Ch. 17

    I want to sleep, but someone keeps calling my name.
    I try to ignore it, but the voice is insistent, desperate. Slowly awareness is seeping back in, and I give up the struggle, opening my eyes. They feel heavy, and it takes a few tries to get it right.
    I blink, waiting for the world to focus. My heart freezes at the familiar sound of a heart monitor. No-- Not again! Panic erupts, and I jerk awake fully, sitting up so fast I almost bonk heads with the person hovering by my bed.
    Pain lances through my side at my abrupt movement, and I fall back, hissing from behind clenched teeth. I turn my head and see my brother, his face transforming from one of fear to immense relief and happiness. He reaches out and clutches my hand like a lifeline. "You're all right," he reassures me, grinning like an idiot. "You're going to be fine. Try not to move."
    "Don't worry," I manage to say, my voice raspy. "I won't be trying that again for awhile." I try to shift into a more comfortable position, wincing. "I think the pain medication is wearing off..."
    Ran reaches out for the button by the head of my bed to bring the nurse, but I shake my head. "Later." I stop and swallow, trying to get my voice to work properly.
    He retrieves a cup of water from the bedside table and holds my head up carefully, pressing the cup to my lips. I gulp it down greedily, then sigh with relief when I'm finished. "Thanks." My voice is still hoarse, but more human now.
    Something stirs at the edges of my mind. Farfarello knows I'm awake.
    I look up at Ran, searching for something to say that will put him at ease. "Ran, I know this is all happening really fast, but I need you to trust me, okay?"
    He nods slightly, struggling to keep his questions to himself for now.
    I take his hand again, glancing towards the door. "In about five seconds Farfarello is going to come in. I need you to not do anything stupid."
    His eyes widen, and he opens his mouth, but just then the door swings open, and the Berserker stands in the doorway. Ran jerks reflexively, as if he's about to get up, but I hang onto his hand tightly and keep him by me. I shoot Farfarello a warning look. Don't provoke him, Farfarello, for the love of god. He'll attack you without a second thought.
    Farfarello looks decidedly unimpressed, but he doesn't do anything more challenging than offer my brother a long stare as he walks around to stand at the foot of my bed. The Mousemind is right back where she started, he notes.
    I grimace. I'm so sick of hospitals. If they don't release me soon I'm going to lose what's left of my mind.
    Ran is still glaring at Farfarello, but when my expression changes, he blinks. He looks quickly from me to the Irishman in growing suspicion. "Aya--" he blurts, then stops himself.
    I catch the question in his mind and sigh quietly. "Yes, I'm doing the 'telepathy thing'. Don't worry, I won't do it to you. I know you hate it."
    "I don't understand," Ran protests. "How did this happen? And how do you know," his glare darts Farfarello's way, "them?"
    "Um, it's kind of a long story," I hedge.
    "I've got time," Ran insists stubbornly.
    For once I am relieved to sense Schuldich's approach. "The others are coming," I interrupt.
    A few moments later the door slams open and Schuldich waltzes in like he owns the place. I keep a firm hold on my brother.
    "This is a hospital!" Ken protests indignantly, coming in right behind him, but keeping a safe distance. "You can't just go around slamming doors like that!"
    Schuldich ignores him breezily, wandering around the room and propping himself against the windowsill. "Nice crib," he drawls, glancing around at the bare walls.
    Omi and Nagi come in next, eyeing each other distrustfully. Omi, walking carefully due to his patched ribs, stands behind Ran while Nagi goes over to Schuldich's side of the room. He gazes down at me solemnly. I never got to thank you for saving Tot.
    I shrug one shoulder. What was I supposed to do, leave her there? She came by the shop looking for you, by the way. You should try to see her next time you get a chance. She's really got a thing for you.
    A faint smile hovers on his lips, and he inclines his head in gratitude. Aa. Arigato.
    Omi, Ken, and and Ran are staring at him as if he has sprouted two heads. They transfer their incredulous looks to me, wondering why the hell Schwarz's Prodigy is bowing to me.
    Just then Yohji strolls in, reeking of cigarettes, and I wrinkle my nose. "Good grief, Yohji-san," I protest weakly.
