Schreient’s place of choice is the research facility Masafumi has been kept at. I don’t waste but half a second to confirm that they’re there. It’s not like there is anywhere else they could have gone. The drive there is made in silence. We had to separate Nagi and Farfarello, putting Nagi in the passenger seat and me sitting in back. It’s not like the space will keep them from hurting each other, not when Nagi’s a telekinetic, but it’s still something. Farfarello is toying with his knives, a cold smile on his lips as he stares out his window. Nagi is sitting tense in the front seat, his hands clenched on his pants legs. I make the wise decision not to share with him any of the fantasies Farfarello is having involving Tot’s death; I think the boy would kill the both of us if I were to pass on such bloody images.
There’s an explosion at the far side of the building as we pull up, and Nagi is out of the car before it has come to a complete stop. “Oi,” I call after him, but he doesn’t stop to hear what I have to say. For a short little kid, he can move, and he races across the yard in search of his precious blue haired fluff. Farfarello moves as if to go after him, and I grab his elbow to stop him. Crawford hasn’t called Nagi back, so I suppose our Irishman has to wait a moment.
Farfarello frowns at me and I give him a small smirk. “Let the lovebirds say goodbye,” I tell him, straying towards Nagi’s mind even as I say it.
/Are you watching him?/ I ask Crawford, glancing up front. He meets my eyes briefly in the rearview mirror.
~We have much more important players to work with right now,~ is his answer.
It’s his way of saying that he will trust Nagi not to do anything stupid. I consider this and then nod in understanding. Crawford said that the night Takatori almost killed me was the night that Nagi realized his loyalties… I will just have to trust that vision and his words. I let go of Farfarello and we slide out of the car, approaching the facility. I doubt they’ll notice our arrival. With the explosions going on and Weiss in the midst, Schreient isn’t going to realize that we’ve come. More fool them.
We let ourselves in and I reach out, brushing everyone nearby. The chaos is coming closer as Weiss forces the fight this way. I can find Fujimiya Aya, and I pass her location along to Crawford. She’s on the second floor of this building. We pass Masafumi’s chambers on our way, and I spare his ugly, deformed body a glance as we go by. By the time we have reached the top of the stairwell the front door crashes open. We pause at the top of the stairs, Crawford’s hand on the doorknob, and watch as everyone eventually spills into the room. Tot is fighting with Schreient. She may have been unbroken by Nagi but Hoffmann’s touch lingers and the presence of the women’s team is enforcing it. She will fight for Masafumi. It is what they have told her they are doing. She knows nothing else, nothing except that Weiss wants to destroy everything and Nagi is trying to keep her from fighting.
Kudou manages to get her ridiculous umbrella away from her and tightens his wire, ready to cut her throat open with it. Nagi comes hurtling forward, shoving Tot out of the way. Kudou, sentimental git that he is, hesitates to watch them. “Don’t fight,” he pleads with her. “Don’t fight.”
Like not fighting will save her… I utter a rueful sigh for Nagi’s naiveté and follow behind my team into the room. I make my way to the girl’s bed, studying her unconscious form a moment to make sure she hasn’t been harmed. Satisfied, I scoop her up in my arms. She hangs limp, completely dead, like some sort of wet noodle. It’s kind of disgusting, actually.
Schoen chooses that moment to come flying through the doorway, and she comes to a dead halt when she sees us here.
“We’re going to be taking her,” Crawford informs her easily, ignoring the strangled sound she makes. “You wanted her to lure Weiss here. You have them now.” He lifts one shoulder in a careless shrug. “She is of no further use to you.”
“Give her back! That’s our last card! Weiss can’t fight us if we use her as a shield!”
I offer her a chilling smirk. Her eyes bounce from Crawford to me, desperate, furious. The sound of fighting carries through the door as she struggles with Crawford’s words. In the distance I hear Tot give a cry of pain, followed by Nagi’s voice. I can’t make out the words from here, just the strangled tone. “You no longer have the strength to defeat Weiss.”
Farfarello lifts his knife to his lips, testing the edge. His eye is glowing as he studies her, and she licks her lips nervously. He takes a few steps forward and she, in turn, takes a few steps back. Crawford and I move forward as well, forcing her back through the doorway onto the landing. “We will!” she insists. “We will defeat them and you will return Masafumi’s body to normal, just like you promised.”
