Ch. 18

    Thorns probing along the edges of my mind pull me out of my morphine -induced slumber.
    The link is still up. That's... unexpected.
    It takes some effort to drag my eyes open, and when I do, I am confused for a hazy moment. What the hell? This isn't my room. Is it night already?
    Then I notice Ran, still seated beside my bed, his upper body lying across my lap from where he accidentally dozed off. I blink, trying to adjust my eyes to the dark, and turn my attention on the open window.
    Farfarello crouches there like a crow, an eerie silhouette in the moonlight, balancing easily on the narrow windowsill. His hands hang loose between his bent knees as he stares at me steadily with his single eye.
    I squint at him, still feeling thick-headed from my deep sleep. "What time is it?" I mutter.
    He leans forward, and for an instant I think he is about to crash to the floor. Which, in my current drugged state, would be pretty fucking funny.
    But he uncoils at the last second and lands like a cat. Straightening, he comes a bit closer, prowling by the end of the bed as he studies Ran like a vulture eyeing its potential next meal. "Late," he answers absently.
    "That's very helpful." I carefully pick up Ran's wrist, turning it so I can see the watch he's wearing. "...Four in the morning. Good god." I groan and let my head thump back against the pillow, closing my eyes and tugging the blanket up to my chin. "I'm going back to sleep. Come back when the sun's actually up. Way up. Like in the middle of the sky would be good."
    A moment later the sheet is yanked down all the way to my waist, where Ran's resting head stops it.
    That wakes me up.
    I give something like a strained squeak of surprise, staring up in indignant horror at the man standing over my bed, still clutching the sheets in his fist. Quickly I glance towards Ran as he stirs, frowning.
    I reach out quickly, touching his mind, but I have no idea how Schuldich kept him asleep before, or how he gives people calming suggestions like he did at the cafe. All I can do is try to muffle the part of him that is stirring into awareness. He frowns, turning his head slightly, but after a moment he sighs quietly and drifts off again. Carefully I pull free and turn my head to glare accusingly up at Farfarello. The cool breeze from the open window makes me shiver.
    What was that for? If he wakes up and finds you here, he's going to fight you. You know that. I rub my eyes wearily. What are you doing here, anyway? My stomach suddenly knots up with dread. Wait-- don't tell me you guys want to leave already??
    I notice Schuldich's approach at the last minute. He enters the room silently, closing the door softly behind him. He glances at Ran first, and I feel him reaching out to keep a steady pressure on my brother's mind, keeping him unconscious. Then he turns to Farfarello with a scowl. "Since I doubt this little twat gave you a call at such an ungodly hour in the morning, I'm going to assume you ignored Crawford's orders and came over here for no reason whatsoever. I got out of a really warm bed to follow you here, so you'd better have a more convincing excuse than 'I was bored'."
    "Whose bed was it?" I ask with a grin.
    Schuldich transfers his glare to me. "Don't act like some kind of smug matchmaker, you prat," he snaps. He tosses his hair over his shoulder huffily. "It was only a matter of time until he noticed me."
    I roll my eyes. "Sure, whatever." I gently maneuver Ran's head to a bare spot on the mattress and very carefully try to sit up.
    "You do realize that's a hospital bed, yes?" Schuldich drawls.
    "What? Oh, right." I dig the small remote out from under my pillow and fiddle with the buttons until the head of the bed raises a bit so I'm in more of a sitting position. I wince slightly. The morphine is still in effect, but I have to be careful not to move too much.
    I follow Schuldich's pointed look to my brother, and heave a gusty sigh. "Well, I talked to them. I'm not really sure if they listened. Ran especially. I think Omi and Yohji kind of understood that this is the only option left, but Ken kept trying to think of ways out of it. And Ran is still in denial. None of them trust any of you. They're sure you're going to kill me as soon as I step on that plane." I eye them both a little warily. "Which is a possibility I can't dismiss."
    Schuldich grins unnervingly and doesn't answer.
