Ch. 11

    Days like today make me grateful to be alive and conscious.
    The weather is perfect-- sunny but not too hot, with a nice breeze. It has been years since I set foot in Yoyogi Park, and it's just as relaxing as I remember it. The only downside is it brings back memories of family picnics. I distract myself from these depressing thoughts by watching the game.
    Ken is great with kids. He would have made an excellent big brother if he'd had any siblings. As the shrieking children race about on the grass punting a ball back and forth, he jogs along on the sidelines shouting encouragement, visibly enjoying himself. I can tell he longs to get on the field with them and actively participate, but his promise to Ran holds him back. Seated on the grass with my hands wrapped around a can of juice, I watch his antics with a faint smile hovering on my lips.
    No matter how jaded I feel I've become since the accident, my fondness for children remains. This is the perfect relaxing break after the tension at home and the shop. I check my watch. We've only been here about thirty minutes; Ran probably won't show up for another hour. "Ken-kun," I call, "why don't you play with them? I'll be fine. It's not like you won't be able to see me."
    He hesitates, but the children hear and immediately swamp him, clinging to his arms and legs and begging him loudly to oblige.
    "Go on, I want to see them kick your butt," I insist with a grin.
    He doesn't need much encouragement. He takes a cautious look at his watch, then grins down at the kids. "All right, let's see if you can steal the ball from me this time, all right?"
    The children give a cheer and scatter. He joins them, and I watch in admiration as he begins moving the ball across the field with obvious skill. It's clear to anyone with eyes that this is something he loves. No wonder the incident with the J-League hit him so hard.
    I watch for several more minutes, then stretch out on my back, closing my eyes and enjoying the warm grass and the breeze. The sounds of the park-- the children laughing and shouting, the chatter of some old men on a nearby bench, the bird calls, the sound of a jogger on the path --lull me into a semi-trance. Idly I relax my shields a bit, allowing the murmur of the voices in the area in a bit. I sift lazily through the thoughts, looking for something entertaining to eavesdrop on.
    The mental shriek of a young girl wrenches me out of my relaxed state, and I sit up with a jolt.
    Ignoring the babble of the other voices so that they fade into the background, I focus all my attention on that one mind. It's a bit further away than I thought; the only reason it got caught on the edges of my mind were because it was such a loud panicked scream. The girl is heading for the park, but she hasn't reached it yet. I struggle to root through her fear and get a good idea of what's frightening her and which part of the park she'll enter.
    There are men chasing her, intent on getting some information from her. Information on...
    A certain Naoe Nagi.
    My entire body goes tense as I sharpen my focus, breath catching in my throat. Ruthlessly I dig deeper; it's dubious she'll feel the probe through her own overwhelming fear. They know she's friendly with Schwarz's telekinetic. She doesn't know who the men are, she only knows that they're determined to find the boy. Her refusal to answer any questions angered them, and now she's fleeing for her life.
    I dig deeper. Well, well. She doesn't just "know" Nagi. She's his freaking girlfriend. They met on opposing teams awhile before Schuldich drugged me in the hospital. After the tower's collapse, she was the one to rescue Nagi from the sea, dragging his limp body all the way up the shore with unbelievable determination. She brought him to a safehouse and has been nursing him back to health ever since. It seems he was hurt quite badly in the fall, and her fiercely protective nature won't allow her to hand over his location to a group of suspicious looking men. This hardheadedness and courage is a bit surprising, considering the fact that what I can make out from the hints of her base character, she seems like something of an airhead.
    Good for you, honey, I think with grim approval, already hauling myself to my feet, using my cane for support.
    It takes me a moment to realize that I intend to seek her out, and I pause. Is that really such a good idea? Not only do I not even know her or Nagi, but she's got thugs after her. I could always just try and contact Farfarello or Schuldich and get them to help her...
    But the fact that I can't even sense Farfarello through our link unless I stretch out for him proves that he is nowhere close. There's no chance of him getting here in time. I hesitate, watching Ken race around the field with the children.
    A rabbit? Sounds like Nagi's little girlfriend paid you a visit sometime. She's a real wacko.
    That stuffed rabbit Ran found on my bed-- Schuldich laughed when I mentioned it. "Nagi's girlfriend". That must be this girl. She doesn't even know me. Why did she leave me a gift like that?
    I sigh, frustrated with myself, already knowing I've made up my mind. Well, Ken's too busy to notice my escape, and by the time he looks up and realizes I'm gone, I should hopefully be well on my way. I touch the girl's mind once more; she's reached the park, over by the few sakura trees the park boasts.
    I turn and head off at a brisk walk. I can walk with very little support of the cane for a bit, but not for too long. By the time I reach her, I'll be exhausted and practically useless. I'll have to just try to hide her. If I can get to her before those men do. One brief touch to their minds tells me all I need to know. Their plans for her aren't pretty. They'll get the information out of her by any means possible. Their minds are filled with ideas of torture, pain, and rape.
