Part Thirty-Two: Worth It
I’m woken from a restless sleep when my bed shifts. Something has just made itself comfortable on the mattress- something much too heavy to be a cat and heavier than Nagi. I force my eyes open, pushing myself up on tired arms to confront whoever is disturbing me. Sleep has been terrible this last week, and being woken up just reminds me that it hurts to be conscious. But my eyes settle on purple eyes and a pale face, and any growled reprimands die on my lips.
Ran drops his eyes from my face, studying the casts on my arm and fingers. He reaches out, lifting my hand so he can get a better look at it. I let him, too startled by his presence to pull my hand back. What is he doing here? I run my gift along his thoughts. Nagi brought him here? It’s hard to believe, that my teammate would willingly bring Ran back here. Ran carefully sets my hand back down, turning his attention on the other cast before lifting his gaze to inspect the bandages around my head. His thoughts have lost their echo to flow more freely against mine, and he focuses on my injuries to keep himself from thinking.
“Why did you come?” I want to know.
“To talk,” he answers. “To talk about…the bond.”
I rub sleep from my eyes, careful not to poke my eyes out with the cast, and rake his mind to see what Nagi has told him. I had to explain the bond better to Nagi earlier…I told him what I could about it when he wanted to know the exact consequences of what I’ve done to Ran and myself. I couldn’t really answer his demands, because I don’t really know. The majority of what could and will happen to us depends on us, depends on what we’re doing to the bond.
Or rather, depends on what Ran’s doing and has done to the bond.
“Apparently, you already talked about it,” I tell him. He scowls at me and I let myself fall back to the bed, letting my casts rest against my stomach. “My drugs are in the kitchen. Be a good boy and get them for me, yeah?” If I’m going to start talking to Ran about this, it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to be a short conversation and I don’t intend on having my wounds hurt while we speak. Ran takes a look at my casts and slips from the bed, wandering out of the room.
I gaze up at the ceiling, considering everything that’s happened so far. I’d be content to just give up thinking for the day, but if _Nagi_ dragged Ran all the way across the city, I feel quite a bit obligated to talk now rather than ask Ran if it can wait until morning. Ran returns shortly, bringing a pill and a glass of water with him. I push myself up on my elbows long enough to swallow the medicine, and Ran reaches over me to set the glass down on my nightstand. I watch him as he makes himself comfortable, seating himself Indian-style in the middle of the bed.
It doesn’t bother him at all to be back here.
No, that’s a lie. It does bother him, but partly because it doesn’t. Hm.
“Nagi said we’re bonded,” Ran says, judging my silence and deciding he’s the one to start the conversation.
“Fact,” I answer, letting my eyes slide closed. Funny how this bed feels normal now- it’s his weight now that I use to judge it. It’s been over a week since he left but in this moment it feels like he hasn’t been gone at all. “You and I are linked, just like he said.”
“That’s why I felt you get hurt in the accident?” he wants to know.
I shake my head, a slight gesture so I don’t set my head aching before the medicine has time to kick in. “What you were experiencing wasn’t entirely because I was hurt. Most of it was because the bond between us weakened when I sank into unconsciousness and fell close to death. You felt the bond tearing; you felt my mind dying. We’re tied tight enough together that being ripped away from my mind was hurting you.”
“And if you had died?”
I shrug, though the move is a bit awkward when I’m stretched out on my back. “Can’t really say. You’re not a telepath, so the damage wouldn’t have been quite so severe, but it would probably be permanent nonetheless. Sort of like a hole in your being, I guess…The permanent and deep feeling of something missing and broken.”
He considers this for a long moment. “Well,” he says dryly, “I’m glad you decided to join us.”
“Wasn’t _my_ decision,” I drawl, but don’t bother to explain myself. I crack open my eyes to peer up at Ran, offering him a smirk.
“Feh,” is his response, and silence descends between us. He thinks about the bond, I think about Farfarello and Nagi. “So what does it mean?” he asks at last. “What happens now?”
