Ch. 16

    The boys keep their eyes open for trouble the rest of the day, and I keep my mind open as well. So when they return, I sense their approach immediately.
    Only they're not alone.
    I count them with growing dread. Seven. And one of them's a telepath. There's another with some other sort of gift, but it's hard to make out. The telepath feels my touch and sends a stinging barb into my mind. I withdraw hastily and turn to stare at my brother.
    He is ushering the last of the customers out of the door, his eyes scanning the streets. He is starting to relax, assuming the men from earlier were just perverts ogling me and won't be back. Yohji, with the instincts of a detective, is not so hopeful. He has been wearing his wire watch all day. He is helping Omi straighten up while Ken sweeps up. I am supposed to be counting the money, but I lost count when I felt the approach of the men. They mean business, I can sense it. They're not going to be nice about this. Their orders are to take me by force, and get rid of anybody that stands in their way. I can feel the telepath reaching out to check on the boys; he's trying to gauge how much resistance they'll put up. Quickly I reach out, touching each of their minds and trying to muffle their thoughts and blind the telepath.
    I can sense the man's sneer. I'm attempting something I've never done before, but he's been trained. He slips easily past my flimsy cover and begins rooting through the surface thoughts of my brother and the others. Damn it. That means he might find out they're Weiß. And I'm sure Rosenkreuz wouldn't mind seeing the team that gave them so much trouble killed. I look frantically around at each of them, my mind whirling. I have to make a decision, and I have only a few seconds to make it.
    This is something I hoped I would never have to do. But it's the only way I can save them. Or try, anyway. I am starting to wonder how I'm going to get out of this. Going with them is not an option. I'd rather have them kill me than be dragged to that place. A school they might be, but I've seen the kind of people that exit their doors. I refuse to become that. More than that-- I will not be anybody's puppet.
    "Damn it," I hiss, and slam the register closed. I yank my apron off and hang it up with shaking hands. I can't believe I'm actually going to do this.
    But then again, if they do kill me, maybe it's better that they finally know.
    "Ran," I call, "shut and lock the door."
    He turns to look at me, puzzled.
    "They're coming back," I explain, coming out from behind the counter and reaching for my cane. I might need it for a weapon. I doubt I'll be doing much running. They're too close; if there's going to be a show-down, it will have to be here. Hopefully that will work to our advantage. We'll be fighting on our territory.
    Let's hope Weiß is as good as they seem to think they are.
    "What?" Ran looks quickly towards the streets again. "Did they say something to you?"
    "Just lock the door, Ran," I say tightly. "They're on their way right now."
    He obeys automatically, and Yohji comes up to me, frowning. "Aya- chan, what's going on?"
    "I'll call the police," Omi offers.
    "Will you just listen to me??" I demand impatiently. "All of you. Look, I'm sorry, I've been keeping something from you. I wasn't sure how you'd take it, and..." I shake my head. "Look, they're dangerous. They'll fight us if they have to. They want me to go with them--"
    "What??" Ran strides over, anxious and angry. "Who are they? What do they want with you?"
    "What are you talking about, Aya-chan?" Ken asks, bewildered.
    "I don't have time to explain--" I start, then take a quick breath. "They're here."
    They all turn to look at the glass front of the shop just as the group arrives.
    They stand outside, staring in at us solemnly. I ignore the hitmen, focusing my attention on the two that I can sense are different. The telepath is just a kid; a scrawny foreigner who can't be any older than fourteen or fifteen. The woman beside him is pretty, but her smile is wicked and her eyes are cold. Her head is shaved, and every bare part of skin is covered in tattoos.
    "Little piggies, let us in," she croons, knocking softly on the glass.
    "Who the hell--" Ken starts to sputter.
    Yohji's arm moves automatically to sweep me behind him. I catch the intent in his mind and sidestep the motion. "Knock it off," I snap impatiently, and he looks startled when I step forward, placing myself between the boys and the window.
    "Aya," Ran says sharply. "Get downstairs and lock the door." He is glaring at the people outside, wishing he had his sword.
