head.

"And he's bleeding. How deep are those cuts?"

"Just get the cord. We'll worry about the rest of it after he's tied." Schuldig bit off each word as if it had personally offended him.

"As you wish." Farfarello disappeared from Yohji's sight.

Schuldig looked down at Yohji. "Sit," he said. He followed the verbal command with a telepathic push, and Yohji found himself obeying without really thinking about it. "Take off your socks."

Yohji didn't want to, but his hands moved without his intention. Stop! He's making me-- No! His hands stilled for a moment, but fighting Schuldig took too much energy. What's the point? He pulled one sock off then the other.

"Check your feet for glass." Schuldig sounded bored, but his will bore down on Yohji's like a weight in Yohji's head.

Yohji looked at his feet. His head felt a little clearer now that Schuldig was no longer touching him. I should anyway. What's the point? They're going to kill me. I don't know anything, and I'm no good as a hostage. He picked a piece of glass out of his right foot. It was so tiny that he could barely see it. His fingers left bloody smears on his foot. I'm still bleeding. How badly did I cut myself? He wanted to stop and look at his arms, but Schuldig's command still held him. He removed another sliver from his foot.

"You're going to have to walk, and I'd rather you not drive glass any further into your feet." //I'm damned well not going to carry you.//

Yohji took a shuddering breath. Breathing still hurt. He pulled his right foot in close so that he could see it better. There's less than I thought there might be. Despair still draped over him, but he could see now that it hadn't come from his own mind. Not entirely. I really am screwed. I just... I wasn't ready to give up. I'm not ready to give up. I just feel like I ought to.

Schuldig folded his arms across his chest and simply watched Yohji.

When Yohji had done as well as he could with both feet, he inspected his arms. Both arms had deep gashes. He'd been lucky. He wasn't going to bleed to death. Probably. No, I missed anything serious. I ought to have stitches for that one, though. More scars. If I live that long.

"What the hell were you thinking, Kudoh?" Schuldig sounded annoyed. "All you had to do was sit quietly and wait. Crawford will be back in an hour or so." //And then you're his problem.// He looked around the room. "Who's going to clean all of this up? And it's still cold enough at night that a hole in the window will matter."

"Fuck you." Yohji didn't feel up to coming up with something original to say. "Boo hoo. Sucks to be you." But not as much as it sucks to be me. He considered trying to get up, but he knew that Schuldig would simply knock him on his ass. Not to mention-- He shuddered, recalling the feel of Schuldig in his mind, coercing him. He did that to Sakura.

//Don't you ever forget it.// Schuldig moved away. He stepped around the worst of the glass.

He's wearing shoes. Inside. Yohji wasn't sure why that bothered him given everything else. He turned to keep his eyes on Schuldig.

"I don't know where the hell you're going to sleep tonight. Crawford cleared this room just for you, you know." //He's not going to kill you right away. Maybe he won't at all. Then again, maybe he'll let me do it.//

Yohji shuddered again. He had no answer for that. Am I reduced to hoping that it'll be quick?

A throat clearing from the doorway announced Farfarello's return. "I think we'll want to move him," he told Schuldig. "It'll be easier to clean him up if there's water to hand."

"He'll bleed on the carpet. At least it's bare wood in here."

Yohji wasn't sure which of them to watch. They're both threats. What am I doing still on the floor?

"Use the sheet. If we wrap his arms in that, we can get him to the kitchen or the toilet, some place with a sink."

Schuldig made a sound that Yohji interpreted as frustrated agreement. "The kitchen has more room." He moved to the bed and started stripping off the fitted sheet. "Stand up, Kudoh."

Yohji considered refusing, but he knew that Schuldig could force him. He climbed to his feet. "My feet aren't bleeding much, but won't that get on the carpet, too?" Rather than letting it happen and getting beaten for it.

"I brought these." Farfarello tossed something at Yohji's feet.

Yohji looked down and saw a pair of house slippers. He twitched them into position with one foot then slipped them on.

"Stretch out your arms." Schuldig followed the verbal command with a psychic one.

Yohji found his arms moving without his conscious intent. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

Schuldig made a bag out of the sheet and pulled it up over Yohji's hands. Then he wrapped the cloth of the sheet tightly around Yohji's arms.

Yohji couldn't believe this was happening. There was something surreal about sitting in Schwarz's kitchen while Farfarello cleaned, stitched and bandaged his arms. Yohji thought he'd have stayed still anyway-- He was afraid of provoking the lunatic-- but Schuldig stayed in his mind, keeping him from moving.

Yohji held his tongue and tried to figure out where the door to the outside was. Schuldig and Farfarello conversed a little in a language Yohji didn't recognize. He didn't think it was English. He'd had enough of that in school that he thought he'd know it even if he didn't understand it.