I give a snort at that. Crawford offers her his ghost of a smirk as Schwarz steps out of the room. “Did you really think that he could be fixed?” he wants to know.
As he’s speaking, Farfarello thrusts his knife forward, flinging it past Schoen. She whirls around to watch it, giving a cry when she realizes what’s about to happen. Her hand flies out as if somehow she could catch the weapon, but it is already too late. Farfarello’s blade cuts right through Masafumi’s test tube home and the glass shatters under the impact. Liquid goes spilling everywhere and Masafumi goes sagging to the ground. Chizuru screeches his name in horrified alarm.
“What have you done?” Schoen cries, whirling back around to face us.
She finds herself facing Crawford’s gun. “You’ve touched something you never should have messed with,” I tell her.
“We have no need for Schreient anymore,” Crawford adds, pulling the trigger. She goes flying back under the close range impact. Beyond the deafening crack, Chizuru’s scream is on a repeat as she clutches Masafumi against her. The battle has stopped and Weiss watches as Chizuru begs for Masafumi to be all right, pleads with him to open his eyes. Schwarz watches her with scorn from the railing. At the base of the stairs, Nagi and Tot stand side by side, watching Chizuru as well. Tot is holding onto her left bicep, her knuckles white.
She chooses that moment to look up and spot the rest of us. I can feel the fractures in her mind; the edges of Hoffmann’s gift that had her so tightly wound to Masafumi are yanking at everything Nagi has worked so hard on. Nagi may have gotten her this far but that was before Masafumi was killed, and what is left of the empath’s hold is tearing away at her. She recognizes the girl in my arms and cries out, hurtling herself towards the stairs. “No! Give her back!”
“Tot!” Nagi makes a desperate grab for her and just barely misses. I cannot take my eyes from his face as he watches her evade his grab by less than an inch. I watch the horror in his eyes, watch the way the blood has drained from his face. He knows what’s coming, and he can’t do a damn thing to stop it. He takes a step towards the stairs, perhaps thinking to chase after Tot and grab her back, but it’s already too late.
“Give her back!”
Farfarello moves to meet her, his blade out, and drives the long sword straight through her middle. She gives a gurgled sound, sagging over the weapon, her hands going to her abdomen. Her mouth opens soundlessly and blood dribbles out, dripping towards the ground. “You’re in the way,” Farfarello tells her, and gives a violent yank. Nagi cries out her name as her small body goes flying backwards, tumbling down the stairs. She hits the ground with a thud and he dives towards her, dropping to his knees beside her to gather her into his arms.
Once upon a time, Nagi wouldn’t have let Tot slip out of his reach. Once upon a time he would have hit Farfarello with his gift to keep her alive, drawing the line and picking her over us. To protect the one he loves…
Crawford forced him to do otherwise. He forced him to realize just how much Schwarz means to him, forced him to stop pretending he doesn’t care and realize that we are important. And Nagi saw it; he saw it and he realized that somewhere along the way he has come to care enough for us that he would die for us. So today… He grabbed and he missed. He may have strong feelings for Tot but he belongs to us; his soul has belonged to us for years but he didn’t realize it until recently.
You can never be hurt so much as when you’re stupid enough to start caring for someone else.
“Tot…” It’s a choked sound as he runs his fingers over her face, brushing her bangs out of the way before sending a horrified look towards the blood that is spreading so rapidly across her middle. The white assassins are as still as stone, watching with something akin to disbelief. They know Nagi’s one of ours. They know Tot isn’t, but I suppose they still didn’t expect us to off someone Nagi so obviously cares about.
She offers Nagi a weak little smile, murmuring something that I can’t catch from here, and sags in his arms, her eyes falling closed. That mind that has been annoying me for so long finally blinks out, and I can’t stop a brief twitching of my lips into a satisfied little smirk.