    I close my eyes, massaging my brow. Ran's right; there's no guarantee Schwarz will let me live now that my purpose is over. Still, what other choice do I have? I can't stay here and put Ran and the others at risk. "When are we leaving, anyway?"
    "Rosenkreuz won't be suspicious if it takes us a few days to 'track you down'," Schuldich says, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the doorjamb. "Crawford said that'll give you time to heal a little more so we don't have to roll your ass to the airport in a wheelchair. Today's..." he glances at his watch, "well, Wednesday now. So be ready to leave by Saturday at the earliest. Maybe Sunday."
    "Where will you go?" I ask curiously, then grin a little. "I'm assuming you'll stick with Crawford?"
    He hesitates, scowling at the floor.
    I blink at him, surprised by the uncertainty I sense in him. "Um... aren't you and Crawford..."
    "This ain't your everyday 'straight' relationship, princess," he snaps, suddenly defensive but trying to look scornful. "Banging your boss in the last week or two before the group dissolves doesn't count as a 'relationship'. That lovey-dovey stuff is for little girls like you."
    I cock my head at him, frowning. "So you're saying you're only interested in sleeping with him?" I demand bluntly.
    "Of course," he snorts, but his eyes flick away unconsciously.
    I arch a brow at him. "So you spent your time in Japan celibate and concentrated all your efforts onto getting Crawford into bed because...?"
    "It's called conquest, midget, you wouldn't get it," Schuldich jeers at me.
    I roll my eyes, exasperated. "Schuldich," I snap, "you of all people should know it's pointless to lie to a telepath. But fine, if you wanna play the aloof cold -hearted bastard, be my guest."
    "Shut the hell up, brat," Schuldich growls, annoyed. "You don't know as much as you think you do."
    "No," I admit slowly. "But I'm not stupid. I think you're just fooling yourself if you really believe sex is all you want out of Crawford. What is it with men and denial, anyway? Does it come with the standard package when you're born?"
    "Bite me, bitch."
    I hold up my hands in defeat. "Fine, fine. It's none of my business. Forget it. So where do you want to go?"
    "Where do you think?" He stretches, instantly dismissing the previous subject. "Been a long time since I've been home."
    "Germany? I guess Crawford will want to go back to America. What about Nagi?"
    He shrugs carelessly. "Beats me. That's his business." He jerks his chin in Farfarello's direction. "The Farfenator here obviously can't be left alone. He'll have the city in flames within a day if we leave him somewhere unsupervised. Or he'll do something equally stupid and get himself caught. Looks like he'll be going with whoever pulls the short straw. Crawford will probably shove him off on Nagi, since it's easier for him to control the little spud-eater."
    "Well, yeah, but..." I glance at Farfarello. He's studying my chart, turning it upside down and frowning at it as he tries to decipher the kanji. He seems completely uninterested in the conversation. "Why not you? Can't he go with you to Germany? You two at least get along. Farfarello only sees Nagi as a moving target."
    Schuldich shakes his head briefly. "I can blend in. I know the lingo, the customs, and it won't take much to alter my appearance. Farfarello's a little too conspicuous. I can't just leech the dye out of his hair and hope he comes across as normal. Not with those scars or that damned patch. And we've been seen together too often. If someone sees him and recognizes him, it won't take a genius to figure out who I really am."
    "And me?" I ask quietly, trying to keep my thoughts calm and hide the anxiety from the other telepath. "Are you just going to drop me on the nearest continent? Or kill me the second we're in the air and dump my body into the ocean?"
    Schuldich grins tauntingly. "Guess that's up to Crawdad, now isn't it? I would prepare myself for the latter if I were you, though, and write up a will. Just in case."
    "Lovely." I turn my attention on Farfarello as he tosses the clipboard carelessly onto the floor with a clatter and moves to the side of the bed.
    Schuldich flicks him a hooded glance and pushes himself away from the wall abruptly. "I need something to eat or my stomach is going to start attaching itself to my spinal cord. Where the hell are the snack machines in this dump?"
    I look at him quickly, surprised at his willingness to leave Farfarello alone with me. Especially since the Berserker is probably planning on killing me. "Um... I think there's one on the floor below. Ran got something from it earlier."
