Ch. 19

    That is the last I see of anyone from Schwarz for the next few days. I spend half the time worrying that Farfarello is going to think back on what happened and have another panic attack, and the rest of the time thinking about Crawford's plan.
    It takes a lot of wheedling, but I finally get the nurses to release me Friday afternoon. I have to shuffle around the room first, promise to stay off my feet as much as possible, get plenty of rest, and a whole list of other demands. Ran assures them he'll keep a close eye on me, and finally the papers are signed. Relieved to be free of the hospital, I don't even bother arguing when Ran insists on taking me to the car in a wheelchair.
    "One step forward, two steps back," I grumble, forced to lean most of my weight on the cane for support as we slowly make our way down the hall of our building towards our apartment. "I was almost ready to walk by myself again, and now this. I wish Farfarello had killed that bastard who shot me a little more slowly."
    Ran winces, uncomfortable at such bloodthirsty talk from me, and quickly changes the subject. "The doctors said as long as you're careful, it should be well on its way to recovery within a month or so," he soothes, digging in his pocket for the keys. "That means no moving around too much, no lifting anything over a couple pounds, and no bending over. You can take the register until the doctor says you're well enough to help out more."
    I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, frowning. He's still in denial. He refuses to accept the fact that I'll be leaving soon, much less the possibility that I might not come back.
    He just wants things to be the way they were before. He's lived these past few years with the certainty that once I woke up, things would be "normal" again. I would be the same cheerful, doting innocent little sister, and he would be able to really be Ran again.
    "Things are never going to be the way they were, you know," I say quietly, eyes straight ahead as I limp slowly onwards.
    His step falters slightly, then he clenches his jaw grimly. "They can be," he insists.
    I sigh. "You keep hoping this problem will just magically go away. That one day I'll wake up and be telepathy-free and Schwarz will disappear into the sunset never to be seen again. And that we'll be whole again. But that's never going to happen. The girl you remember-- your sister --is gone." He opens his mouth to protest, horrified, but I bull on relentlessly. "And so is the man I knew. Ran, no matter how hard you try, you'll never be the same person you were before the accident. You've got too much of Abysinnian in you now. And like it or not, this gift-- and being trapped with Farfarello for so long --has also changed me."
    He comes to a complete stop and turns to face me, face torn with grief and frustration.
    "You know I'm right," I murmur, looking up at him. "You just don't want to admit it."
    He flinches, hand moving towards his head. "Stay out of here," he says harshly, then shakes his head quickly in apology when I look away. "I'm-- sorry. I know you can't help it, and... it's part of you now, but..."
    "After meeting Schuldich, I can understand why a telepath would leave a bad taste in your mouth," I admit with a wry little smile. "And I know it's a gross invasion of privacy." I hesitate, looking down at the tip of my cane as I tap it softly against the ground. "I'm going to teach you a trick," I say finally. "Maybe it will help you feel a little more comfortable around me. And if the team that replaces Schwarz has a telepath, I'd feel better if you and the guys knew how to shield yourselves from him."
    He looks startled. "Shield? You can do that?"
    "Sure." I tap a finger against my temple, right where Farfarello held the tip of his knife a few nights ago... OK, let's not go there. Just thinking about that night makes my face flush and gives me way too many pictures in my head. Unconsciously I run my tongue over the cut in my lip, the only physical reminder of that night I have. I clear my throat, hoping my face is still composed. "Um, all you do is envision some kind of blockade. Use your imagination-- close your eyes if it helps. And imagine your thoughts surrounded by a wall of some sort. For me, it's a thick concrete wall. For Farfarello, it's a barrier of thorns. I think those are the ones that come most naturally to us, but if you're having trouble with it, just imagine something like my own wall."
    He frowns dubiously, but shuts his eyes obediently. I reach out a tendril of thought to watch his progress. At first it's difficult; of the two of us, mine was always the more vivid imagination. And he doesn't quite grasp what I tried to explain. Something wavers behind his natural outer shields, but nothing solid comes of it. I wait a few moments, then abruptly push farther into his mind, making sure he feels it.
    He goes rigid and--
    I find myself almost propelled out of his head altogether with the speed his inner walls crop up at.
    You did it, I congratulate. But inside, in that tiny piece of Aya that's left of me, I feel a twinge of compassionate regret.
    The wall that surrounds his mind is a thick barrier of solid ice.
