Part Thirty-One: Need Me

    I’m released early afternoon from the hospital, sent home with a bottle of painkillers and a smile. I pad down the hall with Nagi at my side, eyeing the small cast that covers two fingers. Apparently they got crunched between me and the door and broke. I wiggle my hand, wondering if they’ll hurt when the medication wears off. I’m fairly certain my shoulder’s going to hurt like a bitch…It got dislocated and they had to ram it back into place. And my head…A bandage wraps around my forehead. There’s also a small cast on my other arm, near my wrist. I fractured my forearm, but it’s just a slight crack so it should heal easily and quickly.

    My thoughts are slurred, a result of thick drugs in my system, and I can’t complain. I like being drugged… I like not having to feel anything. I like not being able to think. There’s an edge along my mind from where the painkillers are starting to wear off, but I know I have a good chunk of time yet. I’ll cling to these minutes…There’s a lot I don’t want to think about today.

    I suppose I should be saying I’m lucky to be alive. I suppose I should be returning the smiles the doctors are giving me, grateful that they managed to save me.

    I give the bottle a shake, tossing uneasy thoughts away, and follow Nagi to the stairs. We take them to the first floor and step out into the cold. We wait a moment to adjust to such a sharp change in temperature, and I sigh. Our apartment is close enough that we can walk back, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy to do it. Damn, my car…The doctors told me it was totaled, that the wreck took out the entire back end. I need a car if I’m supposed to go to work, if I’m supposed to go places…Not that I can go back to work with broken bones.

    Maybe I should look for a new job. It would make Nagi happy, and maybe there are less straining jobs in the city that would pay better. There’s so much out there. All I have to do is look, and when I find what I want, it’s no trouble at all to get it. Maybe I can find something where it wouldn’t matter that I have broken bones, though I’m not sure what kind of work I’d look for.

    Nagi asks if I want to take a bus back to the apartment so I don’t have to walk, drugged and injured, across the city. I wave it off; it’d take about the same time no matter which way we go because of traffic, and I’m not in the mood for the kind of company that I’d get on the bus. So we set off and the wind pushes against us as we go. I glance down at Nagi when I see him shiver, as he isn’t wearing a coat.

    “You’re not very intelligent,” I inform him. “Who goes walking around in the dead of winter without a jacket on?”

    Nagi gives me a dark look. “If you hadn’t gotten your retarded self into an accident, I wouldn’t have had to.”

    “Feh.” My hands are in my pockets, and I lift my arm out to my side so that half of my jacket spills across Nagi’s shoulders. It leaves the coat open in front but it’s better than nothing, and he has to walk close enough to stay under the coat that we get a little body heat. It’s not enough; by the time we reach the apartment we’re chilled to the bone. The cats are all around us when we enter, practically climbing up our pants legs to get to us. I hang my coat up and rub at my arms the best I can, trying to work warmth back into them. Nagi isn’t faring much better; I can see him shivering as he wades through the cats. Soon I hear cat food hitting plastic dishes, and the hall is suddenly empty.

    “Pigs,” I call after the disappearing tails. Eins looks back at me before vanishing into the kitchen; she is the only one to react to my voice. I join Nagi in the kitchen to find him heating water for hot drinks. He points at the table in a command for me to sit and vanishes down the hall to fool with the thermostat and change into warmer clothes.

    I lower myself to a chair, staring at the medicine bottle that rests before me.

    I lived…

    I was so close to dying, and the doctors brought me back. On one hand, I feel a guilty sort of relief. On the other, I’m angry at the hospital staff for succeeding in their attempts to resurrect me. Farfarello was there…I could have died right then. It would have been fine; I wouldn’t have died alone. I don’t know if there’s any sort of an afterlife; I always figured that life on Earth is enough heaven and hell rolled into one that it would be pointless. But if there is anything, I could have been back with Farfarello.

    But Farfarello let me go.

    I reach out, giving my bottle an agitated shake before peeling the lid off and shaking the pills onto the table. If I wasn’t supposed to die by the sea and Farfarello wouldn’t let me die last night, when is it going to be my time?

    I’m feeling viciously torn between relief and feeling cheated. I promised Crawford I would take care of Nagi, and last night I almost ducked out on him. I could have let go and drifted away, but I hung on and I made it through the night. I like our apartment…It’s full of memories of good times, when things were better. Things aren’t terrible now…They’re just different. And if there isn’t an afterlife, would I fade away? Would I turn to nothing? I would almost rather be here, with the memories to keep me company, then to blink out of existence.

    Farfarello died, and I lived. He died so I would live…

    He told me I didn’t want to die.