    "Chocolate: breakfast of champions. Play nice, kiddies," Schuldich shoots over his shoulder, already heading out of the room and pulling the door shut behind himself.
    There is a long moment of tense silence. I stare at Ran's tossled red hair, and Farfarello stands beside the bed without moving or speaking.
    His mind shifts restlessly against mine through the bond. Physically he seems calm and detached, but now that Schuldich isn't holding my attention, I can sense the wary distrust in him, and the irritation.
    Why? he demands shortly, mental voice full of barbs.
    A brief image flickers across the bond, for just an instant-- that moment in the alley where I apparently had a lapse of sanity.
    I wince slightly, twisting my fingers almost unconsciously in the sheet as I stare stubbornly at Ran's still form, unwilling to meet that accusing amber eye. I struggle to think of a response that won't anger him, one that will make sense, but in the end I give up and decide to go with the truth. I wanted to.
    The bright spark of angry violence in his thoughts isn't much of a warning; I have just enough time to throw my arms up instinctively to protect my throat as he moves forward abruptly. Unable to get to my throat at his initial grab, he instead seizes both my wrists in one calloused hand and shoves hard, slamming my hands against my chest and digging me back into the mattress. I grunt, but bite my lip to hold back a surprised cry, staring up blankly at the face so close to my own as he glares at me fiercely like some monster from a horror story.
    His lips peel back from his teeth in a soundless snarl, and my eyes dart sideways when I see his other hand raise. He's drawn his knife, and is holding it dangerously close to the left side of my temple, ready to slam it into my brain at any given moment.
    The dark roiling cloud of rage, confusion, and desperation seeping through the link makes it hard to even hear myself think, and his words are like broken glass scraping against my shields. I'll kill you.
    I stare back at him unblinking, careful not to move. Deja vu, I note a bit weakly.
    My flippancy is not appreciated. His grip on my wrists tightens until the bones grind together, and I flinch at the pain. You've served your purpose for Schwarz, he points out, barely-restrained violence lacing his words. That means the Oracle can't protect you anymore.
    I take in a deep, shuddering breath and meet his fierce gaze as steadily as I can. The only way Crawford took part in keeping me alive was to order all of you not to hurt me. If you're talking about 'protecting', you're a little off the mark.
    His eye narrows.
    You're the one, I insist quietly, that's been protecting me.
    He leans back slightly, a quick jerky motion as if I've spat in his face, but he halts the retreat at the last minute. The knife suddenly digs into my temple, not quite breaking the skin. I kept you from getting yourself killed, he snarls. Because you were of temporary use to Schwarz.
    Since when do you care about Schwarz? I demand. All of that went flying out the window the minute I... I falter, then figure fuck it, he knows what I'm referring to. If what I did bothered you so much, why didn't you kill me there in the alley?
    His grip on my wrists is numbing, and it takes all my self control to hold back a sound of pain. He shifts from where he's crouched down on the edge of the bed, digging the knife a bit harder into my skull. His restraint is as fragile and wavering as a tauntly-pulled wire. If I say the wrong thing, if the turmoil in his mind proves too much, I'm going to get a blade through the head.
    At least it should be a quick death.
    It's like walking on eggshells; one wrong word and he'll snap. I hesitate, trying to figure out what it is I'm trying to say. Well, my common sense points out wearily, he'll probably kill you no matter what. So whatever you've been wanting to say, might as well say it now.
    Good point. I let out a loud breath and some of the tension in me goes with it. It's as if now that I know death is most likely in the very near future, and there's nothing I can do about it, the fear is ebbing. I flick Ran a quick look to make sure he's still asleep. If he wakes up and sees what Farfarello's doing, he's only going to make the situation worse. My death is seeming less frightening by the minute, but I'm not about to jeapardize my brother's life.