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself, and I shrug at him again. “That depends.” He waits for me to continue, purple eyes studying me, searching my eyes for answers. “I don’t know how to take it down,” I admit, even though Nagi’s told him that already. I think it’ll sink in more if I repeat it, if a telepath tells him, than just my teammate sulkily delivering the news. “It’s here for good. What happens depends on how we decide to react to it.”
Ran nods, just a small gesture of his head. I turn my eyes to the ceiling. “The first thing is that we can ignore it.” I don’t bother to add ‘for as long as possible,’ though that’s really what I mean. Ran reassured himself earlier that time would make the odd feeling of separation fade. He’s wrong…It’ll never go away, but there’s the chance of it growing stable and remaining where it is now if we don’t touch it, if we distance ourselves from each other. “You won’t be able to forget it,” I warn him. “It’ll always be there. You’ll always be aware that we’re connected, and now and then there’s the chance I’ll slip or you’ll touch the bond and you’ll hear me. I’ll always hear you- the distance makes no difference to me. But we can pretend it doesn’t exist. The only way it would work is if we actually made an effort to pretend. I would never contact you again and our paths would never cross. Easy enough.”
It’d be easy for him, anyway, since he’s not the telepath who has a 24/7 connection. But Ran’s the one that has the most weight on this bond, so what he does will affect everything.
“That’s the one choice,” I tell him, giving him a few moments to consider it. It goes along with what he’s been telling himself to do, what he’s been saying will happen. “If we do that, the bond should stay as it is and shouldn’t sink any deeper.”
“How deep is it?” he wants to know.
I send him a slanted look. “Deeper than it should be, thank you very much.”
It’s not an accusation, but he still frowns at me. “You make it sound as if it’s my fault it’s there.”
I laugh at him for his ignorance, laugh at the both of us for this mess we’re in. I sit up, tilting my head towards him. Hair spills over my shoulders and into my face and I gaze at him through the orange locks, amusement dancing in my eyes and my mouth curved into a wry smirk. “I put it there,” I inform him. “You made it what it is now.” He offers me a blank look in response.
I lift my hand, poking him in the chest with my broken fingers and pretending it doesn’t hurt to do so. The medicine hasn’t quite kicked in, and I regret the movement as soon as I’ve done it. “The bond reacts to thoughts and emotions,” I say. “What we think about the other and how we react to the other changes it. It can’t be broken; it can only be pulled tighter. The reason you’ve been feeling out of sorts this week is because you’ve tugged the bond deeper.”
“But how?” he wants to know, frowning at this revelation.
“Because of your sister,” I answer easily. “The night you found out about your sister created the biggest change. Because she’s so important to you, what was being done with her took the bond and gave it an enormous wrench. The truth about Farfarello,” and I lift my hand to the collar, “may have softened things, but when you were given back your sister and told about Kritiker’s betrayal, you just dug us deeper together. Your loyalties shifted that night…Your gratitude and your ecstasy over being returned the girl has been changing the bond ever since.”
He thinks about this for a long moment, weighing what I’ve told him and trying to figure out the consequences of it. This is all new for him, whereas I’ve been thinking about it most of the day. Now I have to walk him through the truth. What he does with it isn’t up to me- not for the time being, however.
“What’s the second choice?” he asks at last.
“The other thing we can do is accept it’s there,” I tell him breezily, reaching up to try and brush my hair out of my face. The cast makes it awkward; the strands keep sliding down the surface to dangle free once more. I give it two tries and give up. As I lower my hand, Ran reaches out and pushes the hair aside for me.
I don’t think he notices he’s done it. He’s already started slipping, I realize. When he’s this close, I can almost sense it. I wonder how to react to that. I wonder what I should feel, staring at him and realizing that the bond is far from being stable, that it has quite a ways still to drop and it’s going to. And if he slips any further…if he chooses to let go and fall…it won’t be long before the bond pulls me down after him.