    "Shut up," I interrupt. I shake Omi's hand free when it lands on my arm in an attempt to pull me back. "I don't have time for any of your knight in shining armor bullshit," I say firmly, glaring at each of them. They gape at me. I ignore them, transferring my angry glare to the woman, who stands before the rest of her crew.
    "Oh~ she's a pretty little thing," the woman notes, voice muffled through the glass.
    "She won't be pretty for long," the telepath sniggers, running his hands through his purple mohawk in nervous anticipation.
    "Hear that, honey?" the woman calls mockingly. "This is your last chance. Come out quietly and we'll leave your little friends alone."
    I ignore Ran's hard grip on my shoulder. "Get lost, bitch," I snap. "I already told those clowns-- I'm not going anywhere with you. If you want me, come in and get me."
    "Aya!" Ken hisses, horrified.
    "Aya-chan, what are you saying?" Ran demands. I can tell they are just as surprised by my language as they are by what's going on.
    I lower my voice so the headhunters can't hear me. "Please tell me your weapons are in the basement."
    "Yes..." Omi glances nervously over his shoulder towards the basement door. "But--"
    "You'd better get them. This is going to get ugly fast. And look out for those two. The kid's a telepath, and the woman's got a gift, too, though I can't tell what it is."
    "Aya-chan, how do you know all this?" Yohji asks in disbelief. "And who are they? Why are they after you?"
    I hesitate, staring straight ahead, unable to look at any of them. Because of this, I say, making sure my words touch each of their minds.
    Their eyes widen in shock. Omi gives a little gasp, and Ken stumbles back from me. Yohji jumps, and Ran snatches his hand from my shoulder.
    "What the fuck--?!" Yohji sputters.
    "Aya-chan--" Ran's mind is a jumble of disbelief, shock, and horror. I can't bring myself to turn around and look at his expression.
    I'm sorry I didn't tell any of you. I just... I know you hated Schuldich's ability to do this, so I thought...
    I can sense Ran frantically trying to escape my voice, and quickly pull away with a wince.
    Omi is pale. "That's how you knew--" he blurts, but stops himself quickly.
    "I'm sorry," I whisper. "I didn't know how to explain. I knew you wouldn't like it..."
    The group outside has evidently grown tired of the waiting game. "Have it your way, little girl," the bald woman calls, and presses her hand flat against the glass.
    It melts like water and spills all over the floor while the rest of us stare, stunned.
    Then they come pouring in, and there isn't any time left to explain anything.
    Even after all I've just said and done, protective instincts kick in; I barely have a chance to raise my cane before Ran's hand clamps down on my shoulder and heaves me back out of the way, safely behind them. I stumble back into the counter, and my brother and the others leap into the fight.
    "Ran!!" I shout angrily, pushing myself away from the counter. "Don't!"
    Yohji is the only one with a weapon, and he uses it without hesitation, sending his wire out to wrap around the throat of one of the men in suits. "Close your eyes, Aya!" he shouts hastily, and leaps backwards, hauling on the wire with all his strength.
    The man gurgles, clawing at the wire uselessly as it slices into his neck. Blood spills free and he falls to his knees, eyes bulging as he slowly dies.
    Omi snatches up a pot half full of soil and swings it, smashing it across the head of the next man and momentarily stunning him. Another jumps Ken, and they get into a fierce scuffle, rolling on the floor and punching. The telepath is making a beeline for me, but Ran intercepts him.
    "NO!" I scream in warning.
    I reach out desperately, trying to throw some sort of shield around my brother's mind. The telepath barely even glances Ran's way before he slams a mental attack home, knocking Ran off his feet. It destroys my flimsy shield, and I stare in horror.
    My knees feel weak with relief when I see Ran's chest rising and falling quickly with deep gasps of pain. I wasn't able to stop the blow, but I did manage to muffle it enough to prevent it being a fatal strike.
    I quickly turn my attention on the telepath as he stalks towards me, grinning in triumph. Rage and hate rush through me, and for an instant I see red. With a wordless shout I slam my mind against his.