To Yohji's surprise, neither of the other men tried to make the situation worse for him. At the very least, Schuldig should say something nasty. Yohji glanced at Schuldig then looked quickly away. He didn't want any more of the telepath's attention than he already had.

"There," Farfarello said at last as he taped down the last bandage. "That ought to hold."

"Stand up," Schuldig told Yohji, "and put your hands behind your back."

Yohji thought about fighting the command, but really, what else was he going to do? He stood. He let his hands hang at his sides for a second. Then Schuldig's power in his mind forced his arms back so that his hands lay palm to palm.

Farfarello wrapped cords around Yohji's wrists and arms, not hesitating even when Yohji flinched at the pressure on his wounds.

Once Yohji's hands were tied, Schuldig led the way into a large room with a TV, two couches and an overstuffed chair.

Yohji's legs took him to one of the couches. He sat right in the corner.

Farfarello bent and tied Yohji's ankles together. As he stood, he said, "He'll not be going anywhere." He seated himself at the opposite end of the couch and used a remote to turn on the TV. "Somebody--" He looked meaningfully at Schuldig. "--had better clean up the mess he made. Somebody who was responsible for making sure he didn't get into trouble."

Schuldig made an obscene gesture and stomped back into the kitchen. Yohji heard a cupboard opening. //Don't think I've forgotten-- I owe you a beating. I'll make it extra special, just for you.// Then Schuldig was gone from Yohji's mind.

Great. Something to look forward to. Yohji fidgeted, trying to sit up enough that he could move his hands. He didn't expect to get far, but he didn't see any point in giving up.

If anyone had told Yohji that he'd spend an hour or two of his life, sitting on a couch, watching Farfarello play Harvest Moon, he'd have laughed. Now, it wasn't remotely funny. He watched Farfarello pet his livestock, tend his crops and court the neighbor's daughter. Farfarello played with an intensity that Yohji found more than a little creepy.

Yohji remained quiet and hoped that the other man would forget he was there. Yohji was fighting an almost overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. Nothing I did accomplished anything. Schuldig took me down like-- like nothing. Now I can't even pretend that things are okay. He hunched his shoulders. No. I'm still alive. They want me that way for now. I've got time. There'll be other opportunities to escape. I just have to pay attention. Oh, why bother? They have all the advantages. Schuldig can make me cooperate with anything.

Schuldig came back after Farfarello had gotten through two or three days. He watched Farfarello play for perhaps thirty seconds then disappeared again. //You'll get yours later, Kudoh. Try not to remind Farfarello that you're there. He gets cranky when he's interrupted, and I don't know how many knives he's carrying.// Schuldig's laughter echoed in Yohji's head.

Yohji had enough self awareness to wonder how much of his despair was Schuldig's doing. He did something to me when he touched me. That wasn't me. I should be thinking of ways to escape or figuring out what Crawford could possibly want. It's just too hard. I wonder if I could sleep?

In the end, Yohji allowed himself to be soothed by the rhythms of Harvest Moon. He didn't intend it, but the movement on the screen drew his eyes. There wasn't anything happening elsewhere in the room. If he didn't look at Farfarello, he could almost pretend that the game was playing itself. It passed the time and gave him something to think about other than how badly screwed he was.

The sound of a door unlocking and opening, brought Yohji to full alert. That must be Crawford. Or maybe Naoe. But Schuldig said Naoe wouldn't be back today. But there's no reason to think he told the truth. Farfarello didn't stick a knife in me at the first opportunity, after all. Yohji struggled to pull himself upright.

Farfarello glanced up and to the right. "That'll be Crawford at last," he said. Then he went back to his game.

Yohji heard another door open. After a moment, it closed again.

Crawford walked into the room. He stopped in the doorway and surveyed the scene. He frowned. "Where is Schuldig?"

Farfarello shrugged and continued to play.

Yohji chose to remain silent. I don't know, and I don't care. He glared at Crawford then, when that seemed to take too much energy, he turned away, back to watching the little figure on the screen collecting eggs.

"How is your head, Kudoh-san?" Crawford sounded closer than Yohji expected, and Yohji couldn't keep from jumping a little. "I told Schuldig to give you something for it, but given how well he seems to have followed my other directions... Well."

Trust Crawford to use 'san.' Schuldig didn't bother, and Farfarello never used my name. Yohji looked up at Crawford. "He gave me something. He insisted." Yohji hadn't wanted to take it. In spite of the clearly labeled bottle, the pills could have been anything. Yohji considered for a moment. His arms hurt worse than his head did.

"You should be upstairs with Schuldig keeping you company," Crawford said.

Not down here, sitting beside a psycho, Yohji filled in. "The company's been better down here," he said at last.

Farfarello looked up and flashed a grin. The effect was not reassuring. "Upstairs is all over glass," he said. "Or was. I suppose Schuldig has cleaned it up by now."