    I stare back at Farfarello calmly, sticking to silent words to prevent disturbing Ran. It was probably wrong of me to do what I did, I admit quietly. If I'd stopped to think about how it would fuck with your head so much, I probably never would have done it. But Farfarello, people don't usually think before they do things like that. They listen to something inside them that can't really be explained. ..Look, it's not like I'm going anywhere, so could you at least let go of my wrists? Having my hands free isn't really going to save me from a knife to the brain, now is it?
    His eye narrows dangerously, but after a long moment he slowly releases his grip on my wrists. I drop my hands into my lap, massaging them slightly to ease the ache and get the blood flowing into them again. He is seated on the bed, torso facing me, and the hand holding the knife shakes minutely with the urge to slam it home.
    Why did you do that? he demands again harshly, brutally.
    I open my mouth and shut it again, puzzled as to why this question is so obviously important to him. I told you--
    He pulls back the knife abruptly and slams it into the wall above my head. He leans in slightly, glaring furiously at me from mere inches away. His body and mind are humming with deadly intent. He is the very picture of insanity, death, and cruelty. Do you know what I am?? he demands, his words slicing at my outer shields painfully. The howling thing inside of him rushes faster. Flows steadily through the link. Infects me as he's been infecting me all along.
    And I realize that Farfarello sees himself the same way everyone else does: something monsterous, something no longer human. Something to be feared and hated and avoided at all costs. It's how he's been treated practically his whole life, and he's come to accept it.
    What I did in the alley... He can't fit that into the scheme of things. People don't kiss Berserkers. They don't willingly touch the monster. What I did was something he's viewed from an outside perspective in passing; something "real" people do with each other. His world is comprised of violence and blood; the deliverance of pain and death. Then I just had to show up out of nowhere and bring everything crashing down. A mild amusement and puzzle at first, I overstepped that forbidden boundary and now life no longer makes sense.
    I watch my hands lift as if I'm seeing someone else do it, as if my limbs are being tugged by puppet strings. My palms land either side of his face in a careful barely-there touch. His entire body goes stiff and unmoving as he stares back at me. Something like fear flashes amidst the rage inside him. By the time he thinks to pull away, I'm already leaning forward.
    I slide my hands along his cheeks, past his ears, and slowly twine my arms around broad shoulders, lifting my head so that my mouth is hovering just by his cheek. I move slowly, cautiously, as if I am handling some dangerous wild predator. He remains frozen, unresponsive, as I very carefully pull him just close enough so that I am pressed up against him, but not too tightly.
    "I know what you are," I whisper in his ear, and a shudder runs through him. His brain has locked up at this sudden turn of events, but there is a steady stream of disbelief, panic, confusion, and anger looping around in him over and over like a trapped animal.
    Slowly, inch by inch, I pull him a bit closer until we are pressed more firmly together, from our cheeks to just shy of our waists.
    Something deep inside of him clicks almost audibly, so deeply buried in him it's impossible to touch with the mind. Deep down with his most base instincts and primal urges to hunt, to kill, to eat, to sleep....
    Schuldich told me "He doesn't have any idea what girls are for".
    He didn't. Not really.
    Maybe Farfarello never even viewed me as any gender at all. Just a strange little bug in a jar.
    But it seems that even in a madman, the most basic of male instincts is intact.
    It is strange what the feel of female curves at such close quarters does to men's minds.
    He twitches violently, a startled jump, and hastily tries to pull away, but I only tighten my arms around his shoulders so that when he pulls back, he drags me with him. He freezes again, breathing fast and irregular as confusion clamours in his mind. From where our chests are pressed together I can feel his heart slamming against his ribs.
    His vaguest memories of being held like this were based around Sister Ruth and his mother. That was when he was a child. He has never, as a man, had a woman hold him like this before. He wavers on a dangerous brink, his brain about to short-circuit. He doesn't know how to handle this. This is so completely outside his realm of understanding and his sense of how things should be, that he can't even decide whether to kill me or run for the hills.
    In contrast to his wild confusion and near-panic, I am strangely calm.