    I pick up speed.


    At least she's not foolish enough to stick to the path. I reach the small grove just in time to catch a glimpse of her as she darts behind a tree. I pause, eyes drifting back the way she came. The men arrive a split second later, panting and glaring as they search the area with hot angry eyes. The chase has only made them more bad-tempered. It won't be pretty if they get their hands on her. They haven't spotted me yet, so I step closer to a tree, out of their immediate line of sight as I focus on the girl.
    She's younger than I am, a pretty girl with a petite body and bouncing aquamarine curls. The name she associates with herself is "Tot". An unusual name, but I can find no memory in her head of her real name, much less her life before joining with some wacko women's group who called themselves "Schreint".
    She's terrified, but still determined to keep Nagi safe, no matter what these men do to her. Unfortunately, her imagination isn't creative enough to contemplate what will happen to her if these men catch her. Which is just as well, as none of what they're planning is pleasant.
    She's barely able to stand, gasping for breath and trembling with fear and exhaustion as she leans against the tree. She's too afraid to chance a peek at her pursuers, so she doesn't notice how close they're getting. They'll find her any second.
    Damn it.
    She jumps, looking around wildly in confusion.
    Over here. I wave my hand slightly, and after a few moment's frantic searching she finally spots me. Shut up, I cut her off when she opens her mouth. You'll give away your position. If you want to talk, think your words. Did you ever meet Schuldich? Of Schwarz? Ever talk to him?
    Her mental voice is a bit hard to pick up; she hasn't ever conversed this way before. She knows of Schuldich, but has never experienced his gift. You're... a telepath? she guesses, then fear flickers in her mind again. I catch the fleeting thought-- she thinks I'm with those men.
    I'm not with them, I say firmly. Don't you recognize me? I'm Fujimiya Aya... you left a stuffed rabbit at my bed in the hospital.
    Confusion colors her thoughts. But you're supposed to be asleep.
    She really is an airhead. I strangle my impatience and stomp on it. I'm awake now, I point out shortly. Look, we don't have time for this. Any second now those guys are going to pass your tree and see you, and trust me, you really don't want that. Don't run, you idiot! They'll see you! I shout because she starts to move away from the tree. I bite back an aggravated sigh. Look, I'll help you, but you have to do what I say, OK?
    My irritation abates somewhat. She's young and terrified. I can't blame her for acting without thinking. I turn my attention back on the men. We're both out of time; another few steps will bring them close to her tree, and a casual glance to the side will reveal her hiding spot. Without stopping to think, I step out into the open.
    They turn towards me instantly; one of them reaches for a concealed gun. They hesitate when they realize I'm not their target.
    I force a cheerful, somewhat vapid smile. "Hi there!" I greet, walking their way slowly. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"
    They glance at each other, then back to me. One of them levels his hand a bit below his chest, indicating a height. "You seen a young girl, about this tall, go through here?"
    "Ummm..." I tap my chin thoughtfully, drawing out the word. They shift impatiently. "What'd she look like?"
    "Curly hair, was probably running pretty fast. Did you see her or not?"
    "Oh, yeah!" I exclaim brightly, pointing off to the left, the opposite direction of the tree. "I thought I saw a girl running off that way a second ago."
    They are actually turning to race off that way when Tot sneezes.
    She fucking sneezes.
    I turn my eyes skyward, fingers curling like claws in a struggle for control of my temper. I cannot believe that little twat. She almost deserves to be caught.
    Both men whirl around and catch sight of her. Their eyes widen slightly for a second, and then their faces turn ugly. Now I'm in the same boat as her. They're not planning on letting me off lightly after my little trick.
    A cane might be a good weapon against a simple purse snatcher or a pervert on a train, but it isn't going to be much good against these two. They're trained professionals; I don't have to be a mindreader to know that much. That leaves me with only one weapon.
    I take a quick step back to avoid their initial grab and reach out, making sure I'm touching both minds before lashing out furiously. I put all the disgust and anger they bring out in me into the blow. They're ordinary men; their natural shields are thin as tissue paper, and the strike pounds into them like a sledgehammer to the head. They both drop without a sound, crumpling up like puppets with their strings cut.
    I stare down at them numbly for a moment. That was... entirely too easy. I am so used to being overpowered by Schuldich's own gift and having to struggle with the darkness and thorns in Farfarello's mind, that I think a part of me always assumed I had a weak "version" of the gift. I've stung Schuldich with blows before, but have never before lashed out at ordinary people.
    It seems telepathy can be a formidable weapon when used against people with no mental barriers.
    I reach out tentatively to check the state of their minds, then jerk back quickly, stomach knotting up. The first man's mind is in a horrible state. I did a lot of damage, some of it possibly irreparable.