"Glass." Crawford didn't sound enlightened.

"He--" Farfarello nodded at Yohji. "--broke the window. There was blood, too." He sounded almost wistful.

Crawford's eyes returned to Yohji's face. "You're injured," he said flatly. "You're not supposed to be injured."

Yohji remembered the ugly bruising on the side of his head. "Says the man who bashed me in the head."

Crawford flicked his fingers dismissively. "Necessary. Undesirable but necessary." He looked at Farfarello. "How badly is he hurt?"

"He wasn't very careful. Two cuts needed stitches." Farfarello didn't look away from the screen. "Bandaging seemed sufficient for the rest."

Crawford sighed. "I suppose, Kudoh-san, that you're as well here as anywhere else under the circumstances. I need to have a talk with Schuldig. After that, well, you must be hungry."

Food. That's a good sign, right? He can't be planning to kill me soon if he's going to feed me. "I could eat," Yohji admitted. What the hell does he want me for that me being hurt matters? He opened his mouth to ask then closed it again. He watched as Crawford turned and left the room, presumably heading for the stairs.

Yohji tried to relax into watching the game again, but he couldn't. They're Schwarz. Whatever they want me for, it can't be anything good. Yeah, but they're almost being nice. They're just playing with me. Schuldig would do that. Would Crawford? Would Farfarello? I don't know enough about them. Well, Farfarello was with Schuldig that night. He's the one who shot Ouka. Was he playing the same game as Schuldig? Does it matter? She's still just as dead.

Crawford didn't keep Yohji waiting long, just long enough for Farfarello to get through another two days of farming.

Yohji had managed, by that time, to work himself up into active terror. He thought it was better than despair, if only by a little. Whatever he wants, it's not like I can stop him.

Crawford stopped a few steps away. "I'm going to untie your legs. If you attempt to kick me, I will give Schuldig five minutes alone with you." He knelt next to Yohji's legs and began working on the cords.

Tempting, even with Schuldig. I may not win, but I can be a hell of a lot of trouble. "Why are you doing this? Any of this?" Yohji was proud that his voice came out even.

"I don't want to feed you in here." Crawford made short work of the knots.

Yohji shifted to stretch first one leg then the other, carefully avoiding hitting Crawford. "You know what I mean."

Crawford stood up. "Not here. We're disturbing Farfarello."

Responding to his name, Farfarello looked over at them with a glare before turning back to his game.

"Can you stand?" Crawford asked. "Or do you need me to pull you up?"

Pride warred with the desire to force Crawford to do some work. Pride won. "I can stand." Yohji wasn't altogether sure he could. The couch wasn't particularly low or deep, but he'd been unable to move much for what felt like hours. He pulled his legs in and shifted so that his ass was near the edge of the couch. Then he straightened and stood. He wobbled but managed to stay upright.

"Through the kitchen then left." Crawford waved for Yohji to precede him.

Yohji hesitated then complied. What else would I do?

Nobody had cleaned the kitchen. The blood stained sheet still lay in one corner, and there were smears of Yohji's blood on the counters.

Yohji glanced back at Crawford, trying to gauge his reaction.

Crawford frowned. "I suppose cleaning this was too much to expect."

Yohji felt no need to defend Schuldig and Farfarello, so he remained silent. He looked around the room. Seeing a doorway on the left, he headed for that. Through the doorway, he found a room with a rectangular table surrounded by mismatched chairs. The table was wood, and the finish was so worn that the natural color of the wood showed through in places. There were plates at two of the seats. Yohji didn't give a lot of attention to the contents of the plates, but he thought he saw scrambled eggs and rice and something green.

"Sit down," Crawford said. "Is there any reason I shouldn't feed you eggs?"

Yohji hooked a foot around the leg of one of the chairs, pulling it out far enough that he thought he could sit. "Eggs are fine." He stood next to the chair and hesitated. It's not actually worse if I sit down. He sat at last, perching just on the edge of the seat. "I want answers more than I want food."

Crawford pulled out the chair next to Yohji's. "Do you? I expect you aren't going to believe me."

"Try me."

Crawford leaned back in his chair. "You know I see the future."

Yohji nodded. Though how much or how reliably, we never knew.

"Good. That makes this easier. Weiss is coming up on a turning point soon, something that matters to me, but there was a little... How to put it? Something else came up that was going to get in the way. Kidnapping you changes things enough that everybody survives."

Yohji stared at Crawford. "You're right. I don't believe you."

Crawford pinched the bridge of his nose. "There's a mission Kritiker will assign Weiss later today. Your team will spend tonight and most of tomorrow looking for you. They'll carry out the mission without you tomorrow or the day after. Hidaka will be injured but not badly. If you were there, Tsukiyono would die. I considered removing him-- He's key to what I'm seeing because his family wants him back-- but that led to you dying. He'd never forgive me for that, and it would be a criminal waste."