“And what does that mean?” He sounds hesitant, as if he’s afraid to ask. He doesn’t know the answer, but he can guess, and it makes him nervous. I study him for a long moment in silence, my smirk fading to a smooth expression. His eyes are guarded; mine serious.
“That means that you stay,” I tell him simply.
Silence follows that statement. Ran’s eyes drop to the sheets as he turns this news over in his mind, as he tries to figure out all connotations of my words. The drugs are kicking in; the numbness is spreading. I lower myself back to the mattress, burying my face into a pillow. /It’s not like you have a clock ticking to make a decision,/ I tell him, a yawn lacing the mental words. /You don’t have forever, but you have a while. You might as well sleep on it./
“You think I’ll be able to sleep?” Ran asks softly.
I just grin, though he can’t see the expression. He may not be able to sleep, but I know he’s going to stay the night here. He’s got a lot of thinking to do, and this is a serious enough issue that I think he wants to stay where the answers are when he comes up with more questions. If they’re important enough questions for him, I have no doubt he’ll wake me up in the middle of the night to demand an answer.
But around the pokes I’m sure are to come, I know that _I’m_ going to sleep well, and it won’t just be the drugs doing it.
I’m woken only once, around five in the morning. I’m tugged from deep sleep to consciousness by a light shake to my shoulder, pulled out of a dreamless yet content rest by both the physical contact and the knowledge that Ran wants me. I crack open tired eyes, searching for him, and find him sprawled out on his spot of the bed. As my eyes slowly focus, I can see the frown curving his lips. He draws his hand back when he knows I’m awake, and we study each other in silence for a long moment.
“Tell me you woke me for a good reason,” I grumble at him when he continues to say nothing.
He looks away, lowering his eyes to where his hand is curled in front of him. “What about Aya?” he asks at last.
That girl definitely does not rank on my list of good reasons to be woken up at five in the morning. “What about her?” I want to know, though it’s pretty obvious. Ran has been living for his sister for three years. Now she is awake, and he’s not going to abandon her after all this time. She has a lot of therapy to go to; she’ll be dependant on him for many months. Eventually she’ll move on to other things, like school, but until then, Ran isn’t going to want to leave her.
“I can’t leave her,” he answers, echoing my mental conviction. “She still needs me.”
She needs a lot of things, but I don’t bother naming any of them to Ran. I don’t think he’d appreciate them, and I’m too tired to deal with the resulting pissy mood it would bring. I contemplate falling asleep on Ran, because I’m not interested in talking about his sister, and figure it wouldn’t do me any good. He’d probably wake me back up.
Part of my tired mind wonders why Ran is even bringing her up.
“Yeah?” I finally say, swallowing the rest of what could be a rude response.
Ran falls silent again. I let one eye fall closed, keeping the other on him because I know he’s not done. He is quiet for a long time, and right when I’ve decided that I either have to make him say something else or I’m going to pass out, he moves. I watch him as he sits up, letting my eye slide open again. He rakes his fingers through his hair, a slight frown on his mouth as he thinks. Then he turns back to me, searching my face in the darkness.
“She needs me…” he says again, and he slides from the bed.
It’s his way of saying farewell. He hasn’t waited for his sister to walk again for three years just to abandon her now. He’s choosing Aya over the bond, picking door number one and deciding to try and keep the link between us stable and as platonic as possible. I suppose I can’t really blame him; it’s not like I really expected him to choose anything else. I wonder if I would be pissed at him if he had chosen to walk away from his sister after I spent so much time and anger on her, or if I would find it terribly amusing to finally be the first choice.
And for a moment I think I would be really happy if one of us fell, if only because the other wouldn’t be long in dropping after and then that girl would be put in her place where she belongs. I don’t think it would take much of a push to get Ran over that edge, and I struggle with the temptation of doing it just for my own personal revenge over the vegetable. She was in Farfarello’s thoughts at the end, and now she is what is making Ran choose to walk away.