    It suits him in a way I wish it didn't.
    I slide out of his mind. "See? Not so hard. Just practice. The more you use it, the stronger it will become. Eventually you won't even have to concentrate on it; it will always be there as an initial resistance. But it won't keep out a real telepath. All it will do is alert you to their touch; if a telepath reaches into your mind far enough to touch that wall, you'll feel it in a way you wouldn't have before. Then you'll have to concentrate again."
    He nods, looking a bit relieved. Then he frowns at me. "That man-- the one sent from Rosenkreuz.... He was a telepath, too, right?"
    I wait, knowing where this is going.
    "You killed him," he says slowly, looking at me with a mix of wariness and regret. "How?"
    I let out a heavy sigh. "I was wondering when you'd ask about that. A telepath can... well, 'attack' another mind. Everyone has a thin outer shield, one that you don't have to think up. It's there all by itself. They also have something like an inner one-- something that protects the mind itself. But in normal people, neither of those shields is strong." I hesitate, frowning. "Except in Yohji-san. His are a bit stronger than most normal people's. I guess from dealing with Schuldich. Or maybe it's just a natural gift. Anyway, neither of those shields are strong enough to protect from a full-out attack from a telepath. That's why you have to build up your inner shields like I just taught you. With only your natural shields, a telepath can easily smash them down. And that means smashing your mind. Tearing the shields apart also tears apart the mind."
    "It kills them," Ran finishes grimly. "But didn't that telepath at the shop have those kind of strong shields?"
    "Yes," I hedge.
    "Then why were you able to do that to him?"
    I shrug. "Turns out I was stronger than he was. Or maybe just more desperate."
    "And you killed him." He looks a bit sick to his stomach. "You..."
    "Tore down his shields and crushed his mind like a grapefruit, yes."
    "Enough." He waves a hand, closing his eyes for a moment. "I can't stand hearing you say things like that."
    "Thank you for proving my point," I murmur.
    He stares at me, conflicted. I know he's hurting inside, but I can also feel the beginnings of a dread kind of acceptance.
    "I'm leaving with Schwarz," I say quietly but firmly. "It's better that way. Whether you accept it or not, I'm leaving. I'm sorry."
    He turns abruptly and continues down the hall quickly, not ready to face this yet. I follow more slowly. I decide not to mention what I can sense we're about to walk into.
    Neither of us say anything as he inserts the key in the lock and pushes the door open, standing aside to let me through first. I take two steps in and hit the lightswitch, eyes swinging automatically in the direction of the most prominent thoughts.
    Ken leaps up from behind the couch. "SURPRISE!"
    "Hi, Ken."
   v Yohji and Omi pop out of the kitchen, grinning.
    "Surprise--! Oh." Omi looks disappointed. "You knew we were here, didn't you?"
    I nod, and glance back at my brother, who had a miniature heart attack at Ken's abrupt appearance and is clawing for a sword he no longer wears. He scowls darkly at the three of them once his brain catches up with his instincts. "What the hell are you doing here?" he growls. He doesn't like being startled.
    "I would've warned you, but I didn't want to ruin the surprise completely," I say with a small grin, allowing Yohji to help me as he comes over and offers his arm.
    He leads me to the couch, and I look around at them, smile still playing on my lips. "I'd ask what this is all about, but..."
    "You already know," Omi guesses, looking put out. He grins at Ran. "At least we managed to surprise someone."
    "You have five seconds in which to explain yourselves," Ran informs them all irritably, still standing in the doorway and holding the door open pointedly. "Then I'm throwing you all out."
    "Don't be such a stick in the mud, Ran," Ken huffs, setting a tiny little bakery cake decorated with frosting balloons down on the coffee table in front of me.
    "It's a going-away party, of course," Yohji says with false cheer.
    Ran stares at him.
    Omi goes to retrieve him. He shuts the door and tugs gently on Ran's arm until he reluctantly follows him into the den.
    "You made it pretty clear in the hospital that you'd be going with Schwarz," Ken says, scratching at his head uncomfortably and avoiding looking at either myself or my brother. "While we all still think it's pretty dangerous, I guess we can't exactly stop you without locking you up somewhere."
    "And," Omi interrupts firmly, "you're right, I suppose. Even if we don't like it. This is the only way to keep yourself safe. And us."