"His family?" Yohji wasn't ready to address the rest of Crawford's words, so he focused on one point. "He doesn't have any family but us."

"Wrong." Crawford held up a finger. "His grandfather still lives and is searching for him. He's the last Takatori heir. I'd point your Omi out to the old man, but he wouldn't believe me. We have to wait for Takatori Shuichi's former assistant-- I think you call her Manx-- to do it. She will soon."

Yohji opened his mouth then closed it again. He found himself torn between anger that Manx would keep Omi in Weiss an instant longer than necessary and jealousy that Omi had a way out. He quashed both. Why do I even believe him? It's not like he wouldn't lie if it suited him. But it's plausible. And what about the rest of it? The mission with one of us dying? Why would he care? "Why do you care what happens to Omi?" Or to me?

"Estet is not gone," Crawford replied. "The old man won't use Takatori resources to oppose them. Tsukiyono-- Takatori Mamoru-- would. Schwarz can do many things, but standing alone against Estet is not among them."

Yohji tightened his shoulders then released them, trying to ease some of the strain. It might be true. It might not. It makes as much sense as anything else. "So you kidnapped me. What makes you think Kritiker will take me back?" I'm compromised. There's no way to prove that Schuldig hasn't already planted commands in my head, and I'll be here two more days. If Crawford's telling the truth.

"You're clever. Tell them a lie they'll believe." Crawford shrugged. He picked up a pair of chopsticks. "Besides, the rest of Weiss hasn't told Kritiker you're missing yet." He smiled.

And you know that how? Right. Super powers. Yohji's eyes followed the chopsticks in Crawford's hand as they dipped into the plate of food in front of Yohji and lifted some egg. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I can do this. Refusing to eat won't help anybody. But what if the food is drugged? What if it is? They can get the same effect more efficiently with a needle. It's not like I could stop them. He opened his mouth.

"It would be easier," Crawford said as he placed the first bite in Yohji's mouth, "if you believed me. It's in everybody's interest for you to stay away from your team for a while. Do that, and nobody dies. Escape and return to them, and Tsukiyono dies."

Yohji opened his eyes, chewed and swallowed. "Just because I can't see how lying benefits you doesn't mean it doesn't."

Crawford shrugged. "As you wish." He picked up more food and offered it to Yohji. "You did well with Farfarello this afternoon, by the way. He wouldn't have killed you if you'd interrupted him, not when I want you alive, but he probably would have hurt you. He plays like that when he's trying to keep his balance."

Yohji swallowed then said, "I expected him to play something more, I don't know, violent."

"Only in preparation for actual violence. He prefers the real thing."

"That's not reassuring."

"It's not meant to be. Take some comfort in knowing that you're not currently interesting enough prey to garner his attention. If you were armed, he'd be mildly interested in killing you. No more than that."

"Where is my watch?" Don't say you threw it away. That really would be hard to explain to Kritiker.

"It's safe. I'll give it back to you when we let you go." Crawford met Yohji's eyes. "Ideally this will be a minimal interruption to your life." He put down the chopsticks and lifted a napkin. "You've got a little something there," he said as he wiped the corner of Yohji's mouth.

Yohji blinked. Did he... linger? Nonsense. Schuldig wasn't serious. "This would be much easier if you'd just untie me."

"And stand back, keeping a gun trained on you while you eat?" The corners of Crawford's mouth twitched. "A gun is less effective when you know I don't want to shoot you. That sort of injury would be very hard for you to explain."

"A bullet in the right place, back in that alley, would have kept me out of this supposed mission quite nicely." Yohji raised his chin. "We could have avoided all of this."

Crawford pushed his glasses back. "I didn't want to avoid all of this. You intrigue me, and a bullet in an alley is so impersonal."

Is he flirting? If he is, can I use it? Yohji did his best to keep his thoughts off his face. "Forgive me if I'd rather be home. You've all been... surprisingly civilized, but it's an experience I could have done without." He forced a smile and licked his lips. He lowered his eyes to focus on Crawford's hands.

"Don't bother, Kudoh-san. Really. Don't. There will be no seduction." Crawford raised one hand to touch Yohji's cheek. He brushed his fingers over Yohji's skin. "I don't object in theory, but in practice... Making out would only last until you got your hands around my throat."

Of course, he can see the future. "You're not unattractive." He's not, just dangerous as hell. And more, whatever Schuldig did to Sakura, Crawford condoned. For all I know, it was his idea.

Crawford scooped up some rice and offered it to Yohji. "That's something for later, some time when I haven't just kidnapped you." He smiled, an expression Yohji thought was genuine.

Like hell. "You kidnapping me is kind of hot." He's already said it won't work, but I have to try. I'm running out of ideas. Yohji took a deep breath before accepting the rice Crawford offered.