    The other man is dead as a doornail. I stare at the blood leaking slowly from his ears with detached fascination.
    I've never killed a man before.
    Later, I know this will probably hit home and make me sick to my stomach, but for now I have to concentrate on Tot.
    Forcing my attention from the man, I turn to her as she steps shakily out from behind the tree.
    "I'm sorry," she whimpers, wide eyes on the sprawled bodies. "I-I tried to hold it in..."
    "Too late to be sorry," I cut her off briskly, trying to ignore the faint ache in my legs. I walked here quickly, and the trip from the field to the other side of the park took nearly five minutes. I lean heavily on my cane to take some of the weight off. "Are you OK?"
    "Yes..." She's still staring at the men. "Are they dead?" The horror in her mind at the thought is actually quite miniscule; she's seen dead bodies before. But she is still just innocent enough not to like it.
    "They won't be bothering you anymore," I say firmly. "Do you know who they were?"
    She shakes her head mutely, and I curse under my breath. I should have dug into their minds deeper. Oh, well, spilt milk...
    "Schwarz has been looking for Nagi," I point out. "You should step forward now and tell them you have him; if they find out first, they're probably not going to be happy with you. Especially since your teams were enemies before."
    She pulls a pout. "But they're no good for Nagi-kun," she protests. "He's better off with me!"
    "Be that as I may," I relent, "I still think you should talk to them. Or let me do it. Why hasn't he tried to return to them?"
    "He's been really sick," she admits sadly. "He's been asleep most of the time. He likes being with me. He hasn't heard from Schuldich-san, so he thought they might be dead."
    A wry smile touches my lips; I can practically taste her smouldering dislike of the cocky German. If he hasn't heard from Schuldich, does that mean he's out of the telepath's range? If he's been unconscious for so long, it's likely that any search Schuldich did after the tower brought up zero results, and he might have given up after awhile.
    I can sense her rebellion; she doesn't want to give Nagi back to them. She wants to start over with him, and for a moment I pity her. "Tell you what," I sigh, "I'll talk to Farfarello first and see where Nagi stands. I won't tell them where he is, though, and I won't tell Schuldich about it yet, or he'll just rip the information out of my head and then go hunting for you. ...What?"
    She's staring at me in blank surprise. "Farfarello?" her voice quavers with fear. "The... Berserker?"
    "You'll TALK to him?"
    I frown. "Yes. It's better than talking to Schuldich, right? And I haven't even met this Oracle guy, so--"
    "But he's a MONSTER!" she blurts. "He scares me!"
    "Oh." I shrug. "Well... yeah. He's a little, um..." I heave a sigh. "Look, just leave Farfarello to me, all right? If he snaps and kills the messenger, it's not like he wasn't already aching to take me out anyway. It's still better to step forward now instead of letting them find out on their own; it'll only piss them off more."
    She continues to stare at me in disbelief and fear, with a mild helping of awe on the side. "He scares me," she repeats in a small voice.
    "I would hope so," I admit drolly. "Otherwise you'd be dumber than I thought. Look, you'd better get back to Nagi and lie low. I'll get ahold of you after I've found out more."
    She nods vigorously and starts to turn away, then hesitates. "Why are you helping us?" she asks, more curious than suspicious. "You don't even know us."
    I shrug helplessly. "Well, I couldn't just sit back and let a couple of thugs kill a girl, could I? Besides, you didn't know me, but you still visited me in the hospital."
    She stares at me blankly, and I give an internal sigh. It's as if she's honestly forgotten that she left the rabbit with me. What a ditz. "Never mind. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Just go."
    She beams at me, curls bouncing in another quick nod. "Un! Arigato, Ayu-chan!" she turns and runs off.
    "It's Aya," I mutter, but she's already gone.


    I find Ken in a state of total panic when I get back to the field.
    The soccer practice has been put on hold; the children are "helping" the search, milling about and calling my name, evidently thinking it's some game. Ken's frantic expression melts into one of intense relief when I come limping back onto the field calmly.
    "Aya!!" he races up, still a bit pale from his fright. "Where the hell were you?! You almost gave me a heart attack! You promised to stay where I could see you! Do you have any idea what your brother is going to do to me??"
    "I went to the bathroom," I lie, staring up at him innocently. "I would have told you, but you looked like you were having so much fun." I smile charmingly when he still looks upset. "I won't tell 'niisan if you don't."
    He relaxes a bit, sighing loudly. "..All right. Since no harm was done, I think it'd be best for my health if we didn't mention this to Ran. But still..." He scowls, shaking a finger scoldingly in my face. "Don't ever do that to me again! You took years off my life with that stunt!"
    "I'm not a little girl, Ken-kun," I remind him with an edge to my voice.