He woke me up, bringing up Aya, because she’s the only thing keeping him from staying.
“As you like, Red,” I tell him when I realize he’s waiting for a response.
He lingers a moment longer, as if unsure about what he’s doing. I beckon to him, rolling over onto my stomach and leaning over the side of the bed. He obediently comes around the side, and I reach under the bed, fingers straining as I search for something. I finally find it, and drag it out, letting it sit on the floor so Ran has to fetch it. He lowers himself to his knees, picking up the bottle and turning it over in his hands, trying to figure out what it is.
I lean forward. “A goodbye gift,” I murmur in his ear.
He realizes what it is then and looks up, startled. I can’t resist, and I kiss him. He doesn’t push me away; he didn’t push me away the last time and he doesn’t do it now. He doesn’t know how to react; he doesn’t know what to do. I think he’s afraid to do anything.
He doesn’t taste like cinnamon, but he tastes good all the same.
I draw back, pretending I don’t see the dazed look on his face, and roll so my back is facing him. It is a long moment before he gets to his feet, and I hide my smirk against my pillow where he can’t see it. When he finally leaves the room I crack my eyes open, sliding my hand across the mattress to the dent on the other side of the bed. His spot is warm.
Payback’s a bitch, girlie.
I find myself at Yohji’s doorstep, though how I got there I don’t know. I don’t even realize I’ve knocked; I just suddenly recognize his door and then it’s swinging open. I’ve woken my teammate up. He squints at me in the darkness, trying to stir his tired mind enough to figure out who is bothering him. His hair is messed up from sleep and his sleeping pants hang dangerously low on his hips. He blinks a couple times, then frowns, finally awake enough to know who’s here.
“Aya?” he asks.
I don’t answer; I just stare up at him. I don’t know why I’m here. I suppose it was an instinctive retreat to the only other person who might understand me- even if the last time I saw him was when he finally figured out what was going on. But what am I supposed to say to him? I don’t think he could handle the news of me being bonded to Schuldich…It’s going to be hard enough for him to accept that I was staying with the German.
“Aya, what’s wrong?”
Everything. Where should I start?
He reaches out towards me and I flinch away from his touch, fingers tightening on the bottle in my hands. “I’m going to make breakfast,” I tell him. “What do you want to eat?”
He frowns, confused and concerned. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” It’s an obvious lie. After a hard stare, Yohji finally steps aside and lets me in. I head straight to his kitchen, quick strides carrying me there. The bottle is switched to one hand so I can dig through his cabinets with the other. Yohji appears in the doorway a few moments later, a bathrobe wound around him. I ignore him, shaking fingers rummaging through the food Yohji has. I have a better selection at my own apartment, but that’s because I know how to cook more than Yohji can. Finally I pick something- anything. It’s not like I’m hungry.
I just need to do something. I just need to not think for a moment, but I don’t think that’s possible.
“This?” I ask Yohji, looking towards him for his approval but staring through him. I really don’t think he’s going to argue with me right now, so it doesn’t matter that I don’t see his nod. I’m aware of him staring at me as I work. I do everything one handed; five fingers are clenched around the neck of a bottle. It’s what Schuldich was drinking the first time he kissed me.
Why did he kiss me again?
“Aya, perhaps you should sit down…” Yohji suggests softly. “You look a bit…” He searches for the right word but apparently can’t find a kinder way to put it: “…fragile.”
I ignore his words, digging around to find a pan. I find the one I need only to drop it, and my fingers are shaking too badly to pick it back up. I abandon it for the moment, crouching beside it. My hand goes to my mouth instead, my fingers covering tingling lips.
