Did I say that aloud...?
"Yes, you did. Yokatta."
A faint frown pulls at my lips and I struggle to open my eyes. It takes a
while for everything to come into focus around me. For several moments all I
see are blurred white walls around me with a dark smudge beside me. The image
slowly sharpens until I am gazing up at Ikida's face. He has dark circles
under his eyes as if he hasn't been sleeping...Not that I care. It just looks
like someone decked him on each eye. It looks ugly against his pale skin, and
I don't appreciate it being the first thing I see. I close my eyes again.
Where the hell...?
This is not our headquarters. We don't have such stark white walls, and Ikida
would never be at our place. So why am I here...?
"I was beginning to think Hoffmann-sama had gone too far," Ikida says, relief
coloring his voice. "Sometimes he gets a bit carried away when he is
Memory hits like a baseball bat to the face and I scramble into a sitting
position. The world lurches before me and my stomach turns. I am gagging and
I dimly acknowledge that there is a hand holding my bangs out of my face and a
small bowl is positioned under my mouth. Stomach acid floods my mouth and I
almost choke on it. My stomach is empty; there is nothing to throw up.
~"Mastermind...Open your eyes and look me in the face."~
I try to claw free of the voice that hisses through my mind and twist away
from Ikida's grip. I feel another set of hands grabbing my shoulder.
"Don't," I say, gasping at the pain their contact causes. "Don't touch me-!"
But they won't let go and they're pushing me against the bed. I struggle
against them but it is hard to resist when my entire body is pulsing with pain
from lingering wounds Hoffmann inflicted on me.
~"That's an order."~
"Schuldich-san!" someone cries, and I feel the prick of a needle in my upper
arm. "Stop moving! You'll aggravate the wounds!"
"Don't touch me!!" I can't even see Ikida or his assistant. I can feel
fingers curling on my chin, tightening against my flesh. Hoffmann whispers in
my ear, quiet and amused. And then he is tipping my head up, issuing the
command for me to leave my eyes open. Our eyes meet and all I can see is icy
blue burning into me as Hoffmann shreds my soul with his power.
Memory is crushed by the black of oblivion as the medication kicks in.
When I wake again I am on my side, gazing at Ikida once more. He is sitting
in a chair a few feet away from my bed. We gaze at each other in silence.
Finally Ikida clears his throat, folding his arms over his chest. "Good
morning, Schuldich-san. Are you coherent now?"
I try to manage an intelligible response, but I'm not awake enough to get out
more than "Mmm."
"You have now been under our care for four days," he tells me. "You were
brought in Tuesday and remained unconscious until yesterday. We had to
administer Athlon because you seemed to be displaying signs of hysteria." I
say nothing. Ikida rubs at his temples. He looks worse today than he did
yesterday. "You have sustained some damage from your meeting with Hoffmann,
but most of it will heal itself over the next few days. You have been healing
rapidly already. Most of what remains are burns and bruises. For a while we
thought you had severely injured your larynx. You relieved that fear when you
Since Hoffmann didn't touch my throat, I will assume that I would have ruined
my voice in my reaction to the pain he caused. How strange to imagine that
you can damage your vocal cords beyond repair by screaming.
I blink slowly. There's not much else I can do. I'm still feeling drugged.
How much Athlon did they give me? My brain is all fuzzy, and I can't hear
"Your teammate will be by later," Ikida says. "He has come a few times every
day to watch over you, and I informed him of your vocal progress yesterday."
The teammate he's referring to sure as hell isn't Adashi. I feel my lips
twitch into a tired grin. It's obvious which one of my teammates made the
trip, though I don't know if the visits were made out of concern, interest, or
the need to get away from the dumb fuck that is our fourth...Nagi is such a
strange boy. I sincerely hope he secured Farfarello properly before visiting.
I am going to need a break before I even deal with Farfarello and Adashi's
feud, and I don't think I would be able to take it if Farfarello were to let
loose on our fourth. I need some recovery time before I see Hoffmann again.
"Sleep, Schuldich-san," Ikida says, and I realize my eyes are sliding closed.
"It is the best medicine, after all."
By that evening I am wide awake and restless enough to want to get out of bed.
Ikida has several assistants with him now. From their thoughts and my
annoyed questions at their endless worrying I devised that Ikida called them
in for emergency measures. Two were brought in for Crawford's illness. Four
were brought in for me. Apparently I was pretty damaged when I arrived here.
Ikida informed me that all of Estet has been breathing down his neck to watch
my recovery. Telepaths are hard to come by these days, and as Estet's
strongest, well...Ikida says even Hoffmann knows he went too far.
It's what I get for being the most fun to play with, I suppose.
Sadistic German bastard.
I gesture for the nurse to get her hands away from me. "I don't need your
help," I tell her for the umpteenth time. I have seven people watching me as
I struggle to slide off of the bed. My feet touch the ground and I push
myself from the mattress.