    "Sorry." He flaps a hand as if he can get rid of the smell that way. "I was chain smoking while we were waiting for you to get out of surgery." He manages a tired grin. "You really had us worried for awhile there, Bambi."
    "Bambi?" Schuldich repeats, a wide shit-eating grin tugging at his mouth.
    Yohji glares at him.
    "Shut up," I mutter, suddenly embarrassed by the pet name.
    "That is just TOO cute," Schuldich says in a mocking high-pitched voice. "Did Kudou think of that one all by himself??"
    The tension is beginning to rise in the room, and I send an irritated jab into Schuldich's mind to get his attention.
    "Zip it, Nazi," I growl, making sure my grip on Ran's hand is still secure. I don't need him going for any throats. "Unless you want your own dirty laundry aired."
    "Please," he scoffs. "What do you have on me?"
    I smile sweetly and look pointedly at the next person to enter the room.
    Schuldich's smile evaporates. He shoots me a withering look, but he stops teasing Weiß.
    Crawford glances around at all of us, then heads over to stand on the Schwarz side. Farfarello is the only one who stays somewhat in the middle, at the foot of my bed. "Shut the door," Crawford says.
    Ken gives him an "as if" look, but Nagi tilts his head slightly and the door shuts and locks of its own accord. The tension rises as Weiß bristles, ready for a fight.
    Crawford reaches up to push his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, expression serene. "We're not here to fight, Weiß, so sheathe your claws. We wouldn't go through all the trouble of pulling you out of that mess if we wanted you dead."
    "I don't get it," Yohji mutters, glaring distrustfully at Schuldich. "Why did you help us? You don't give a shit if Weiß lives or dies."
    "No, we don't." Nagi nods my way. "Aya-san, however, is a different matter."
    "Hold everything," Ken snaps, holding up his hands in a "whoa" gesture. "None of this makes any sense. I mean... Aya-chan's a telepath?? When did that happen?"
    "He must've done it to her," Yohji insists, still glaring at Schuldich, who sneers in return.
    "It's not like telepathy's contagious," Nagi points out in a condescending tone. "She must have always had it. It was just lying dormant. It started to develop while she was in her coma. Interacting with Schuldich helped stir it to life."
    "Interacting with--" Ran stiffens. "I want answers NOW," he snarls. "Why are all of you acting as if you know my sister? Who were those people that attacked us? Why did you help us?"
    "You've been hiding things from us, Aya-chan," Omi says quietly.
    I sigh, rubbing my head wearily. "Yes," I admit. "I have. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lie to all of you, but I knew how you'd react..."
    "I still think that German bastard did something to her," Yohji insists in a quiet, threatening tone.
    Ran nods in firm agreement, glaring at Schuldich. "She's different. This isn't the Aya-chan I know. What she did in that shop... the way she acted..."
    "She's been acting a little weird for awhile now," Ken points out.
    "Look," I snap, "I know Schuldich's an easy target, but for once he's not the one to blame here."
    The members of Weiß stare at me, waiting. I hesitate, glancing toward Farfarello. All eyes swing his way. I can feel the hatred mounting in my brother like a dark stormcloud, and cling to his hand as hard as I can.
    "You..." Ran tries to jerk his hand free, hot angry eyes on Farfarello. "What did you do to her?"
    "Nagi-kun," I plead.
    Nagi motions his hand, freezing Ken in his tracks just as he makes a move for Farfarello. Farfarello stares at Ken, silently daring him to do something.
    I raise my voice to make sure I have their attention. "Will you all quit with the testosterone flood and just listen?"
    Ran stares down at me, mouth grim, and waits.
    I take a deep breath, trying to figure out my words before I say them. There are certain things I'm not about to explain. Some of it's unimportant, or none of their business, and a lot of it would only start a fight. If Ran finds out some of the things Schuldich and Farfarello have done to me, he's going to lose it.
    So I settle for the abridged version.
    "While I was in my coma, I was still able to hear everything going on around me," I say, keeping my voice deliberately soft so that they are forced to stay still and listen. "I knew when you came and visited me, 'niisan. Sometimes I think your visits are all that kept me sane."