    He staggers, but doesn't fall. He grits his teeth, glaring at me as our minds thrash together in a fierce struggle. He's strong-- I find myself gripping the counter behind me and breathing harshly as I pour all my strength into the attack. He pushes back, and slowly I feel myself slipping. He's been trained to do this, and he's strong--
    But not as strong as Schuldich.
    Or me.
    With a scream that hurts my throat, I heave forward with my mind, throwing everything I've got against his shields.
    The blow slices through his own attack and slams into his most inner shields, ripping them apart. He gives a gurgled noise of pain, his face frozen in a mask of shock and agony, then he vomits up a pint of blood and crumples. He's dead before he hits the ground, blood seeping out of his ears and nose.
    One of the men has snuck up on me while I was distracted; he seizes a fistful of my hair and jerks my head back so hard it hurts my neck. I try to throw an attack at him, but I'm weakened from the mental fight with the other telepath, and I barely make a dent in his shields.
    "Nice try, bitch--" he starts to say.
    I swing my cane up like a club, right between his legs.
    He gives a high-pitched noise like an animal and drops to his knees. I step back and slam the cane as hard as I can on top of his head. It makes a horrible wet, snapping sound, and he topples over, his skull crushed in.
    I look up to check on the others. They're not doing well. I've taken out two, and Yohji's wire took care of one, but that still leaves that crazy bald bitch and four others. Ken and Omi are struggling desperately, but they're unarmed. Ran is still struggling to get to his feet. He is staring at me in horror. He saw everything.
    We have to get out of here. Ran can't fight, and I am still weak from that struggle with the telepath. They'll kill us all. I watch the woman seize the end of the rake Omi swings at her, the metal spokes melting in her hand.
    We need to go! I send the thought hastily to Ran and the others. If we get to the basement--
    The woman yanks what's left of the rake out of Omi's hands; my voice in his head startled him, loosening his grip. She hits him in the side viciously with the pole, and he screams, staggering away. I hear his rib crack from across the shop.
    "Omi!!" Ran forces himself to his feet and seizes a pair of shears. He stumbles towards the woman, lifting the blades for a deadly blow. She laughs, beckoning tauntingly with her hands. "Come and get it, pretty boy," she dares him.
    The man Ken has been struggling with has managed to roll on top, and he begins pummeling him mercilessly. Ken is forced to raise his arms and protect his face, leaving him unable to return the blows. Yohji rushes over to help, looping his wire around the man's neck and straddling his back as he heaves backwards.
    Two other men rush towards them to get Yohji off, and I spring forward, tackling one of them. I'm not heavy enough to pull him down, but I hinder him. He staggers, struggling to pull me off of him. When I only hang on tighter, he swears impatiently and clubs the side of my head with a big fist. I see stars, and my grip loosens. He peels me off and throws me violently to the floor.
    I grunt at the pain, curling up instinctively as he raises his foot to kick me.
    The door comes off its hinges and sails across the store, crashing against the far wall. For an instant everything grinds to a halt. I lift my head slightly to see better as all eyes swing towards the front of the shop.
    A young slender boy with dark hair stands in the ruined doorway with hand still upraised. He glances around quite calmly, taking in the scene. "We're not too late," he says to someone, their shape blurry in the twillight.
    The figure moves, and then Schuldich is stepping over the windowsill, hands thrust deep in the pockets of his gaudy green trenchcoat. He is grinning like the devil himself, eyes dancing with wicked glee. "You just love to make an entrance, don't you, pipsqueak? There's a big gaping hole right here." His eyes land on me. "Hey there, toots. Having fun?"
    "Loads," I say dryly, my voice hoarse from my earlier scream. "These friends of yours are wrecking the place."
    "I can see that." His gaze travels the room and lands on the dead telepath. His smile widens maniacally. "Nice job."
    Ran, locked in a frozen struggle with the woman, is looking quickly from Schuldich to me in growing confusion at the obvious familiarity between us.     "Schwarz." the man above me looks surprised but irritated. "We can handle this--"
    The boy in the doorway-- it must be Nagi, I realize suddenly --turns, palm out towards the man. He flexes his fingers, and the man doubles over with a breathy scream. I can hear the pop of bones snapping deep inside, and thoughtfully scuttle out of the way as he falls over, struggling to breathe. Blood seeps out of his mouth, and he begins twitching violently. His lungs. Something must have pierced them. What a horrible way to die.