    And I know he’s telling the truth. I didn’t want to die when the building fell at the sea, and despite my words to Farfarello I didn’t want to hit the waves last night and see what happened. I wonder if that makes me a chicken, to not want to die. I could have died…And I didn’t. I’m back here, in this apartment, with Nagi and Farfarello’s collar and memories. These are all I have.

    I want what I can’t have. That’s what Farfarello said. I want him back, but I can’t have it. I’ve always known it. It’s hurt like a bitch sometimes, but I’ve kept going with that knowledge. I kept going; I kept living. I found a job for myself, I found something for Nagi to do, and we kept moving. We were the survivors, and somehow, we made it. It’s been seven and a half months since the building fell, and we’re still adjusting to it being just the two of us. But we’re getting there, because we have to.

    Shaking fingers gather up all of the pills off the table and I wonder if I can swallow them in one mouthful; I wonder if they’ll be enough to stop me from thinking. There’s still a little alcohol left in the cabinets…I’m sure I can find the right combination so I don’t have to think. I lift my hand, uncurling my fingers so I can see the small pile of pills.

    There’s so much to think about, so much to feel…

    I finally clench my fingers and set my hand back down on the table, loosening my fist to drop the pills again.

    Maybe it's about time I thought and stopped shying away from these things, no matter how much they bother me. I draw my hand back from the pills and lower it to my lap, only then aware that I’m not alone. A glance towards the doorway shows a tense Nagi standing there. He was watching me consider the pills, and now that I’ve put them down, I can see his shoulders relaxing slightly.

    He says nothing but heads to the stove to check on the water. The sharper edge to my thoughts is growing, and I let myself slowly be dragged towards it. The first thing I notice is the echo to Ran’s voice; he is the first sound I can hear clearly in my mind. He’s out and about on the town, looking for someplace to live with his sister. I sift through his thoughts, moving slowly because it hurts and because what I find makes me uneasy.

    This bond has really changed him, and the deeper changes are only evident now that he’s gone. I’ve been following him for a week, allowing his thoughts to slide up against mine because I wanted them there, because I wanted the feeling of having someone else so close. He’s found the bond and he takes comfort in it. The rest of his thoughts are less kind, edged with a bit of regret. Ran doesn’t like being at his apartment; I’ve been waiting a week for him to settle in but it hasn’t happened. He feels out of place, and he feels the stretched and silent bond between us. Even now that his sister is awake, his thoughts return to us.

    It’s not like I can say my thoughts have been anywhere else all week. Every time I turn around I’m paying attention to what Ran is doing, abandoning the cats and Nagi to listen in on him. On some levels, it disturbs me to find out that the bond has sucked us so closely together. I can’t control it; I don’t think I can stop it or push it back to the way it used to be. As comforting as it may be to have a permanent companion, Ran isn’t who I thought I would choose. Even then, I didn’t think I’d find myself in such a bond such a short time after Farfarello’s death.

    What would Farfarello think, if he found out what I’ve done to Ran and myself?

    That’s the thought that bothers me the most. It isn’t, ‘My God, what have I done?’ It’s wondering what my lover would think of this. Would he understand that it was an accident? Would he hate it and feel betrayed, feel forgotten? I will never forget Farfarello…He was too much a part of me to ever forget.

    But I don’t…like being alone. That’s why I brought Ran here in the first place, was because even with Nagi I was too alone. Ran solved that. He helped me sleep at night and he kept me entertained during the day, a better companion to my personality than Nagi is. And my early delusions that he was my Irishman have been changing the both of us. What could have stayed something lingering between disinterest and amusement leaves me looking over my shoulder for the redhead and Ran feeling out of place in his own home. And I wonder, if I hadn’t slipped up when I was drunk and kissed him, if I really would have sent Ran out when Aya woke up. I can’t tell myself that I would have, and the uneasy uncertainty gnaws at me.

    I can’t stop this. I can’t fix this. But what am I supposed to do about it now?

    Nagi sets a mug in front of me- hot chocolate. Hot cocoa was the only hot drink Farfarello would ever drink. He liked it, and we would drink away the winter nights together until we were both sick from so much sugar.

    Farfarello…is gone now. Farfarello was fated to die at the sea. Crawford saw it coming. He knew Farfarello was going to die to protect me, and so made me promise to look after Nagi. It was the only thing that kept me alive those first weeks, was my younger teammate. Crawford knew Farfarello was going to die but he knew that Nagi and I would make it. His prophecies had nothing to do with Farfarello or himself… They were directed to me alone. I remember the way his gaze lifted to mine; he was speaking to me and I never realized it.