    His hand flexes in mine, his eyes pained.
    "While I was, erm, 'resting', Farfarello got hospitalized, and Schuldich would visit him. He'd also drop by my room sometimes and talk."
    "Talk?" Ken interrupts. "About what?"
    "I read her poetry," Schuldich sneers. "What do you think, nimrod?"
    "He just talked," I intervene firmly. "And one day he heard me. My mind. And he realized I was lucid. Then Farfarello started dropping by--"
    "Why?" Ran glares at Farfarello.
    I sigh. "I don't know," I admit impatiently. "He was probably planning on how to kill me."
    "Why didn't he?" Omi asks quietly.
    "Crawford told him not to," I say hesitantly, glancing towards the Oracle for confirmation. He inclines his head just barely.
    Ken sends the American a suspicious look. "Why?"
    "Are you going to let me finish, or what?" I snap irritably.
    Ken shuts his mouth.
    I rush on to prevent further interruption. I tell them-- as briefly as possible --how they discovered I was a telepath, and how it was decided that I should be put under to prevent me talking to Weiß. I tell them about accidentally dragging Farfarello into my mind, and how we were forced to deal with each other for what felt like months while we waited for Schuldich to wake me back up. I recount Schuldich's rescue of Farfarello, but leave out the part about the link. When I explain how Schuldich jolted me out of my comatose state after I helped him find and save Farfarello, I get incredulous looks from the boys. I can tell they are just as confused by my attempt to keep Farfarello alive as they are by Schuldich's part in waking me up. Ran flicks a strange look towards Schuldich-- still hostile, but startled as well. He is having a hard time accepting the fact that it is because of this man that I am here at all.
    I barely skim over my meeting with Tot, and leave out what I did to the men who were chasing her. I go over the highlights of the meeting in the cafe, which only makes Ran angry again. He is furious that his "doze" was no accident, and that I was helpless and alone amid the madmen of Schwarz. I don't say anything personal about any of the men of Schwarz, and especially nothing whatsoever about Farfarello aside from things of immediate importance he might have said or done, such as warning me about Rosenkreuz's men. When the boys discover that Farfarello was the mysterious third man from the scene in the alley, their emotions are in a turmoil. They're still horrified and angry that I had to witness the murder, but are also unsure what to think about him saving me. I say nothing of the kiss, and ignore Schuldich's knowing smirk when I skip over that detail.
    "Those people that appeared at the shop," I finish, "were more people sent from Rosenkreuz to take me in. As for why Schwarz even showed up and helped us, I'm almost as in the dark as you are. All I know is that Crawford had some kind of vision about me." I glance towards him. "I don't understand. Farfarello said that Rosenkreuz had given the order for my capture, and that Schwarz was ignoring that order. And then you showed up and killed those people. Why risk that?"
    Crawford straightens, looking calm and unruffled despite the alarming amount of animosity in the room. I can sense he is about to lay all his cards on the table, and focus all my attention on him. "Schwarz has been searching for a means to escape Rosenkreuz since shortly before the collapse of the tower," he announces. "Our first strike was against Estet. Now we are merely continuing with the second phase of the plan."
    There is a pregnant pause. Finally Ran transfers his narrow gaze to Crawford. "You had a vision about Aya," he says slowly. "What does any of that have to do with her? What kind of vision did you have?"
    "Are you suggesting that you saw all of this coming?" Ken scoffs. "Why the hell would you--"
    "It doesn't work that way," Crawford cuts him off calmly. "It isn't something I can turn on and off like a switch. Usually images or scenes just come to me, and not all of them are useful. Some of them have nothing to do with me whatsoever."
    I sit up a bit, interested despite myself. "You mean you can never use it deliberately?"
    He shakes his head briefly. "Trying to control it, to see a specific future, is difficult, and if the vision makes no sense, it's useless."
    "What do you mean?"
    He waves a hand vaguely. "The visions I get naturally are clear and concise and vary from only a glimpse to several minutes of a scene or conversation that has yet to happen. But when I use the gift with a specific intent, it... muddies the water, so to speak. I get only a vague idea, a general sense of something. Sometimes just a time, but no explanation as to what happens at that time. That's about as clear as it gets."