    "I.. know that." He looks suddenly uncomfortable.
    "Then what's with the overprotective act you've all been pulling lately?" I demand, feigning ignorance.
    "Er..." He is saved when a few of the children come running up, tugging on him and demanding the game be resumed. "Look, you should ask your brother about that," he hedges. He points firmly at the ground, face stern once more. "This time, please stay put where I can see you, OK?"
    "All right, all right," I sigh, though secretly I am glad for the excuse to sit down and rest.
    I settle down in the grass, eyes watching the game, though my attention is elsewhere.
    I reach out to the edges of my mind and touch the link between myself and Farfarello, following it until I feel the bristling border of his thoughts. Farfarello?
    He doesn't answer right away; after a long moment, I finally feel his outer shields shift slightly, allowing me entrance.
    What do you want, mouse?
    You really need to think of a better nickname, I sigh, eyes unfocused as I watch Ken allow a small boy to steal the ball from him. Farfarello, is Schwarz still looking for Nagi?
    In case I run across him. It's not like I have anything better to do lately other than keep a mind open for him. I told you, Schuldich's little stunt on the train has made my brother paranoid, and I'm barely allowed to go to the bathroom by myself.
    I get the impression of a mental shrug. He's probably dead, he responds bluntly, uncaring.
    Will you just answer the question, please?
    What question?
    I heave an aggravated sigh. Why does he insist on getting his amusement by deliberately baiting me? Ass. Do you really want Nagi back? Is it so he can leave with all of you?
    What do you care?
    I don't. Not really. It's just... well, he's just a kid, right? What if it's better that he never comes back? Maybe he'll be happier if he can just have a normal life.
    He'd want to hear what Crawford has to say, he assures me, but I can sense his sudden suspicion over the link. He may be mad, but he's certainly not stupid. What the hell brought this up?
    Nothing, I insist innocently.
    ...All right, fine. I think I know where he is. But Farfarello, please don't tell Schuldich yet. I hesitate. It's probably pointless to tell him Tot's side of the story. To him, Nagi is just an unattainable target. And I doubt Schuldich gives a damn about the kid. As much as I don't like it, the best one to talk to about this is probably the group's leader. Nagi's fate will be up to him in the end, and he's supposedly the most sane of the three older members.
    I need to talk to your Oracle.
    I can imagine him lifting a brow at that. Crawford has no reason to believe anything you say, he points out after a moment. Tell me where the Prodigy is.
    No way.
    Irritation tweaks at his mind at my flat-out refusal. Fine. Schuldich can get the answers instead.
    Wait wait wait! I interrupt hastily. Don't you dare. God, you're such a bastard. Fine. I'll tell you if you promise not to tell Schuldich yet.
    He doesn't answer that, but he isn't really leaving me with much of a choice. Carefully taking out the location of the conversation-- I don't want Schuldich showing up at the park in ten minutes demanding answers --I send him the memory of what occured just ten minutes ago.
    As I rewatch the scene in my mind where the two thugs collapse, I feel my body start shaking slightly. Even after I've finished sharing the information, I can't get the shaking to stop.
    He can sense something is off across the link, and I can feel his focus sharpening on me.
    I've never killed anyone before, I admit softly, gazing down at my trembling hands. I don't think it... really hit me until now. What I did. And I just-- just left them lying there...
    It was him or you, he points out brutally. Stop crying about it.
    I'm not crying, you asshole! I shoot back venomously.
    There's no use regretting the death of trash, he snaps with a mixture of impatience and cold finality. Get over it.
    Anger starts to boil up inside me, but I seize it and force it down somewhat. As heartless as he's being about it, in a way he's right, and I can't deny that. If I hadn't lashed out, those men would have done terrible things to Tot and me. I take a slow breath and take an honest look at myself. Deep down, I don't regret it at all, I realize with a start. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was self defense, and besides, the world is better off without scum like that. The fact that I took another human life has left me a bit shaken, but the cold truth is, I feel no regret for my actions.
    He seems to sense this, and waits a moment as I calm myself before speaking again. I'll tell the Oracle, he grunts, already starting to pull away.
    All right, I answer, subdued. I am about to retreat as well, when he sends one last warning.
    Stay away from Tot, he orders in a flat voice. More will come looking for her.
    I start to respond, but he's already retreated, barriers drawing themselves around his mind again. Reluctantly I release the link and find myself staring blankly at the grass.
    A part of me is suddenly worried for Tot's safety despite myself. She sure as hell doesn't seem like the kind of girl that can defend herself.
    The other part of me can't help but wonder...
    Why the hell did Farfarello bother to warn me in the first place?

Author's Notes: Yes, Yoyogi Koen (Yoyogi Park) is real; it's one of Tokyo's largest city parks. I've never personally been there, so I did take slight liberties. Though I do know there are some sakura trees there.

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