“Tot…” He gives her a small little shake, lifting one hand to pat at her cheek. “Tot, no…” The air is starting to crackle around him as he leans forward, tugging her limp body tight up against him. I study the colors that are starting to dance in the air around him with a small bit of interest and a tiny bit of alarm. I consider what happened the last time we told one of our teammates that the one they loved was going to die and decide that the colors are not a good thing. “Don’t die…Don’t die!”
The first wave of his gift goes rolling out in all directions. I’m not one hundred percent sure he knows he’s released it, but the entire building shakes as if it’s an earthquake. I stumble and Crawford steadies me, his free hand flying to the railing. I hear glass shattering all around us as the wave takes out windows and test tubes alike, and a chandelier goes flying past us to explode against the floor.
No, this is definitely not a good thing.
Our samurai picks that moment to look up at us, and his eyes widen when he sees who I’m holding. “Aya!” he cries out, taking a step forward. The ground gives another lurch and he stumbles.
I look towards Crawford, lifting an eyebrow at him. “I think we should go,” I say.
We have to find a different way out; it would be very unhealthy to walk past Nagi right now. Chizuru is still crying against Masafumi, so I pluck the layout of the place from her and pass it to Crawford. He nods and starts away, and Farfarello and I follow after him, heading off down the second floor. Ran yells after us to wait, but we ignore him, of course.
Nagi screams then, a wordless sound of utter grief, and the walls around us implode. I snarl a curse at Nagi’s bad timing as we’re forced to pick up speed. We’re leaving him behind because it’s not like we can bring him with us in the state he’s in now. He knows the way back to the flat. When he’s a bit more sane, he’ll come trailing back to us, and things will go on like they were before, though I suppose he’s going to be really pissed at Farfarello for a long time to come.
He does not come back before we go to sleep. Crawford places a call to the Council to let them know that Aya has been returned to Ikida and that Schreient has been taken care of. Hoffmann accepts the report with satisfaction, dinner is eaten with just three people, and then we retire to bed for the night. I fall asleep with the confident thought that Nagi will be back by morning.
One eye cracks open to offer the window a baleful glare. The sun glows happily back, probably amused as all hell. For a long time I didn’t have to worry about it. After Adashi moved in I moved into Crawford’s room, and that’s where I stayed after Crawford woke up. The rooms at Takatori’s had windows on the western side of the building. It’s just since we’ve gotten back here that I’m back to this very old yet very familiar game of Morning Versus Schuldich. I considered getting Nagi to push my bed out of the way before deciding that it was better this way, that it would give me incentive to try harder with Crawford. The quicker I snap him out of Hoffmann’s induced indifference, the sooner I’ll be back in that room and I won’t have to worry about this anymore.
I push myself up in bed, brushing my bangs out of my face, and flip my window the bird before finally getting to my feet. My head hurts like a bitch, but I can’t remember what I had been dreaming. Dreams weren’t as frequent when I was with Crawford. His shield seemed to mute what filtered through to me. My dreams are getting worse, however. Ever since I shaved my mind to protect Schwarz’s true intentions from Hoffmann’s touch, I’m getting pulled in too many directions at night. Muttering dark things under my breath about how the precognitive isn’t worth everything I’ve done for him, I push myself to my feet and pad towards the door. I lift my hands to my head, massaging my temples, and step out into the hall. Crawford is freshly up; I almost bump into him as I’m stepping out my door. I offer him a yawn as a good morning, trailing behind him towards the kitchen for our coffee.
I register the familiar feel of Nagi’s mind right as I’ve reached the doorway. I’m not surprised that he’s back, though I’m surprised that he’s awake this early. I didn’t know what time he would return but I figured he would lock himself in his room once he got here. His mental shields are still up but I know he’s there, and I lower my hands from where I was rubbing my forehead to offer him a greeting when I step into the kitchen.
The words die on my lips.
Two people are sitting silently at the table, and they watch us carefully as we enter. Crawford doesn’t skip a beat but continues on towards the coffee pot. I’m not so good at shrugging off resurrected bunny girls, however, and I freeze in my tracks. I remember to shut my mouth and my lips pull in an uncomprehending frown as I stare across the room. Tot is sitting to Nagi’s right, toying with a mug of hot tea. She looks uncomfortable under my scrutiny and glances towards Nagi for some reassurance. His eyes are on me, his face smooth, and he lifts his own mug to take a sip from it.