My legs buckle beneath me and four pairs of hands instantly grab at me, even
though I am only falling back onto the mattress. A flat look directed at the
assistants makes them release me, and I try again. This time I sway but
manage to stay up. One idiotic nurse claps gleefully.
I take a few slow and measured steps forward. The assistants make way for me.
I am a little dizzy by the time I reach the doorway and my entire body is
throbbing with a deep pain. I force myself onwards, slowly picking my way
towards the bathroom. The medical staff follows me, watching me carefully for
any sign that I cannot take care of myself. I close the door behind me,
sealing myself from them, and turn to face the mirror.
I wince at my reflection, lifting a hand to trace my cheekbone. From my
appearance it seems as if I have merely been in a scuffle with someone. There
are a few large bruises here and there, and I can see bandages on the skin
that shows from the hospital gown I am dressed in. It is in my eyes that I
can tell that it wasn't a physical beating I took. There is a haunted look in
the backs of the twin jade pools that burn into me. I lift my fingers from
the bruise on my cheekbone to rub at my forehead, sliding my eyes closed.
It is over.
Hoffmann is gone.
These words are necessary to help quell the rising sense of nausea. I have
taken my punishment for Farfarello's actions. Hopefully Farfarello will have
a better grip on himself from now on. After all, Crawford will be evaluated
soon. I consider this newest thought, counting up the days. Two days until
Hoffmann passes judgement on Crawford.
It is with some irritation that I admit to myself that I have no clue as to
what state Crawford's in. I do not know anything about his situation.
Granted, I had no chance to find out in the past several days, but before
He doesn't want to see me, but I don't care. I need to know- right now- if
he's made any improvement. I need to have an idea as to what is going to
happen when Hoffmann visits him in two days. I need to get an estimate as to
how long Schwarz is going to be without its rightful leader. I need to see
Need and want often run along parallel lines.
I push the door open. The assistants are milling around, waiting on me.
Don't they have anything better to do? Carefully measured steps carry me past
them, towards Crawford's room. I am halfway there when they quit following
me. Ikida has stopped them and is keeping them back. I ignore them, pushing
open Crawford's door.
A bandage goes across Crawford's eyes, taped in place to keep them shut. A
vast assortment of machinery hums quietly as background music. IVs trail all
over the place and there is a mask over his mouth and nose. It seems there is
a tube leading from his mask to slide down his throat, but I have no interest
in looking harder to see if that is true. His chest rises and falls slowly
and evenly as a machine breathes for him. The sheet is pulled up to his
armpits and his arms rest on top of it. The flimsy hospital gown looks a
little silly on someone who usually dresses in a suit. He is pale but he
looks clean...I suppose the staff washes him.
I consider this for a moment, fingering my own hair. It isn't dirty.
Apparently they cleaned me, too.
My attention returns to Crawford as I cross the room towards his bed. There
is a chair to one side and I settle my weary body into it. Jade eyes study
Crawford's still form.
It is a sad, pathetic sight.
"You're not looking any better," I tell him, words falling softly into the
~I didn't think so, either.~
A sick sort of warmth brushes against my mind at his ready response. I had
forgotten for a moment that he is fully conscious and functional. His quiet
voice is welcome after Adashi's loud tirades. I rub a hand across my eyes,
giving a heavy sigh and leaning backwards further in the chair.
~You took down the bond between Schwarz,~ Crawford says.
"Hm," I answer noncommitally, restringing the ties within our group now that
he's pointed out the absence of the links. Three consciousnesses brush
against mine when I finish. I hear a muted but startled reaction from Nagi's
end as he feels my presence seep into the background of his thoughts.
~Schuldich...~ Nagi greets. ~Ikida called earlier to say I could expect you
to be alert by tonight.~
Before I can come up with a response- not that he is really expecting one-,
Crawford speaks again. ~Nagi said you had a visit with Hoffmann.~ I hesitate,
and Crawford continues. ~He has been coming by here to check on you and he
told me what happened with Farfarello.~
I shrug, as if he could actually see it. /Adashi had it coming to him./
~You have to be more careful, Schuldich.~
/I think even you would have hit Adashi. I can't blame Farfarello for it.
Even Nagi wanted to take the empath out, and when Nagi actually wants to take
his power to someone-/
~Schuldich,~ Crawford says, more firmly. ~Do not give Hoffmann a reason to
take notice of you. If that means leaving Farfarello behind on jobs, do it.~
I blink at him. /Leave Farfarello behind? Adashi's not even supposed to be
on our team, and he's useless. I don't see the point of handicapping our team
for him. Besides, that's what he wants. He wants Farfarello as far away from
him as possible./
~Do not catch Hoffmann's attention anymore.~
The track this conversation has taken is bothering me, but I cannot lay my
finger on what is wrong. Instead of trying to decide what about it makes me
uneasy, I change to a safer topic. /Adashi will go away when you're better.
How much longer is Ikida predicting?/
~He is making no predictions. He is concentrating on the present and will
save his guesswork for the evaluation.~
/That's not a good enough answer,/ I tell Crawford. /I want to know _now_ if
you've made any progress./
~You never were very patient,~ he muses.