    He saw…Ran.

    He saw that I would take Ran in as a joke; I am sure of it now. He saw my final gift to Farfarello backfire; he saw me bring the redhead in and he saw what Ran would do for me. Those first days, I told myself that Ran was there to fix my sanity. I think he managed to fix a lot more, between being such a fiery spirit, reminding me of my lover, and getting stuck on a bond with me. I guess I got used to having Ran around, enough that I can’t sleep with him gone and I seek him out so many times a day.

    It bothers me to see how much I’ve slipped, how much my opinion of the man has changed in just a hundred days. And I know how much it’s bothering Ran…His mind is a mess because he can’t figure anything out. I’ve really fucked us both up…Though I suppose Ran’s the one that’s going to screw us both over. Finding out about Farfarello and learning the truth about his sister added a weight to the line between us, jerking us both down faster. Farfarello brought sympathy, and Aya stirred up unending gratitude and unwavering loyalty. I may have put the bond up, but it’s Ran pulling it deeper without realizing it.

    Distantly I wonder what would have happened to him if I had died last night and taken the bond with me.

    Maybe Crawford was talking about the sea. Maybe he was talking about the consequences of that day. Maybe he was talking about neither, and maybe he was talking about everything.

    “There is a chance you’ll survive,” Crawford had said. It works in both situations…Falling to the sea, my chance was if Farfarello forfeited his life for mine. Here, Ran was what put my sanity back where it belonged and helped shove me from doing the motions to actually paying attention. Ran and I shoved each other out of our apathy.

    “Fall alone, and Nagi will protect you.” It works for by the sea…Farfarello died because he fell with me; he abandoned the first order to protect me, thereby losing his chance of survival by falling on his own. Nagi tried so hard to keep the building from falling apart; his gift was nearly shredded from being overstretched in the battle. He did try to protect Farfarello and me, but Farfarello was too far gone to save. He kept me from drowning when we hit the water, when I lost it and couldn’t save myself. I don’t know how it applies here…If it has anything to do with Ran, Nagi won’t help me with it.

    “…but you have to want to make it.” I didn’t want to die at the sea, and I didn’t completely want to die last night. And as bad as things were in the first weeks, they got better. Nagi kept me from courting death with every breath, and I recovered. I wasn’t immensely interested in living, but I didn’t want death, either. Fujimiya Aya gave me just another reason to hang on, and her brother…

    I could be seriously overshooting this, but…The thoughts rest bitterly in my mind anyway. A while ago I started thinking there was something wrong with Crawford’s predictions. I will never be able to explain them or confirm any wild theories, because Crawford isn’t here to ask. I could be pulling shit out of thin air, but there’s no one here to tell me if I’m wrong or right. Was Ran meant to happen? Was this bond supposed to be here, just another tie to keep me alive?

    I feel a faint edge of relief at the thought that this mess with Ran was meant to happen. One can’t avoid fate and it would make me feel better about thinking about him so much.

    I squish these thoughts savagely, and in the brief lull in my own thoughts I can hear Ran. His thoughts are soft, edged with bitterness and tinged with confusion.

    “We need to talk,” Nagi says, taking the seat opposite me.

    I tear myself away from my thinking, unsure whether to be relieved or annoyed at the interruption, and lift blue eyes to Nagi’s face. He’s playing with his own mug, staring back at me. His eyes search mine for answers to questions he doesn’t want to ask. “That sounds bad,” I comment lightly. My pills bounce from the table back to the pill bottle and the lid slides shut. Only one remains, and I take it with a sip of my cocoa. I consider fighting the remaining haze to find Nagi’s thoughts and decide I’m not up to it. His are just out of reach even though Ran’s are as clear as if he was right here. “What’s bothering you now?”

    “You were in a car accident,” Nagi says, rapping his fingernails on his mug and watching the liquid as it sloshes inside. “I felt you disappear…I felt the bond give out. I didn’t know what had happened…There were so many things that could have caused it. But Ran called the apartment not even a minute later, demanding to know what happened to you. It wasn’t that the bond had given out…It was that he felt that you were hurt. Schuldich…” He looks back at me, needing and dreading an explanation. “He’s the one that found you in the emergency room. He called me and told me what had happened. He knew you were hurt. And I saw it on his face in the ER…I could see that it was physically hurting him when you lingered near death. Schuldich, what have you _done_?”

    “It was an accident…” I murmur, lowering my eyes to my drink.

    “Schuldich, he feels you like Farfarello did.” It’s a soft accusation. “What did you do to him? You were supposed to cut ties with him when the girl woke up, but he’s still tied on, and you’ve pulled him closer than I am.”