Schuldich needs me, Nagi said. He wants me at the apartment. And Schuldich offered the chance to move back in with them. I should consider it absurd; I should wonder at why anyone would move back in there. My time with Nagi was made up of hostile silence and my time with Schuldich was mostly made up of fiery remarks and sarcastic comments. Schuldich gave me my sister back and cut me loose, giving me the chance to live with my sister and be free once more. But in the end, what was he freeing me from? And the consequences of it…The bond is still there, and Schuldich says it can’t be taken down. Whether I move out to live with my sister, wherever we end up going, Schuldich and I are still tied together. The restless nagging that has bothered me all week will always be there if I choose my sister over Schuldich.
But how could I choose otherwise? Aya is my sister. She is my family. I adore her and love her; I have been waiting for her to wake up for three years. Now she is awake, and we can have a life again. She needs me and I need her, and I refuse to just let her go.
But I can’t have both…I can’t stay with Schuldich because I won’t give up Aya. And by staying with Aya, I’m giving up Schuldich- but not completely, because I can’t. Because we’re bound together. Because by the two choices, it will take serious work to keep the bond where it is now, a dull throb in the back of my thoughts, or it will bring us closer together if we slip.
But how far?
‘You stay,’ Schuldich had said.
This bond was what tied Schuldich and Farfarello together. Just the thought of what it could do to Schuldich and me makes me dizzy. And at the same time, I can’t help but wonder. This back and forth kept me awake all night- even though I knew what I was going to choose, there was still the “what if?”. I don’t know what it’s like to have someone; I’ve watched my teammates date and I’ve seen both Schuldich and Yohji’s reactions to their lost ones. I’ve wondered, these past two months, what it was like to have someone like that. I told myself that it would never happen.
And last night I thought, ‘But you _could_…’
…because Schuldich and I are bound together.
And the thought…doesn’t bother me, not like I almost think it should. Any words to myself that it would not be a wise thing to do were burned away when Schuldich kissed me goodbye.
There’s a part of me that wants it, wants to accept it. There’s a large part of me that is just sick of being alone, a part of me that wants someone to still be there when Aya has moved on. That someone is right there, if I choose him. If I accept this strange twist of fate, if I accept the bond, if I move back in, what would it be like? Schuldich has offered it to me. He knows what it would mean if I stayed. Nagi knows what it would mean, and he’s the one that brought me back to the apartment.
‘You don’t want me there,’ I reminded Nagi.
I don’t know what to do.
In the end, I want them both, but I don’t think it’s possible.
“I think I need to sit down somewhere,” I suddenly say. I can feel Yohji’s hands on my shoulders, where he is offering silent comfort. He doesn’t respond; maybe he nods and I miss it. I let him help me to my feet and he leads me out of the kitchen, leaving the abandoned attempts at a breakfast behind. He sits me in his chair and retreats, giving me enough space to think without retreating out of a comforting range. I stare down at the bottle, where I have gripped it once more between two hands.
How could Schuldich ask me to choose?
This time I’m woken by Nagi, and I treat him to the same glare I had prepared for Ran last night before I realized it was him. He is unbothered by the look, staring down at me from beside the bed. He lifts a hand, pointing towards the other side of the mattress. “Where did he go?” he wants to know.
“Away,” I answer.
I scowl at him, not appreciating the interrogation when he’s just woken me up. I look for the clock; it’s not even six yet. Ran hasn’t even been gone an hour. “What are you doing up so early?” I demand, scrubbing at my eyes and rolling over onto my back. “More importantly, what are you doing waking _me_ up so early?”
“I’ve been awake since the cats went off a little after five,” comes his fluid retort, and he crosses his arms over his chest. “I couldn’t tell what they were whining about. Now I know.” He tilts his head towards Ran’s side of the bed. Ran must have disturbed the cats when he left.
“Does this conversation have a point or can I go back to sleep now?” I ask.
“Why did he leave?” he insists, returning to the question I didn’t answer.