    I frown, suspicion gnawing inside of me. "Have you tried using this, um, 'specific' kind of precog to figure out how to free yourselves from Rosenkreuz?"
    "Of course."
    "No good?"
    "It wasn't very helpful. I used it to try and find an answer a long time ago, to find a path that might open up us. All I got was a name."
    "Fujimiya Aya," Schuldich drawls, picking idly at a thread in the curtains.
    "We thought it was you," Nagi admits quietly, glancing at Ran. "You were going by that name for awhile."
    "That's why you never killed Weiß," I guess, startled.
    Crawford nods. "Then we found out about you."
    "He told us if we so much as looked at you wrong, he'd kill us," Schuldich drawled, rolling his eyes. "You were too important to our future. Lucky you."
    "But..." I stare around at them in bewilderment. "I don't understand. How am I supposed to help you escape Rosenkreuz? I mean... didn't you just make them angry at you? You just killed some of their men."
    Schuldich grins. "Did we?"
    "They went into Weiß's sanctuary and ran across four assassins and a fairly strong telepath," Crawford points out. "None are alive to tell the tale, so the obvious conclusion will be drawn."
    "They'll assume we did it," I say slowly.
    "You piece of shit," Yohji hisses, clenching his fists furiously. "You've just landed a goddamn bounty on our heads!"
    "Oh, they'll get over it," Schuldich assures him with a careless wave of his hand. "They don't really give two shits about Weiß. Their only interest is the princess here. They'll only actively come after you if you continue to harbor her."
    "But of course we're going to--"
    "Oh really?"
    Yohji stares at him. Ran rises slowly to his feet, practically dragging me with him from my desperate grasp on his hand. His eyes are burning, his face a mask of ice. "You're not taking Aya away from me," he says in a low, dangerous voice. "Not again."
    Farfarello shifts his weight slightly.
    Shit. God, Farfarello, please don't, I beg frantically, attempting to haul my brother back into his chair. "Ran, calm down," I insist. "They're not taking me anywhere, what are you talking ab--"
    "Oh yes we are," Crawford cuts me off, gazing across at me. "We're going to hand you over to Rosenkreuz."
    I stare at him, mouth open.
    Ran wrenches his hand away from mine and tries to get around Farfarello to get to the American. Farfarello snatches him by the throat and hurls him across the room. He hits the door hard and falls to the floor, coughing as he clasps his bruised throat.
    Immediately everyone else moves in to attack each other. Only Crawford remains still.
    I reach out hastily and touch on all of their minds. ENOUGH!!
    Everyone but the Oracle flinches and halts. I glare around at all of them. "Don't you dare start a god damn blood bath in here. You can take it outside. As for YOU..." I turn my narrowed gaze on Crawford. "What the hell are you talking about? If you think I'm going to let you cart me off to that place, you've lost your fucking mind. I'll never go there. I know what they're really like. I'd rather die. If you're really going to attempt this, you'd better just kill me now and get it over with."
    "You misunderstand," Crawford interrupts, looking completely unfazed. "We're never going to reach Rosenkreuz's front door."
    I stare back at him in a silent demand for an explanation.
    "So far Rosenkreuz has no idea we had anything to do with the death of their team. They'll assume it was you and Weiß. With them dead, they'll expect us to step in and bring you to them. So we will. And then we'll all die tragically in a plane crash halfway there."
    My eyes widen in surprise. "What??"
    "Try to keep up, toots," Schuldich drawls, snapping his fingers a few times to get my attention. "They'll think we're all dead. You and all of Schwarz. They'll drop the search for you, and Schwarz will be free."
    "Then--" Ran looks quickly from Crawford to me. "You'll fake your deaths and then Aya can come back here?"
    I slowly shift my gaze to Ran. I open my mouth, then close it again, unable to make myself say the words that I know will break his heart.
    "Are you retarded?" Schuldich snorts. "It must run in the family. She can't come back here. Eventually they'll find out. Another team will be set up here, and if they have a telepath, he'll sense her. Or they'll catch sight of her in the train. If they realize she's alive, the hunt will be on again. And they'll know we're still alive, too. They'll assume it was a trick and track us down."