"Then you won't mind being tied to the bed." Crawford's chopsticks dipped into the food again, this time coming up with a bit of broccoli.

Yohji suppressed a shudder. I can do it. He might slip up. "If that's what you're into." He smiled and leaned toward Crawford, taking the broccoli.

Crawford gave an answering smile. This time it didn't reach his eyes. "It would simplify tonight." He selected a bit of egg. "I'd intended to have you sleep in the room where you woke up." He shrugged. "You rendered that uninhabitable. It'll simply be too cold once night falls."

"I'd have broken that window no matter when you left me in there alone, and I doubt anybody wanted to sit and watch me all night." Yohji couldn't bring himself to be apologetic.

"If you could bring yourself to believe me about the mission, it would help. I don't particularly want to keep you tied up while you stay with us."

Yohji hadn't really thought about that. "It's not that I don't believe you." It's that I object to being kidnapped and held captive. "My time here has been so pleasant. Why ever would I want to leave?"

Crawford surprised Yohji by laughing. "Our household does take some getting used to."

"I'd really rather not. I'm definitely not Schuldig's favorite person right now, and he said that Naoe would like to kill me." Though he also said Farfarello would attack me immediately. Was he telling the truth about any of it?

Crawford set down the chopsticks. "Nagi is a problem. Tot hasn't forgiven you for Neu, and Nagi's still trying to get her to forgive the rest of us for Hel, Schoen and Masafumi. Nagi would definitely like to present your corpse to Tot as a love gift."

This time, Yohji didn't conceal his shudder. "I'd prefer to avoid that."

Crawford shrugged. "Nagi is more obedient than Schuldig or Farfarello. He's also occupied with his job."

"His job?"

"Masafumi actually adopted Tot. Who'd have thought? Anyway, that makes her Takatori enough for the old man. He's got her in school. It's not going dreadfully well. She's not good at conforming. Nagi's job is to go to school with her and smooth things out for her. She doesn't really need a bodyguard, as such, but that's as close to Nagi's job description as anything. Schuldig laughs and says it's all very shoujo. He tends to make sure people see hearts and sparkles when he says that."

"I'm surprised that any Takatori would have anything to do with you, given everything." Yohji still wasn't sure what he thought about the idea that there were still Takatoris in the world. Omi doesn't count. What will he think? Will he believe any of it? Do I believe any of it?

"Takatori Reiji fired us. He made sure that we wouldn't be with him when he faced Weiss."

Yohji wondered if that was the truth, but he guessed that Crawford wouldn't give him anything more. "What about Ouka?"

"Ah, that. The old man won't consider putting Schuldig or Farfarello on the payroll. He sees me as only useful because I bring them along. The three of us are freelancing. It pays the bills."

"I'm surprised he's content with just not hiring them." It wouldn't be enough for me, not for a granddaughter.

"The old man is pragmatic. There's a reason he's not hunting Weiss over his son and grandsons."

"He knows?" Yohji felt cold. What sort of resources could he bring to bear? Could Kritiker-- would Kritiker-- protect us?

"Tot knew, so yes, he knows. According to Schuldig, he thought his sons were fools, but he had great hopes for Hirofumi." Crawford lifted the last bite of rice and offered it to Yohji.

Yohji ate almost mechanically. He didn't like where his thoughts were going. Always assuming Crawford's telling the truth. But why wouldn't he be? If I trust part of it-- Each piece relies on the others. If I got away now, would I dare to go home? Probably not. It's not worth the risk. He straightened his spine. I still want out of here.

Crawford picked up a clean pair of chopsticks and started in on his own plate. He ate with efficient focus, leaving Yohji to his own thoughts.

If I'm not going home, what am I going to do? I don't know, but it's got to be better than staying here. Schuldig wants to kill me. Farfarello wants-- Actually, I don't know what the hell he wants. Crawford... He's told me way too much, way too easily.

Yohji cleared his throat. "Crawford-san, if I promise not to try to escape, will you untie me?"

Crawford looked up. He studied Yohji's face. "If I believe you. We both know you'd have no compunction about lying."

Yohji had to acknowledge the truth of that. "What would it take to convince you?" Not that being untied will help when Schuldig comes after me. I mean, he just touched me, and I couldn't move, and he can control me like a puppet. I think it's hard work for him, but he can do it.

Crawford set down his chopsticks and pushed up his glasses. "It depends on what I see coming. I might ask Schuldig to be sure."

"He wants me helpless."

"Schuldig won't lie to me." Crawford sounded completely confident.

Yohji had no answer for that, so he did his best to shrug.

"Were you planning to offer your parole or is this an academic discussion?"

Yohji flexed his fingers. "It depends on what I get for it. I'm not saying I believe you entirely, but I'm not willing to take the risk that you're telling the truth, either. Of course, if you're lying to me and keeping me away so that one of my teammates will die-- If that's true, then I'll kill you. You may be able to see me coming, but I'll find a way."