    "What are you doing?!" the woman shouts, turning slightly to glare at Nagi. "We're on your si--"
    The loud report of a gunshot makes us all jump. The woman stares down in disbelief at the blood rapidly spreading across her breast, then slumps to the floor. Ran shakes her off hastily.
    Crawford appears outside the ruined window, lowering his gun. His face is impassive. "Schwarz is no longer on anyone's 'side'," he proclaims.
    "Traitors!!" one man draws a gun and aims it at Crawford.
    Schuldich's eyes slant his way, and an instant later the man jerks violently and falls, blood coming from his ears and eyes.
    The man who had been trying to haul Yohji off of his partner suddenly leans back, a gun appearing in his hand. He aims at me, and I can only stare blankly back.
    "AYA!!" Ran screams.
    His voice-- and the terror wailing inside of him at having to see this again, having to see his sister killed in front of him --galvanizes me into action. I throw myself to the side.
    Out of the corner of my eye I see something move past Schuldich, a blur in my peripheal vision. The shot is loud and hurts my ears-- and half a second later pain is blossoming in my side, so intense it wrenches a shriek out of me.
    I roll onto my back, eyes already darting towards the man as my hands move to find the wound. If he shoots again--
    Then I realize who that racing figure I saw was.
    Farfarello reaches the man just as he is aiming again. He seizes the wrist of the hand holding the gun and twists ruthlessly, snapping the bone like a twig. The man's cry of agony is cut off when the Berserker swings his other hand forward, slamming a knife into the man's throat so hard it erupts out of the back of his neck. Blood sprays everywhere.
    "Aya!!" Ran doesn't care anymore that Schwarz is here. All he cares about is getting to me. He staggers, then falls, hands to his head. He's still disoriented and in pain from the telepath's attack.
    Yohji quickly takes the opportunity presented and leans backwards, yanking on the wire he still has looped around the last man's neck.
    The man lets go of Ken and begins thrashing desperately, but he can't get Yohji off of him. Ken helps, reaching up and seizing fistfuls of the man's hair and pulling his head towards him, applying even more pressure to the wire. He closes his eyes as the wire finally cuts through flesh, blood dripping down onto his face. He grunts as the man goes limp, and Yohji stumbles upright, helping him to shove the body off.
    I close my own eyes in relief, pressing my hands tightly against the wound in my side. It's hard to keep my hands in place; there's so much blood, and it's starting to make me light-headed.
    "Get away from her!!" At Aya's outraged cry, I force my eyes open again to find Farfarello standing over me, knife still dripping blood as he stares down at me.
    I manage a small smirk for him. "Hey, Jei. Here to kill me?"
    His grip on his knife tightens, and I can tell he is giving serious consideration to the idea.
    "What the fuck do you want with us?" Ken demands, glaring fiercely at Crawford.
    Yohji edges towards Farfarello, holding his wire ready, but Schuldich's taunting grin stops him in his track. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," he suggests. "Unless you want Nagi to break both your legs."
    I barely hear them. Farfarello and I are locked in a staredown. It's getting harder to keep my eyes open. The pain is starting to ebb, and I feel like I'm floating.
    Is this what it feels like to die?
    Farfarello seems to make a decision. He slides his knife into a sheath in his boot and bends over abruptly.
    Omi struggles to sit up, arms wrapped around his aching sides. "Aya -chan!"
    "Don't you touch her!" Ran finds his feet and staggers towards us.
    Farfarello's arms slide under my shoulders and behind my knees, and he lifts me without so much as a grunt. He straightens and turns to stare balefully at Ran, cradling me against his chest. Ran halts, breathing harshly and glaring at him with pure hatred. "Let go of her, you monster," he snarls. "Put her down and fight me."
    Farfarello's lip lifts in a sneer of contempt.
    "Get her to a hospital," Crawford orders, stepping into the shop. "Schuldich, you drive."
    "What?? She's gonna bleed all over my fucking upholstery!"