Crawford has poured me a cup of coffee as well and he carries both mugs to the table. Tot inches closer to Nagi when the precognitive sits, nervous eyes studying the American who is now sitting across from her. She doesn’t know much about Schwarz. All she knows is that Schreient hated us. I’m not sure what all Nagi has told her about us, but I doubt it was much. He isn’t stupid enough to go opening his mouth about us, even if it was to Tot. He had to be careful for a long time because he wasn’t sure how much of it Tot would repeat to her team. Crawford beckons to my mug and I remember how to move, crossing the room and seating myself beside the Oracle. This puts Tot to my right and I put her under heavy scrutiny. She stares back, gently worrying on her lower lip with her teeth.
/Tell me you didn’t see this coming,/ I say, finally shifting my eyes away from Tot to study Crawford.
~I left Nagi to his own devices,~ is his answer.
True. Crawford had told me he would let Nagi deal with this on his own. We had far more important things to worry about. Nagi’s mental state is important but we were playing with the key piece for our rebellion and freedom last night. We were trusting Nagi not to destroy things for us. I flick green eyes towards Tot once more before turning my attention on Nagi. He stares back calmly, as if there is nothing wrong or unusual about all of this.
/She’s supposed to be dead, you know./ I tell him, as if he wasn’t there when Farfarello ran her through. /I felt her mind die./
He tilts his head up slightly, a small gesture of defiance. Both of us are watching him, and he looks from one to the other, settling for keeping his gaze on Crawford’s face. ~I found a way,~ he says simply. ~I told you there had to be one. I found it. That means I can keep her.~
/What the hell did you do?/
~I stole Ikida’s serum,~ is his easy answer, completely unrepentant. ~He made six samples, and he only needs one for the ceremony. I took one.~
/When did you find time for that?/ I want to know, arching an eyebrow at him. /You didn’t go to the hospital before we left./
~I’ve been there enough times,~ he says, finally looking back at me. ~I know what his office looks like. I know where he keeps them.~
I say nothing for several moments, considering this. Nagi reached his power across town to the hospital, using his telekinesis to grab and retrieve one of the syringes. A small frown curves my lips. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked. Nagi has barely begun to touch upon the things he can do with his gift. He is a rank eight telekinetic, but he only uses enough of his gift that he works about the same as a four. I have no clue what all an eight can do with his gift; Mosuli is on the same level but I have thankfully never seen the full extent of his gift. I can’t help but be impressed with what Nagi’s done, even if I don’t want to be.
~Ikida won’t notice,~ he continues, not realizing that what he’s done is very special. ~He told me a while ago that he would be Estet’s research facility, making sure it was equipped to take care of Fujimiya Aya when they are ready to move her there. I have time to put something else there before he realizes he is missing one. He won’t notice that it isn’t real; he only needs one more and he’ll take it from the front of the batch.~
I give a small shake of my head and point at Tot, who is watching us with obvious unease. Her fingers play with her mug, turning it around and around on the table. /You shot her,/ I say.
~I didn’t know if it would work.~ His eyes go to Tot, and she gives him a nervous little smile at his glance. ~But it was worth a try. And it did work.~
/Jesus./ I rub at my temples, trying to digest this. I turn Nagi’s words over in my head, struggling to figure out a way to react. /The Council thinks she’s dead. Crawford reported to them that she was, so they expect her to be. What are they going to do when they find out that she’s still alive, when they find out what you’ve done? They’re not going to be happy. Not to mention that Farfarello is going to be less than pleased…/
~I wasn’t going to let her die,~ Nagi says, a flat edge riding his voice.
No one says anything for a long moment. I glance towards Crawford, who is thinking this over in silence. Nagi reaches out, giving Tot a reassuring touch to the back of her hand. Her smile is a bit more sure now, and she twists her hand to lace her fingers through his. I skim against Tot’s mind, feeling how much it has changed since the first time we ran into her. She doesn’t really understand what’s going on. All she remembers is being shot, and then waking up in the rubble of the building with Nagi beside her. He brought her back here, but he hasn’t really told her what’s happening.