I feel my lips twitch but the beginnings of a grin is swallowed up as I yawn
loudly. Silence falls between us. There is nothing we need to say. I take a
small amount of comfort in Crawford's presence. He is alive and mentally
coherent, which to me signifies hope that Adashi will be leaving our group
soon. He isn't much fun to look at, though, not with all of those medical
doomyfloggits threading all over the place. In my mind I replace him with an
image of how he used to be. The vision that I conjure starts as him in one of
his suits, but the finery gives way until I am seeing him like I saw him the
morning he first fell ill: peaceful and sleeping, chest bared and blanket down
around his waist.
Perhaps it is safer to stick with reality...
I eye Crawford for a moment, then reach out and poke at his hand. /Can you
feel that?/ I ask. If Ikida won't make an assessment of Crawford's situation,
I have to come up with something to help my peace of mind.
~I feel nothing.~
I pick up his hand by pulling on his index finger and let go when it is a
short distance above the mattress. It flops bonelessly back to the sheet.
It's interesting in a gross way. I do it again, expecting Crawford to
reprimand me for playing with him. He says nothing, even when I drop his hand
several more times. I sigh quietly, raking my bangs out of my face.
He isn't commenting on my game because he cannot feel what I am doing.
That realization takes the fun out of it, and I fold my arms over my chest.
He's been like this for almost two weeks...Where is the guarantee that he'll
magically get better in the next thirty-six odd hours? It's disheartening and
I chew on my bottom lip for a few moments as I consider the heavy implications
behind Crawford's still immobile state.
Luckily for me, deep thought is growing to be impossible. My ventures around
Ikida's work station have thoroughly exhausted me.
I do not want to make the trip all the way back to my room...I'm lazy and
tired, and at the moment, it seems like a very long walk. I burrow further
into the back of the chair I am sitting on, letting my eyes slide closed.
Sleep descends rapidly despite the fact that the chair isn't very comfortable.
Ikida isn't going to release me for another eight hours. I swear he's being a
worrywart. I can walk as well as I used to. The dizziness that accompanies
too much moving will fade in a little bit, as will the headaches and nausea.
He's pretty adament about it, though, talking about the risks involved with me
going out in my state. He argues as if he's expecting a protest from me.
I don't put up much of a verbal fight, though. If he wants to keep me here
for medical reasons, I'll stay. It's not my health in mind, but the disgust
at the idea of going back to where I have to put up with Adashi. Crawford can
keep me company- or is it vice versa?
"Look, Crawford," I announce when an assistant pushes the door open. They
don't trust me to come back if I leave to fetch coffee, and I refuse to drink
that sewage that the cafe serves, so one of the women went out to buy some
from a coffee shop down the street. I take the styrofoam cup from her and
turn to face Crawford's still form. "Coffee. Want some?"
~I'm trying to cut back,~ he answers dryly.
I smirk, sipping at my hot drink. "I could always inject it into your IV," I
tell him, yawning and taking another sip. Not bad...It's not as good as the
kind we have at home, but it'll do. I drum my fingertips on the rim idly.
Crawford told me earlier that Nagi came by last night but didn't stay long. I
think Crawford said his excuse was that he didn't want to wake me.
Personally, I think he doesn't like seeing Crawford in his current state.
I am feeling alive today. Perhaps it is due to the coffee. Perhaps it is
because I am recovering quickly from Hoffmann's punishment. Perhaps it is
because I am dressed in something other than a hospital gown. While I don't
like the suit very much, it's better than wearing that flimsy piece of cotton.
I sip at my coffee, sliding one hand into my pocket. My fingers encounter
something hard and I pull it out, curious.
It is the glass figurine. I had forgotten about it. I'm not even sure why I
picked it up.
"I hope you don't think that we're going to keep wearing suits when you return
to your position," I tell Crawford, toying with the glass head. "Farfarello
mutilated his, anyway. He tore it up when he went to fight the would-be
ambushers because it was getting in his way." Adashi had been furious, not
that any of us cared. I _had_ warned him.
Nagi told Crawford everything about the mission while I was down and out and I
choose to fill up Crawford's time now by telling him more about his
replacement. Nagi did not go into many details of Adashi's character with our
fallen American, but I have no qualms with laying out every single one of the
man's faults. Maybe I need to stay here more than eight hours. This could
take a while.
And so I talk, and Crawford listens without interruption. It's strange to me,
to sit here and talk and have Crawford as an audience. Usually I don't have
that much to say to him. Usually he has better things to do than to listen to
me talk. Here, however, in the world of his sickness, Crawford has no other
way to pass the time. Six years of working together, and this is the longest
we have ever spoken to each other.
The conversation keeps from going sour when I find other things to talk about
than Adashi- just random subjects that flick in and out of my brain. Often
silence falls between us, comfortable and light. I send the assistants for
more coffee a few times and we just sit- or lay- in silence, two men who have
nothing better to do.
I am feeling alive today.
Perhaps it is the company.