    This is new to me, too. I guess I always assumed the first time I did something like this I would be shy, uncertain. Nervous and blushing. Whether it's another side effect of his darkness in me or just a reaction to his convoluted state, I'm not sure. I turn my head slightly, still keeping my movements slow and nonthreatening, and find his mouth with my own.
    It's brief-- a bare brush of lips. His are closed tightly, stretched thin over clenched teeth. I pull back slightly, then try again, my hands drifting up his shoulders, fingers threading through short bleached hair to keep him from pulling away as I try again, still softly, still cautiously.
    There's a fine trembling humming through his body, one that can't be seen with the eyes; but I feel it from where I'm pressed up against him. He wavers; the odd position is making keeping his balance difficult. After a moment his fingers slip free from the knife where it's still imbedded in the plaster and he presses his palm to the wall.
    This time when I press my lips to his, his mouth opens. Just barely -- a slight intake of breath as he fights an internal battle to keep himself from completely losing it. Forgetting my injury for a moment, I decide to take a risk, and lean forward, arching just slightly so that I am pressed up against him more firmly than ever, my chest crushed a bit against his own.
    Another shudder goes through him, a strong one, then suddenly his free hand is wrapping around my throat. I have half an instant to really start worrying before I realize the grip is firm but not strangling-- then his mouth catches mine roughly.
    It's more like an attack than a kiss-- fierce and desperate and pure instinctive need, and I feel my lip split against my teeth, flooding our mouths with the taste of copper.
    But I don't care I don't care I don't care--
    I release my grip on his hair and wrap my arms around his neck and shoulders again to hold myself up as he leans forward slightly, aggressively moving into my personal space. His tongue goes searching for the source of the blood, a taste he knows, something familiar in all of this, and I tighten my grip on his shoulders at the feel of that tongue probing roughly at my mouth.
    It isn't romantic. It isn't gentle. It isn't anything like I thought my first real kiss would be like.
    But it triggers a switch inside of me-- my own base instincts. Suddenly breathing is difficult and it's way way too hot in here and--
    I've never wanted anything so badly in my life.
    Farfarello's hand slips from my throat and slides down my uninjured side in rough exploration, settling heavily on the curve of my hip, and a small noise escapes me before I can stop it, muffled against his mouth.
    That one noise washes away the last of the confusion in the sudden wash of need and fierce possessiveness that floods his mind.
    I find myself pressed against the mattress again, still in its slightly tilted position. The hand he's been using for balance presses into the pillow by my head as he shifts slightly, then abruptly stops, pulling away slightly as alarm suddenly strikes again.
    Breathing shakily, it takes me a moment to figure out what the problem is. I may be inexperienced, but at least I have some basic ideas. Teenagers talk. And there are movies and books. I lower my arms, snag the hem of his pants, and tug insistantly. He hesitates, expression a bit wary, but he senses the gist of what I'm trying to do through the link. He turns from where he's been sitting sideways on the edge of the bed, pulling his leg up until he's crouching on the bed at a slight angle over me. When I reach up and tug on his hair again, instincts step in once more.
    His fierce mouth finds mine again, and then his body lowers on top of mine, making my breath freeze in my lungs for an instant and my heart thump in my ears so loudly I can barely hear my own breaths. And now, at last, a bit of nervousness makes its way through my initial calm. The feel of all that weight resting on top of me does strange things to my body and mind. My body reacts to it, wants it, but my mind is suddenly alarmed by the implications of this, this first step into forbidden territory.
    And of course knowing that you're pinned down by someone who could snap your neck like a twig at the slightest provocation isn't a real comfort.
    But now that he's finally seen this new world, this part of life previously denied to him, he isn't about to back out. Everything he does is without regret, is done spur of the moment. When he draws his knife with the intent to kill, he goes through with it. He flows into the movements of his body and finishes the kill, and doesn't stop to contemplate it until after. This is no different. I'm not sure if he even senses my sudden anxiety in the link or not, but if he does, he pays it no heed.
    He shifts, the hand on my hip almost numbing, and then animal instincts take over and his hips-- move against mine and that's-- oh-- very interesting....
    For about half a second.