~The Council wants her dead,~ Crawford says, finally adding something to the conversation. Nagi’s fingers tighten on Tot’s hands and he looks back towards Crawford, a hint of alarm on his face. Before he can say anything, our leader speaks again. ~As it is, she is still alive, and if the serum worked for last night then it is highly unlikely we can just kill her this morning. However.~ His eyes flick to Tot before turning on me. ~They need to think she is dead.~
/The only way to do that is to shut her down,/ I respond.
~To do what?~ Nagi wants to know, giving each of us a searching look.
/They don’t need to know that she’s still here,/ I tell Nagi. /The divides Hoffmann put in her are gone; they vanished when you managed to put her back together. They came back last night because of Masafumi and Schreient, but everyone that had a tie to her is gone now. That means at the moment he has nothing to alert him that she’s still breathing. If he decides to take a peek towards Schwarz, however, he’ll be able to pick up on her aura and know that she’s alive, and then there’s going to be hell to pay. If you want to keep her so badly, then I have to shut her down until this is all over./
~What does that mean?~ He doesn’t like the sound of it.
/It’s like sleep, but a lot deeper. Think of Fujimiya Aya- it is something like that. It is turning her off so that Hoffmann can’t tell she’s still here. We can wake her up again once this is all over./ He’s frowning at me, and I arch an eyebrow at him. /If you want her, then this is what we have to do. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. Either I shut her down or Hoffmann is going to show up here to deal with all of us. Make the decision now./
He hesitates, worrying over the idea. After several long moments of thought, he asks, ~You’re sure you can wake her up again? It won’t hurt her, will it?~
I lift one shoulder in a shrug, picking up my coffee mug to take a long swallow from it. /She won’t have a clue that anything’s happened. It’s like taking a long nap, but she won’t realize any time has passed./
He bites down on his lower lip, giving it some serious thought. I know what his answer is going to be, and I slide my gift through Tot’s mind, reaching deep down until I find the center. At last Nagi nods, and before the gesture is even completed, Tot sags in her chair. All it takes is one strong push and she’s down and out for the count. Her sudden collapse startles Nagi; he’s out of his chair in an instant, grabbing at her shoulders to steady her. Her mug goes falling to the floor, shattering and spilling everywhere. Nagi looks over his shoulder at me with wide eyes.
I offer him a thin smile. /What did you want, a moment to explain this all to her? We have no time to act and her reaction to anything you said could have drawn Hoffmann’s attention./ I flick my fingers in dismissal. /Go put her away somewhere before Farfarello wakes up./
He hesitates, then gives a nod and eases her out of her chair. She hangs limp in his arms, her head lolled to one side to rest against his chest, and I study the two of them in silence. I wonder how he ever managed to see something in her, how what she used to be could have ever gotten his attention enough that he is so firmly attached to her now. The changes that have made her more real, more human, are all recent but he has been fascinated by her since long before then. I wonder if he could always see through her, always see through to the girl she was supposed to be, and wonder how in the hell he managed to do this to her anyway.
I wonder how she could be worth it, how she could be worth everything Nagi’s just done.
/What the hell do you see in that fluff anyway?/ I ask at last, and Nagi pauses in the doorway of the kitchen to look over his shoulder at me.
~What did he see in you?~ is his easy return, and then he is gone, carrying his precious burden down the hall.
/Oi,/ I snap back, scowling at the empty doorway, and I return to my coffee. I pause with the mug resting against my lip, surveying the two abandoned chairs as I let everything turn over in my mind. Nagi had said there would be a way to keep Tot, and he found it… When all this is said and done, if we manage to survive our confrontation with Estet and the Council, he wanted her to be there when he is free. He wanted her to be there when he has a chance to really live. I sigh into my mug, glancing towards Crawford. He is still studying the doorway, considering all that’s happened. I’m not really sure what to think of this, not really sure how I’m supposed to react.
/I’m never going to understand that kid,/ I tell Crawford.
~Perhaps not,~ is his answer.