"If I wanted one of your friends dead, it would be simpler to put a bullet in him." Crawford steepled his fingers and studied Yohji. "If-- If I believe your promise, I'm prepared to go a step further. You and I will get a hotel room. Two beds, in case you were wondering."

Yohji closed his eyes. I don't have to do this. I could still escape. No, I couldn't. They've got super powers, and I... don't. And getting out of this house means getting away from Schuldig and Farfarello and Naoe. That's attractive. "What do you want me to promise?"

"Not much. Just that you'll stay in this house or in the hotel room until I tell you it's safe to go home. I do ask that you not try to kill me or any other member of Schwarz, but I'd like to think that follows from a civilized agreement."

"I don't plan to search for loopholes."

The hotel room was very nice. Whatever sort of freelancing Crawford was doing, it apparently paid well. As if I couldn't guess that from the house. Three floors and a garden! Yohji claimed the bed nearer the door simply by sitting on it.

Crawford shrugged and took his bag to the other bed. He opened the bag and started to unpack. As he did, he tossed a t-shirt and sweatpants onto Yohji's bed, followed by an unopened package of socks and a similar package of underwear. "That all ought to fit, and it'll be better for sleeping in than what you're wearing now."

Yohji picked up the shirt. It was an unflattering shade of brown. "As long as no one else sees me wearing it." He stood up. "I can't shower, not with the bandages on my arms, but I would like to wash a little."

Crawford waved a hand. "Take your time. I'll just see if there's anything on TV. There might be a movie we can agree on."

Yohji used a washcloth and soap and cleaned himself as well as he could. He'd bled on his clothes. He wasn't sure they could be saved, but he put them to soak in the bathtub. At least I know enough to use cold water. That's a mistake you only make once. He washed his hair in the sink, using a cup to pour water over his head.

When he emerged, he found Crawford reclining on his bed, channel surfing.

Yohji ran the towel over his hair one more time before draping it on a chair. "Not liking anything on?"

Crawford glanced over at him. "I wasn't sure of your taste, so I'm just getting an idea of what's on."

Yohji nodded. "Oh-- I hope you don't need to bathe any time soon. I put my clothes in to soak. The blood might come out." I'd rather not wear these clothes when I do finally go home. He sat down on his bed and pulled one knee up against his chest. "And I can watch anything really."

"Let me know if anything catches your eye." Crawford continued clicking from channel to channel. "Or we could-- This place caters to western business travelers. There are some fairly recent movies we can get."

Yohji tried to think if there were any recent American movies he cared about. There's got to be something. This is so fucking weird. He's acting like we're friends or something. At least he's stopped flirting. Or is he just biding his time? Circumstances are different now. He might make a pass at me. And what do I do then? "I don't mind sports. With Ken, you get used to watching that sort of thing." Not that we've watched anything in months. Ken has to go to bars in order to see his games. "I miss TV. The way we've been living the last few months, we don't have TV."

"That means you probably don't recognize any of the shows." Crawford's channel surfing slowed. "What sort of show do you like?"

Yohji made a face. What do I want to tell him? "Historical dramas can be fun, and I don't mind modern dramas. I just--" He bit his lip. That's a little naked. No, fuck it. "No amnesia stories, and I try to avoid tragedies."

Crawford's hand stilled. The TV showed a newscaster talking about the economy. "She'd have killed you, you know. That's what I saw. Her killing you. It didn't matter because I only needed Hidaka and Fujimiya. I hadn't thought through needing Tsukiyono yet."

Yohji flexed and relaxed his hands, over and over. "We'll never know. There might have been some way to help her." He wiped a hand across his face.

"If you could have killed the rest of Schreient, I suppose other options would have opened up. She'd have fought you every step. Do you really think Kritiker would have spared resources to deprogram her?"

"So she actually was--? Of course she was. She couldn't be anyone else." The conversation was tearing at a raw place in Yohji's mind. He pulled his other leg up against his chest and wrapped his arms around his knees.

"That was when I started to be interested in you," Crawford said. "You surprised me. That's very difficult to do."

"I'm so pleased." Yohji didn't even try to hide his bitterness. "I relive those moments, you know, trying to think what else I could have done." Do you see another way? I don't. It would be worse if I did. He could see Asuka's face. She seemed so far away, getting farther away as he watched. "I just wanted--" What did I want? Asuka back. Asuka happy. He scrubbed his face and hated that his hand came away wet. Was she happy as Neu? Asuka would have hated Masafumi, but Neu... was devoted to him. Asuka would have hated Weiss, too. "We're all trapped. I almost-- No, I do. I envy you. You have choices."

Crawford sat up and swung his legs off the side of his bed. "That comes with fewer scruples. You should consider-- Kritiker will use you until you're used up. And then what? They don't exactly have a retirement plan."