    His reactions are incredibly fast. His hand releases my hip and slaps over my mouth before I get more than the start of a sharp cry out. But the sound finally filters through the haze in his mind, and he stops moving altogether, tension humming in his frame again. I blink at him owlishly over the hand, eyes pricked with tears.
    He stares at me, mouth tightening. I can feel him starting to withdraw mentally, swiftly retreating behind his shields.
    He thinks he scared me. I'm no different than anyone else.
    I take in a slow breath through my nose. "Sorry," I mutter, a bit embarrassed. It's... my wound...
    He looks down quickly, as if just remembering it, and lifts himself off me slightly. I wince, reaching down to touch the bandages. Glancing at it, I'm grateful to see no blood spots. At least the stitches didn't tear.
    There is a moment's awkward pause, and only now do I feel my face starting to heat up in a furious blush as I stare blankly up at Farfarello.
    And then I realize there is a familiar touch against my mind.
    SCHULDICH!! I yelp, mortified.
    Farfarello rolls off of me and lands lightly on his feet. He snatches the knife from the wall just as the door opens.
    Schuldich pops his head in, grinning, then freezes with one foot in the room on seeing Farfarello's grim eye and the tight grip he has on the knife. He decides prudently not to enter, and remains where he is. Oh, chill, pussy cat, it's not like I was spying the whole time, he snorts, but I can see him fighting back a taunting smirk. I was just checking if the coast was clear, if you get my drift.
    I seize the small potted plant Omi left for me earlier and heave it at Schuldich's head, humiliated and furious. He ducks just in time, and it smashes against the wall inches from his head.
    The sound jerks Ran awake. He sits up so fast he almost falls out of his chair. He grabs the edge of the bed for balance and looks around wildly. He sees Farfarello first and goes rigid, staring up at him in shock. Farfarello glares back, knife still upheld.
    Uh oh.
    I manage to grab Ran's arm and hang on tight as he tries to lunge across the bed. "Ran, no!" I shout, my wound screaming in agony at the rough movement. "Ow! Stop it!"
    He pauses when he realizes I'm aggravating my wound by restraining him, though his body still hums with lethal intent. The look he gives Farfarello could melt the paint off the walls. "You--"
    "He isn't here to kill me, Ran, for god's sake STOP," I gasp, blinking hard to keep back the prickling tears of pain. Morphine. Morphine would be good right about now. "You just startled him. We were just talking."
    Schuldich coughs, but it sounds suspiciously like a muffled laugh. Ran whips around to stare at him incredulously. "What the hell are you doing here??" he hisses. "Take that monster and get out!!"
    "Ran!" I protest loudly, trying to get his attention.
    Schuldich cocks his head as if listening to something, eyes roving sideways, unfocused. I notice it too, and curse under my breath. "Good going, red. The nurses are on their way. Farf, get lost. I'll meet you outside." He flicks me a parting glance. "Saturday," he reminds me firmly.
    "Yes, yes, I know, just go," I mutter, releasing Ran and pressing both hands gingerly to my throbbing side. "Shit shit ow ow ow..."
    Schuldich slips out of the door without another word.
    "Aya-chan--" Ran hovers by my side anxiously.
    Farfarello sheathes his knife slowly, eye lingering on me for a moment before he turns and lifts himself onto the windowsill. I look up just in time to see him drop out into the darkness outside, then the nurses are hurrying in and I concentrate on the imminent receival of precious painkillers.

Author's Notes: AHAHAHA Amiko did teh het. o_o
>XD;; Anywho... yeah, this was supposed to be the last chapter, aside from the epilogue, but it was getting ridiculously long and it wasn't even finished yet, so I cropped out the end and pasted it onto what will now be ch. 19.
So... One more real chapter, then an epilogue. =p~
Oh yeah, the part about "leeching the dye" out of Farf's hair... Remember, when Farfarello showed Aya a brief glimpse of his real hair color, it was red. In the manga, Farf's hair is red. I used that in WADtD; in this fic, Schwarz dyed his hair white to make him even creepier than he already is.

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