    “It was an accident…” I say again, lifting my eyes to meet his unhappy gaze. “I didn’t even know it was there for a long time. I didn’t mean for it to be there in the first place. Do you think I would have bonded myself to Fujimiya Ran willingly?”

    “You did it somehow,” Nagi sends back.

    I lift a hand from my mug, rubbing my fingers against my temple. My hand feels heavy with the cast on my fingers, but I can barely feel the rubbing through the bandages around my head. I’m so tired. I want to curl up somewhere and sleep. I want to get away from my own thoughts- I faced them like I thought I should and they haven’t made me feel any better. They’ve just presented more problems that I don’t know how to fix. And I can hear Ran’s thoughts, and they’re unhappy and I don’t think I can take them right now. Past him is the upset tone of Nagi’s thoughts, clear even when I can’t make out the words. “I couldn’t sleep…” I say, the words soft. My eyes watch my drink as it rocks gently back and forth in my mug. “I couldn’t sleep; I was too aware that it was him…It was just a delusion to help me sleep. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

    “You’ve bonded yourself to Ran and it’s an _accident_?” Nagi asks sharply.

    He let me go…I can’t have him. He told me I can’t have him. But I’ve bonded myself to Ran on accident, and all I have to do is reach out and touch him and I know he’ll come back. But how can I make myself do that?

    Ran was supposed to be my way to sleep…I brought him home because he was Farfarello’s height, because I was getting to where I couldn’t function due to sleep deprivation. I brought him home because he was Farfarello’s reflection, and even after I recognized him as being a completely different person, my interest was stuck because I had seen what made him so like my lover. Ran was supposed to help me sleep…Just a few months and he’d be gone again and I’d be fine. He helped me sleep, and he took away the gaping hole that Farfarello left behind. The hole is still there, but it is dull when there’s another tight bond to keep my sanity in place. Ran keeps me sane, and I feel so torn over taking such comfort in him.

    Nagi demanded to know how I could do this to Farfarello, how I could sit in the living room Schwarz used to own and kiss Ran. Farfarello told me to let go and live, because I couldn’t have him back. Nagi made me stay alive…Ran is helping me live, by helping me sleep and filling in the holes in my gift that were tearing me apart. But there is still a part of me that feels guilty over it.

    “I didn’t mean to,” I say again, lowering my head to rest it on the table. “I didn’t mean to…” Nagi doesn’t answer. My hot chocolate goes forgotten; my fingernails dig into my pants leg under the table. I can feel pain in a dozen places across my body and at the same time, I can feel the medicine kicking in. A welcome numbness starts at my feet and works its way up. “I don’t know what to do…”


    I’m playing with Kumo on my bed that evening when a knock comes at the door. I look up from my kitten, offering an “It’s open” to whoever’s there. The door swings open, letting in a rush of cold air and a dark-haired youth. I sit up quickly, barely managing to catch Kumo when she is sent sprawling. Nagi steps inside and closes the door behind himself, dark eyes flicking around the room. If he’s curious or interested, it doesn’t show. He memorizes the apartment with a glance and then moves over to my reading chair, inviting himself to sit and staring at me across the room.

    “How did you get here?” I want to know.

    “I took a bus,” comes the answer, and I frown at him for the tinge of sarcasm to his words. I suppose I should be relieved that things are back to normal…If the last time I’d seen Nagi was when we were getting along at the hospital, I think I might be disturbed. I say nothing about it, though; there’s a dark, unhappy edge to his voice. My kitten climbs onto my leg, wanting to be pet, and peers at Nagi with some interest. I wonder if she recognizes his scent. She wasn’t in Schuldich’s apartment for long, but still…

    The silence between us seems endless, fraught with uneasiness. Something is troubling Nagi, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He crossed the city to confront me on it, but it’s something he doesn’t want to deal with. I have to wonder what it is, but I don’t press him. I don’t want him to leave, and I know he will if I try to force him to speak.

    Patience wins in the end. Finally Nagi makes a noise somewhere between disgust and resignation, leaning further back in my chair and fixing an intent look on me. “You left because I wanted you to,” he says. “If that night had never happened, would you have left on your own?” I’m not sure what he means, and tell him so. Nagi scowls at me, leaning forward in the chair. “If Schuldich had come up to you three days ago and asked you if you would rather live here or there, what would you have said?”

    “Why?” I want to know.

    “What would you have said?” Nagi insists.