    Crawford offers him a long stare.
    "Yeah yeah." Schuldich sighs huffily and beckons Farfarello with a finger. "C'mon. You're paying for the damage, cupcake."
    "Oh shut up," I mumble, closing my eyes.
    Farfarello jostles me roughly, and I grab frantically for his shirt to keep from being dropped. "Hey!"
    "Don't fall asleep," he orders flatly, ignoring Ran completely as he steps over the bodies and heads for the window.
    "I'm not--"
    "Give her back!!" Ran goes after him, and I force my head up a bit, trying to look at him, but I can't see over Farfarello's broad shoulder.
    No, Ran, I send at him sharply. Don't. He'll kill you. I extend the words to the others. It's all right. They're not going to hurt me. Just follow us to the hospital, all right?
    "Aya-chan, what's going on?" Yohji demands in a strained voice.
    Just trust me, all right? Look, you can try and fight-- and get yourselves killed --or you can shut up and follow us. The longer you draw this out... I pause to take a deep breath, struggling to stay conscious. I need to get to a hospital, or I'm going to die.
    Ran makes an incoherent noise of protest, but my eyes are closing again.
    Cool air feels good against my hot brow as Farfarello carries me out of the shop and towards Schuldich's car parked on the curb. I hear a door open, then I'm being shoved into the back seat.
    "Sit back there with her," Schuldich commands as he slides into the driver's seat. "Make sure she stays conscious."
    I feel an extra weight on the seat, and my head is roughly transferred to a warm lap to make room for the both of us as I lie stretched out.
    Stay awake, you annoying little brat, Schuldich snaps as he starts the engine. The longer you're unconscious, the harder it is to bring you out of it.
    "'M awake," I mumble, forcing my eyes open.
    "Barely." The speed he's driving at makes my stomach queasy. "Just... talk or something."
    "Don'.. wanna talk..." My eyes are heavy again, and it's a fight to keep them open.
    "Talk to her, Farf, damn it," Schuldich growls. "Argue with her or something, I don't care. Just keep her awake."
    Farfarello scowls at him in the rearview mirror.
    I close my eyes with a sigh. Oh, what's the point? I doubt I'll make it to the hospital. And maybe it's better this way. Ran and the others won't want me around anymore, once they find out the whole truth. They're already horrified by the fact that they've had a telepath living with them for the past three months.
    If Schuldich is still talking, I don't hear him. I don't even feel the motion of the car anymore. Slowly I sink deeper into nothingness, exhaustion pulling me under.
    Something clicks, startling me.
    Then there is the familiar press of thorns against my weakened walls.
    Schuldich put the link back up..? Why?
    The barbs of Farfarello's mind, the chaotic mass of darkness, makes it hard to relax and allow sleep to come. I try to draw back, pulling my tattered shields up to block it, but he follows the link down into my mind and shoulders them aside impatiently.
    Oi. He prowls restlessly in my mind. Mouse.
    I'm too weak to keep him out. Instead I ignore him, letting my senses drift as sleep rises again to claim me.
    There is nothing from him for a long time, and I am actually about to succumb to my exhaustion when I think I hear something.
    At first I ignore it, but my interest is piqued. The music is faded but it's there, and the words are foreign to me. Struggling a bit to hear better, I realize the music is coming from the link. Wearily I reach out along it, following it into Farfarello's mind.
    It's a memory. A vague whisper of a memory, barely there. A woman is sitting beside a child's bed, her face blurred, but her voice, though dim, comes through.
    It's a mother, softly singing a lullaby to her child. The words aren't Japanese, they're....
    This woman is...
    I listen, transfixed, as the memory replays itself over and over, of this woman singing her child to sleep. The memory of a mother, forgotten in all aspects aside from this one precious moment in time.
    Her sweet voice fills the emptiness that pain and exhaustion has given me, and as if from far away I feel my mouth twitch in the beginnings of a smile.
    "Thank you," I sigh, and then my trembling grasp on consciousness slips, and I fall away into nothingness.

Author's Notes: Only a couple chapters left, now ^__^
A Mystery Man drawing looky~ XD;; link

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