"Live fast. Die young." Yohji shrugged. "Do you have any cigarettes? It's been hours." He felt like he was bleeding inside, but there was no reason to show that to Crawford.

Crawford pointed at the room's dresser. "Top right drawer. It's everything I took from you."

Yohji squeezed his knees a little tighter against his chest then forced himself to let go. He stood, took one step and opened the drawer. Inside lay his cigarettes, his lighter, his wallet and his watch. He snatched that last up and held it for a moment before putting it on. "I'm surprised you're giving this back to me."

"Either I trust your promise or I don't." Crawford turned off the TV.

Yohji heard the sound of movement but didn't look back to see what Crawford was doing. He left his wallet where it was. As long as I don't forget it, there's no reason to move it. He picked up the pack of cigarettes and the lighter and returned to his bed.

Crawford brushed past Yohji, apparently heading for the toilet.

He didn't have to come so close. Did he want to touch me? Yohji lit a cigarette and took a long drag. So what if he did? How is this different from him flirting during dinner? Well, for one thing, I can tell him to stay the hell away. If I want to. Do I want to? He inhaled again then blew out smoke. He looked around for an ashtray.

There was one on the table between the beds, next to the alarm clock. Yohji moved along the bed until he was next to the table. He had nearly finished his cigarette by the time Crawford returned. He hadn't reached any conclusions which surprised him. I rarely go for guys, and he's Crawford. I shouldn't even be considering it.

"There's a toothbrush for you," Crawford announced. "I left it by the sink."

"I'll get to that eventually." Is it time for that? I've lost track. Yohji glanced at the clock. It was only ten after eight. "It seems early to get ready for bed."

Crawford continued unbuttoning his shirt. "I'll be more comfortable in my nightclothes. It's not as if we're going anywhere."

Yohji crushed the butt of his cigarette. He tried to picture Crawford in something other than a suit. I can't do it. He watched as Crawford undressed efficiently. Then, realizing what he was doing, he looked away. He must work out. Of course, he works out. You can't move like he does if you don't work at it.

"It's all right to look." Crawford sounded amused.

Yohji looked at his feet. "Schuldig-- What he did with Sakura-- You could have stopped that. You let him-- It's like you did it."

"As long as he was playing with her, Estet let us keep her, and we needed her."

Yohji still couldn't look at Crawford. "Even if you hadn't, you wouldn't have stopped him." That's even without mentioning Farfarello.

"I control Schuldig because I let him... indulge from time to time." Crawford didn't sound even a little apologetic. "I don't normally let him bring his toys home, and most people survive. Schuldig is mine."

'Most people survive.' Right. You knew he was ruthless. Yohji raised his eyes. And he's naked. What would it be like to touch-- No.

"I don't pretend to be anything I'm not, Kudoh-san. I'm not one thing during the day and something else at night."

That's to my address. "I'm not accusing you of hypocrisy. Other things, yes, but not that." Yohji found himself continuing to study Crawford's naked form.

Crawford leaned over, picked up a pair of sweatpants and shook them out. "Each of us has his own sins. I can live with mine."

Yohji had nothing to say to that. Who'd have thought he'd think of it as sin? To keep himself occupied, he lit another cigarette.

"Ignoring your sins doesn't make them go away." Crawford stepped into his pants.

It's doing well enough. Yohji closed his eyes. Asuka's face was all he could see. "Dwelling on them doesn't help either."

"Have you got anything else?"

No. Yohji opened his eyes. "I suppose you're offering?" Offering what exactly?

"The road you're currently on leads to self-destruction, and you'll take others down along the way, innocents as much as anybody is." Crawford pulled on a t-shirt. "I can show you other paths."

Yohji tapped ash off his cigarette. "Right."

Crawford raised his hands in a shrug. "I'm not trying to take away your choices. If you want to start strangling your lovers, that's no skin off my nose. It just seems like a waste of your potential."

Yohji sat bolt upright. I will not! I wouldn't! Would I? He set his cigarette in the ashtray and stretched his hands in front of him so he could study them. "My potential?" He shook his head. "I thought we agreed earlier that there's no future in Weiss. I am Weiss, nothing more, nothing less."

Crawford frowned. He skirted his bed and came to sit across from Yohji. "I'm not a fool. I'm not asking you to stop being Weiss. That would just alienate you."

He's close. I don't think I like him that close. Yohji picked up his cigarette and took a drag. He blew smoke in Crawford's general direction. Back off. "Then what are you asking?" He wants something.

"For the moment, just to take a look at your arms. I think the bandages probably need changing."

Yohji cradled his right arm in his left. It's not a bad idea. Yeah, but it's his hands on me. Who knows where that will lead? Where do I want it to lead? "All right. After I finish this cigarette. Should we go to the sink? I don't know how much I'll bleed."