    I know the answer, but I don’t want to say it because it bothers me. I keep a stubborn silence, staring back at Nagi. Whatever is unspoken, however, he sees in my eyes. He looks away, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. He says nothing else for a long moment, gazing at the opposite wall in silence. I can’t tell whether my choice has disappointed him or not; I think that’s the look on his face, but I can’t tell.

    “Why did you come here?” I ask.

    Nagi’s shoulders sag in defeat; dark eyes lift to meet my gaze. “You’ve been bonded to him,” he says simply. I give him a blank look in return, not understanding the significance of such a thing. “You are permanently and thoroughly connected to Schuldich at both conscious and subconscious levels. It’s an open link between the two of you…He will hear your thoughts always, every moment he is asleep and awake, above everything else. You hear him back, though it’s not as clear on your end. You hear things he doesn’t mean to let slip, you see things he’s thinking about…You feel him when he’s hurt in a car accident.”

    I blink, trying to register this. Bonded? A bond between Schuldich and me is why it hurt so much when he was injured? I knew when Nagi didn’t that he was in trouble, and some sort of instinct guided me to the emergency room. I felt him dying. But Nagi didn’t…?

    “You’re not bonded?” I ask him.

    Nagi looks like he wants to be anywhere but here. “Bondeds…” he starts, and stops again as if he has to make himself say what comes next. “Bonds aren’t meant for everyone. Schuldich was linked to Schwarz; he had ties to Crawford and me. But he…was bonded to Farfarello only.”

    I feel like I’ve been hit in the stomach. I don’t know what to say, don’t know how to react. Nagi has closed his eyes, a messenger giving news he doesn’t want to believe or deliver. “It’s an accidental bond between you and Schuldich; he didn’t mean for it to be there. But it’s there, and he doesn’t know how to take it back down.”

    “So what does that mean?” I want to know. Kumo wriggles in my hands to get free; I’ve tightened my fingers around her stomach. I don’t let her go because I think I need to hold on to something.

    “It means…that I’m asking you to come back.”

    Dead silence.

    Nagi opens his eyes, lifting his gaze to meet my stare. “Schuldich…needs people. When he forms links to others, he gives up a large part of himself in return. Losing Crawford and Farfarello almost destroyed him, and even if I made him live I couldn’t save him. Schuldich’s gift was shattered that day, and even though I made him stay alive I don’t know if I could have kept him from slowly going insane. A bond is put up between people that are very close, and the link just helps pull them tighter together. Most of the time I suppose the two wouldn’t care, as it would be a mutual link, but…He bonded himself to you on accident. It was an accident, but it’s what is saving him. He isn’t…alone. I’m not enough for him; I never have been. Schuldich needs something else.”

    Schuldich needs something else. Schuldich needs me? It’s hard to swallow. A week of confusing thoughts and strange emotions, and this is what it has boiled down to. My view on Schwarz- this week where it has seemed just a bit wrong to be away from that apartment…It’s because Schuldich slipped up and linked the two of us together?

    He linked me to him like he was tied to Farfarello.

    I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to say. There isn’t really a way to react to such news.

    “I’m asking…” Nagi says again, every word a struggle, “you to come back. If there is anything in you that would have picked us over this, then I’m asking you to come back.”

    “You don’t like me,” I remind him. “You don’t want me there.”

    “I don’t,” he admits softly. “But he…does.”

    It must be the hardest thing he’s ever had to say. I stare at him across the room. He isn’t looking at me anymore; I don’t think he has the strength to hold my gaze any longer. Nagi’s never wanted me there, but now he’s come all the way across the city to ask me to come back. He sent me out and now he’s come to bring me back. He wants to bring me back to their apartment, to Schuldich, because Schuldich has put up some sort of a mental bond between the two of us. A permanent bond between our minds…

    I don’t understand it; there’s so much about it that I don’t understand and something tells me that this is dangerous. But I think about the week, about the way my apartment seems unfamiliar to me, about the nagging feeling in my head that I was missing something. I think of all the times my thoughts have drifted back across the city to the telepath. Is this because of the bond? Two and a half months ago, I hated him, but that changed. It changed so much, in so many ways that I don’t understand.

    And I think I need to understand this…I have the feeling that what happens tonight will change everything beyond repair. The uneasiness in my apartment will fade eventually when I move into a new home with Aya. The feeling of being excluded from my teammates will lessen in time until things are back to how they used to be. Things will be different, but I know that what I decide tonight will rip it all apart once more. And I wonder if I want them to spin so much further out of control.

    Nagi can see my indecision. He rises from his seat, beckoning for me to go with him. “Come back,” he says. “Come back and talk to him, at least…”

    I don’t answer for a long time. Finally my fingers relax around Kumo and I rise to my feet.

Part 32
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