    "But!" Yohji holds up a finger, frowning sternly at me. "None of this 'forever' bullshit like that Naoe kid mentioned. Eventually you'll drop off of Rosenkreuz's radar. When that happens, we'll expect you to come back home where you belong."
    "Or we'll hunt you down ourselves," Omi adds with an innocent little smile. "And you won't like that."
    I smile back. "Of course."
    They immediately start explaining the party they have in store for me tonight.
    Ran slowly relaxes just a little bit as unhappy resignation settles in. At least my promise to someday return seems to have taken some of the sting out of it. I glance towards the loose grip Omi still has on my brother's arm. He doesn't even seem to realize he's still holding on, and Ran allows the contact without even thinking about it.
    I look away, mouth twitching in a little smirk that I hide with the cup of milk Yohji hands me. My brother's pretty dense when it comes to matters of the heart, I point out quietly. I hope you're the patient type.
    Omi flushes to the roots of his hair, but doesn't let go of Ran. His thoughts are thready and a bit hard to pick up; he isn't used to this form of communication. How long have you known?
    Since shortly after waking up.
    Oh. Um... he shoots Ran a sidelong look, thoughts full of embarrassment, unhappiness, and trepidition. Should I... even bother?
    You mean do you have a chance? I stare into my milk, sliding carefully into Ran's mind-- he's forgotten about his ice shield. I dig gently deeper, searching for clues or even possibilities. Finally I pull back out and settle back in the couch cushions, sipping smugly at my drink. Like I said, he's kind of dense. But not that stupid. Give it time. And be there for him while I'm gone.
    He blushes again, but a happy smile breaks out on his face.
    Ran looks at him curiously, wondering what he seems so damned happy about, and belatedly notices the grip Omi still has on his arm. In a flash of mischief I stealthily reach in and amplify the image just a bit so that he's forced to actually notice it instead of dismissing it.
    He looks away from Omi abruptly, confusion scattering his thoughts. He carefully extricates his arm from the loose embrace, but there is the faintest hint of red in his cheeks. He shoots me a quick, worried look to see if I caught that, but I am already talking to Yohji, feigning ignorance.
    Omi looks crestfallen for all of two seconds until he catches Ran's flushed face. The two of them stand awkwardly not looking at each other, both of them blushing and trying to pretend they're not.
    Grinning to myself, I keep Yohji and Ken engaged in conversation to keep them from noticing.


    It's almost midnight before the boys finally leave. After hours of card games, movies, snack foods, and alcohol (well, not me; they ignored my arguments and refused to relinquish the goods to a minor), I am more than ready for bed, but a bit more content than I have been in a long time.
    It's hard to get them to go, but it would be a lot harder if they knew I planned on leaving tomorrow. They still think they have a few days with me. As Ran shuts and locks the door behind them, he lets out a loud sigh of relief. He begins moving about the den, muttering grumpily as he straightens up the mess they left. But despite his grouchy front, I know he enjoyed himself at least a little bit. And he was grateful for the company, for both of us.
    I sit on the couch with my feet tucked under me, cradling a cup of hot tea in my hands as I watch him. "I'll write, you know," I say quietly. "Whenever I get the chance. I won't be able to go much into detail, and I'll have to use codenames, but I'll get a letter to you to let you know I'm all right. I promise."
    He pauses, staring at the trashbag in his hands. After a moment he puts it down carefully and comes over to the couch. He sits next to me and tugs me over to him so I'm propped on his shoulder. He rests his chin on my head and doesn't say anything. He doesn't need to. I set my tea aside and close my eyes, allowing the comfort that he needs more than I do.
    I doze in and out, and am vaguely aware of him carrying me to my bed and tucking me in. I roll over and am asleep before the door finishes closing behind him.


    I am too tired to be awakened by the sense of Farfarello's mind, but the sound of my window opening wakes me up. I sit up abruptly and switch on the lamp, blinking quickly in an attempt to see in the sudden light before I recognize the barbs in the link. "Farfarello," I sigh, lying back down again. "You startled me."
    "Hn." He slides from the windowsill to the floor, and actually remembers to close the window behind him.
    He stays where he is, eye roving around the room as he takes it all in.
    I lie still and watch him with a mixture of nervous anticipation and embarrassment. I've never had another boy in my room before. Not even Ran's friends have been in here. And I have to admit I've been lax about cleaning it lately. There's dirty laundry scattered haphazardly all over the floor, stuff stacked on my desk, and a couple empty cups on the bedside table.