Crawford snorted. "For what I'm paying, they can handle a little blood on the bed." He hesitated. "Unless you think you'll want to wash. Farfarello did clean the wounds, yes?"

Yohji nodded. "He was very... careful." It was fucking eerie.

Crawford watched while Yohji finished his smoke. He looked, Yohji thought, like a man facing a puzzle or a challenge. He definitely wants something. It can't be as simple as sex. Not with him. But if it were-- Would I? It doesn't gain me anything now that I've promised to stay. Does it lose me anything? It's just bodies, and I'm not going to get a better offer while I'm here.

Crawford's hands were as gentle as Farfarello's had been. This time, Yohji was less surprised. He knew by now that Crawford valued him. As weird as that is. The old bandages clung. Lifting them did, in fact, make him bleed again.

Crawford clicked his tongue in disapproval when he saw Yohji's right arm bared. "You really did a number on yourself."

"Can you blame me? I thought, best case, that you'd kill me."

"After taking that much trouble to take you alive?" Crawford raised his eyebrows. He spread salve on Yohji's cuts.

"That was puzzling but not reassuring. Schuldig's kindest explanation was that you might want to fuck me."

Crawford stopped, looked up and met Yohji's eyes. "I do want to. It just wasn't part of my plans for today. I prefer consent, real consent."

Yohji's hands twitched. "Yeah, I got that. You definitely weren't thinking with your cock."

Crawford started wrapping clean bandages around Yohji's arm. "You'd have done anything to get me to untie you."

"If I could have knocked you out, you'd have made a spectacular meat shield."

Crawford smiled. "Other arm."

Neither of them spoke until Crawford finished working on Yohji's left arm.

"That should hold you through the night," Crawford said. He squeezed Yohji's hand before letting go. Then he reached up to touch Yohji's face. He leaned in and brushed his lips across Yohji's.

Yohji froze. Though why I'm surprised, I don't know. He said he was interested. When Crawford had pulled away, Yohji said, "I thought you said that wasn't going to happen."

"That was then. Circumstances have changed."

"I suppose they have." Yohji swallowed hard. Decision time.

Crawford picked up the discarded bandages and stood. He carried them to the trash.

Yohji watched him go. This would be easier if he hadn't done that. He wasn't altogether sure what 'that' referred to, whether the kiss or the getting up and walking away. I guess it really is up to me. He stood and stretched. "Crawford-san--" He hesitated, waiting until Crawford turned to look at him. He squared his shoulders. "Just what do you want?" He managed to keep his voice even.

Crawford looked Yohji up and down. "Immediately or long term?"

Long term? There's a long term? Of course, there is. Yohji cleared his throat. "Either. Both. Yes. Both." I need to know.

Crawford pushed his glasses up. "I'd like you to call me Brad."

Yohji simply stood and watched him.

"Too soon? Of course, it's too soon." Crawford sighed. "For the moment, I'd like to kiss you again. This time with you kissing back."

And one thing leads to another. Got that. Yohji nodded.

Crawford took a step toward Yohji. "For the long term, I'd like to see you again. Without having to kidnap you." He gave a one armed shrug. "What comes of that isn't certain, but the possibilities... intrigue me."

He wants more than a simple fuck. He wants a relationship. Yohji raised his chin. "Why would I do that?"

Crawford laughed without much humor. "If nothing else, it's useful to have a... friend who can see the future. I can save you a lot of trouble. I can help you invest so that you have money Kritiker knows nothing about."

He's not trying to romance me. That's something. If I do it, though, long term, I can't stay detached. I know myself that well. I'll call him Brad, and he'll call me Yohji. I'll... care. Yohji licked his lips. "That's more than a small risk." But, if he's telling the truth, there would be rewards.

"I can help with that." Crawford spread his hands. "I want to."

"I need to think." I need not to think. "I can't decide on the long term today or even tomorrow. I need time." Time to remember why it's a terrible idea.

Crawford smiled. Yohji thought it was the expression of a man who thinks he's winning. "I can handle that," Crawford said.

"For the short term--" I don't have to. I don't think he'd push. No. I need to know what I'm getting into. Yohji looked Crawford up and down as he considered what sex with him would be like. "I'm willing to kiss you and see where it goes."

"Not a ringing endorsement of the idea." Crawford's tone was dry.

"It's been a really fucking bad day. You're not getting a ringing endorsement of anything." But sex would feel good, and something about this day should.

"I'm sorry for hitting you."

But not for the rest of it? Of course not. Yohji shrugged. "Take it or leave it."

"How about instead I give you a massage? I brought oil."

You were expecting this, weren't you? Yohji studied Crawford's hands, wondering how strong they were. He rolled one shoulder then the other. "I could go for that."

"Take off your shirt and lie down." Crawford headed for his bag.

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