    "What are you saying?" Omi demands in a small voice.
    "Aya-san cannot return home," Nagi says firmly. "Not for years. Perhaps never."
    "You're insane," Ran sputters, unable to form anything more coherent through the chaos of horror and fear inside of him. "You can't--"
    Omi's eyes narrow. "Wait a minute," he says sharply. "You never really needed Aya-chan for this. You could have done this plan before. After the tower's collapse, you could have faked your own deaths, or even done the plane crash thing. Why would your vision show you Aya-chan when you could have done this on your own?"
    Crawford nods in acknowledgement. "When I tried to find our answer," he explains, "I didn't just look for a way to escape Rosenkreuz. I was searching for the most beneficial way, and the best time. For some reason, including Aya-chan in this has the most benefits for Schwarz. And it seems now is the time-- with the death of that team they sent after her."
    "Benefits?" I repeat weakly. "What benefits?"
    Schuldich's gaze darts suddenly towards Crawford, and he frowns. I stare at the telepath; he is thinking about the cafe, when I accidentally blurted his secret. And the results of that.
    Nagi is nodding slowly, and I look quickly towards him in growing surprise and disbelief. His thoughts are on Tot. Tot, who I saved that day in the park.
    Crawford is looking at Farfarello out of the corner of his eye, and slowly I turn my head to stare at the Berserker at the foot of my bed.
    I think of the conversation Schuldich and I had in that bar the other night.
    "That's the price of being a Telepath, princess. You give and take a little, and it ain't always pretty."
    "And let me assure you, o pure one, whatever he's getting back from you in this little 'give and take' game is not enough to counter all the crud he's been dumping into that little landfill you call a brain."

    Give and take.
    Farfarello's darkness has infected me, changed me.
    Has something in my mind... a part of the old Fujimiya Aya...
    Has that changed Farfarello? Even if only in small ways?
    "You've seen sides of Farfarello that I've only glimpsed a few times, or never seen at all. And he doesn't interact with you like he does with anybody else."
    Farfarello stares back at me with a bored expression, wondering when this whole stupid meeting will be over so he can go find something to cut with his knives.
    I clear my throat, transferring my gaze to the ceiling. "Can you leave us alone for awhile? I need to talk to my brother and the others. I'll let Farfarello know when I'm ready to talk. But it probably won't be until tomorrow. It's late, and eventually the nurse will give me my morphine drip."
    Crawford nods, motioning for his partners to follow as he heads for the door. "Of course." Nagi thoughtfully holds Weiß in place to prevent a last-minute scuffle.
    Farfarello is the last to leave. He pauses in the doorway to offer Ran one last challenging stare-- just to be difficult, I'm sure --but I sense his prickling across the link.
    I smile wearily, still staring at the ceiling. In anyone else, I would read that as someone wishing to say something but not knowing what to say. I reach out across the link. Might as well get this out of the way. It's probably the last time he'll ever speak to me. Now that I'm safe and Schwarz's future looks secure, he might even be after my life again. Before I forget, I say quietly, I'm sorry about, um, what happened in the alley. I was just... I wince, trying to figure out how to say it without sounding like an idiot. Um, never mind. But I didn't do it to startle you or make you angry. You can get Schuldich to take down the link again if you want.
    Slowly his single eye drifts from Ran towards me, his face impassive. Something writhes in his mind, something dark and confused, but he says nothing. Turning, he leaves the room without a backwards look. Freed of Nagi's control, Ken quickly steps over and shuts the door, locking it once more.
    I close my eyes and let out a deep breath. The pain in my side is a steady gnawing now. I need to keep this brief. If I don't get that morphine soon, I'm not going to be able to stand it any longer.
    "Aya..." Ran sinks back into his chair, looking anxious and fiercely protective. "Don't worry. We won't let them take you..." The others group around my bed, nodding firmly.
    My lip twitches in a sardonic smile, and I glance over at my brother, squeezing his hand encouragingly when he clasps it again. "'Niisan... I'm going to need that painkiller soon, and after that I'll be asleep for the night. So I need you to listen very carefully to what I have to say."

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