“You didn’t think he would stay, did you?” I ask, offering him a condescending look. “News flash, his veggie is awake now. He’s gone to tend to her. He won’t stay here while he’s got her.” I shrug, tugging at the covers as if I don’t care in the least what Ran chose to do. Under the nonchalant words, though, I seek out Ran’s mind. His thoughts are running in little rabid circles and I follow them, listening to the mess I’ve made with last night’s announcement and this morning’s farewell. I’m satisfied by it, even as I’m amused at his complete indecision.
Right now, Ran can’t pick one or the other. He’s at a dead end. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself for managing to rank even with his sister, and a smug smirk twitches at my lips.
Nagi reaches out and gives me a push. “Bring him back,” he says simply.
I eye him. “For someone who hates his guts, you sure are gung-ho about getting him back in this apartment.”
He scowls at me. “You screwed up again,” he says simply. “I’m cleaning up. It’s _always_ been my job to clean up behind your messes, and this one happens to be one of your bigger ones. Do me a favor and at least _try_ to help straighten things out.”
“Would you have me kill his sister?” I ask. “Because right now, that’s the only thing that might bring him back.”
“We have a third bedroom,” Nagi reminds me. What he’s implying is lost on me for a moment; I stare up at him in incomprehension. Then it dawns on me and I sit up, glaring at him for even suggesting it. Nagi meets my glare with one of his own, unbothered by my indignant anger and speaking before I can bite out a flat denial. “You haven’t been sleeping this week,” he says. “You haven’t been concentrating on anything. I’m not stupid. I know it’s that bond. And I saw him when you were in the emergency room, so I know it’s bothering him as well.”
“Nagi-” I start.
He interrupts me, leaning forward to put our faces close together. “Look me in the eye and tell me you want him to pick his sister over you.”
The denial dies on my lips.
“Look me in the eye, and tell me if you can, Schuldich, that you would have made him leave after she woke up. Tell me that he actually wanted to leave when he did. He wants to come back and you want him here.”
“And you?” I ask.
“I like his cooking,” comes the edged response. “So do us all a favor and go get him.”
I gaze at him through hooded lids. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re nosy and pushy?” I ask. He doesn’t answer; refusing to back down. Finally I look away, raking my fingers through my hair with a “Ch’.”
Nagi eyes me a moment longer before straightening. “I want a hot breakfast for this,” he says.
I offer him a rude gesture as a response, shoving aside my covers and sliding out of bed. I’m still dressed in what I wore yesterday, because the first time I climbed into bed last night I wasn’t planning on passing out so deeply. I shuffle out of the room and Nagi follows, making sure I actually go to the door. The kittens are fed and sleeping already, curled up in the living room. I tug on my shoes and look over my shoulder at Nagi.
Our eyes meet across the hall, two shades of blue judging each other. And finally I offer him the faintest of grins and he sighs in response, muttering something about regretting this the rest of his life. With that, I leave him, stepping through the door. I lace my hands behind my head the best I can when I’m wearing two small casts as I wait for the elevator, humming a broken tune I can’t remember the name of. When it comes, I am the only passenger, and I ride down to the lobby in silence. I search for Ran’s mind; he has been sitting with his teammate but the thought of seeing his sister is starting to form in his mind.
I reach the hospital just a breath before he does, staring down at his sister. She is awake, and she blinks up at me in mild confusion. She knows I’m not the hospital staff, but she does not recognize me. I study her for a long moment, ignoring her first inquiry towards my name. I wonder if it would be possible to live with her, to bring her into our apartment and let her have Crawford’s room like Nagi suggests. Can I live with her?
Several months down the road, she will be fully recovered from this ordeal, and she will not be so dependant on Ran. She’ll move on to college like Ran keeps thinking, and then their lives will take separate paths. If I can survive until that point, then Ran is mine for keeps.
I have a feeling it will be a serious test of my self-control.
But when Ran steps into the room, when he freezes midstep and his thoughts come to a grinding halt, when I turn around to face him and offer him a lazy smirk in greeting, I think…
It just might be worth it.
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