I sigh. /Right. I take on the Council and defy them to their faces. Farfarello manages to wake up a monstrous power that has been sleeping for thirteen, fourteen years. Nagi floats a serum across town without having to see it and then destroys an entire research facility. Crawford, on the other hand, just watches as I’m beaten with a golf club and later shrugs it off as necessary. I can definitely see who’s got the short end of the stick here./
He sends a tolerant look at me and I grin at him, reaching out as he’s lifting his mug for another sip. I clap my hand over the top of it, pushing it back down to the table, and rise from my spot. Crawford regards me in silence as I stand over him and I lift one hand to touch his face, fingertips trailing over his cheekbone and his lips. He allows the brush but says nothing, and though there is no hostility in his gaze there is nothing welcoming either.
I offer him a lazy smirk, lifting my other hand from his mug to rest it on the other side of his face. That’s when he moves, lifting his hands to take hold of my wrists. I slide my hands back, curling my fingers in his hair, before he can pull me free.
“You told me I could have this,” I remind him, arching an eyebrow at him. “So I’ll have it. The only reason you’re resisting is because of Hoffmann, and he’s not a good enough reason to stop anything.”
“I know that,” is Crawford’s answer, and he moves his hands to try and untangle my fingers. “It doesn’t change anything.”
I consider his words, hooking a foot around his chair and giving it a tug to pull it back from the table. He knows that the disinterest is solely Hoffmann’s fault, but knowing the reason isn’t enough to just bring the interest back- not immediately, anyway. I seat myself in his lap, making myself comfortable. “Maybe not,” I tell him, smirk widening. “I’ll take what I want. I never said you have to enjoy it.”
He gives me a cool look, giving my hands a tug. “Schuldich,” he starts.
I don’t let him finish, leaning forward to kiss him. It isn’t the nicest of kisses but tenderness is hard to come by these days so it doesn’t matter. I pull my hands free from his hair, free from his grip, and take hold of the back of his skull. He doesn’t respond. He just sits there and lets me kiss him, fighting his own internal battles. The neck of his pajamas shirt is loose and I slide my other hand down it, fingernails running down his back.
I let an image slip across our bond, two bodies tangled, flushed skin and ragged breathing, fingers and mouths and pure, unadulterated lust. He gives a small little jolt as I shove it across our tightest mental link, forcing it down through his mind. /Don’t you remember?/ I purr against his mind.
~It’s not like I’ve forgotten,~ is his response. He reaches up, pushing my face away from his. I bite his finger in retaliation, and before he can do anything else, latch my teeth onto his throat. I feel the shudder run through his frame and I smirk to myself, a hand sliding down the front of his shirt.
/Maybe you haven’t forgotten what happened,/ I tell him easily. /Maybe you just forgot what it feels like./ I lift my head to press another kiss to the corner of his mouth, and with another lazy smirk I slide free of his lap. Crawford regards me in silence, one hand lifting to the teeth marks I’ve left on the side of his neck. /Just trying to be helpful, after all./
~If you want to be helpful, go let Farfarello out of his room for the day,~ is his response.
I laugh at him and start towards the door. A glance back as I’m stepping through the doorway shows his hand still on his neck as he studies his coffee mug in silence. My smirk pulls into more of a grin and I waggle my fingers at Nagi as I pass him in the hall. He is standing a few feet down from the kitchen’s entrance, his arms folded over his chest. He had been on his way back and decided that maybe he didn’t want to join us when he heard my words.
~Are you quite finished?~ he wants to know.
/What can I say?/ I ask breezily, lifting my shoulders in a careless shrug. /I’m a persistent little prick./
~No,~ Nagi says, and I glance over my shoulder at him as I’m almost at Farfarello’s door. He regards me in silence for a few moments, his expression serene and his eyes swirling with something that might be contentment. I tilt my head to one side in question and he offers me a vague little wisp of a smile before turning away. ~You’re just sure there’s a way to keep what you want,~ he tells me, sounding very self-satisfied, and finishes his trek towards the kitchen.
I don’t really have anything to say to that. He vanishes into the kitchen and I look at the door in front of me before glancing down the hall, stretching my mind out towards Nagi’s room. Tot is hard to feel; I can just barely feel her with my gift because she’s been so thoroughly stopped. I turn Nagi’s words over in my head and offer a small sigh to the empty hallway.
I think Nagi’s beat all of us on this one.
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