    Finally he focuses on me, and hesitates only for an instant before walking over. Ignoring the nervous bunching in my stomach-- because it's natural, and to hell with nerves anyway, hormones speak louder --I scoot over a bit to make room on the bed.
    In the hospital, everything was chaos and realization and desperation. Something that happened suddenly. But this... this is planned. Even if he didn't realize it fully, he's been planning this all day, somewhere in the back of his head, out of immediate reach of his conscious mind. And I...
    Well, I guess I expected it.
    Maybe even hoped for it.
    So it's not as violent and harsh as before. His hands are still rough, but a little more careful, a little more hesitant. His mouth is still fiercely possessive-- everything inside of him says This is mine --but not as painful. It's a deranged mix of tightly-leashed violence and caution.
    It fits us perfectly.
    When his hand finally fumbles past cloth and slides up the bare skin of my stomach, tracking northwards, I pull my mouth away from his to gasp for air and grope blindly for the lamp, yanking the chain and filling the room with darkness once again.


    I am not expecting Farfarello to still be there when I wake up the next morning.
    But he is.
    I wake up before he does, slowly, my brain a hazy fog. I feel strangely satisfied and languorously relaxed. Stretching my arms and back lazily, I turn my head and almost bury my face in ragged white hair.
    I freeze mid-stretch. Partly because I've just noticed how sore I am in certain spots-- some that I expected to ache, others that I didn't, such as my inner thighs --and partly because I am having difficulty processing what my eyes are showing me.
    Farfarello stayed. I honestly expected him to slip out before dawn.
    I carefully put my arms back down so as not to jostle him. I don't want to wake him yet. And I don't want to startle him accidentally and trigger a deadly reflex.
    I've heard girls coo over their boyfriends, claiming that they look so "sweet and innocent, just like little boys" when they're asleep. Farfarello will never look sweet or innocent-- not with those scars or that patch, or the bleached hair and earrings Schwarz gave him to make him seem even more terrifying.
    But he does look more relaxed than I've ever seen him before. He fell asleep on his side, facing me, one strong arm pinning me down from where it's curled around my waist. Whether this was an unconscious move in his sleep or if he's more possessive than I suspected from his desperate kisses, I'm not sure. But I'm certainly not complaining.
    I feel a grin teasing at my lips as I think of what we did last night.
    Not complaining at all.
    Then I sense my brother's mind in the next room. And he's not just waking up. He's making breakfast.
    "Shiiiit," I hiss, looking around wildly in a panic. Listening to his little sister cuss is one thing. Watching her bash the brains of a hitman in is difficult to process. But finding her naked in bed with a Berserker...
    My mind refuses to grasp that horror.
    I reach out tentatively along the link, hoping I can wake him up gradually without surprising him. I poke carefully but insistently against his walls until his face screws up a little-- oh, god, did the words 'cute' and 'Farfarello' just flash through my head in some sort of connected fashion? I've got it bad --and he turns his head away. Then he blinks a few times, groggily.
    Predictably, he notes the unfamiliar surroundings and goes tense. He looks around quickly but warily, then finally relaxes a tiny bit when he sees me. I offer a quick smile, pushing at his shoulder in an attempt to remove the arm from around me. 'Morning, I greet quietly. I'm actually surprised you're still here-- though a little too happy about it --but if you don't disappear in the next few minutes, there is going to be World War III in this bedroom.
    He frowns slightly, annoyed at having to be awake and wondering what the hell I'm talking about.
    Ran's awake. He'll be in here any minute to get me for breakfast.
    That works. He doesn't exactly leap from the bed and begin snatching up clothes like a guilty lover, but then, Farfarello isn't exactly intimidated by my brother. But he does seem to realize that I wish to avoid a conflict, and that spraying my brother's blood all over the wallpaper equals no more sex. So he pulls his arm away from me and sits up.
    He reaches for his pants, then hesitates, eye going slightly unfocused. I can sense across the link that Schuldich is talking to him, but don't bother to eavesdrop. I'm too busy playing the aforementioned part of the guilty lover. I slither out of bed and yank on my nightgown, trying frantically to straighten the sheets with Farfarello still sitting calmly on half of them.
    "Farfarello!" I hiss urgently.
    He rises unhurriedly to his feet, unconcerned about my rush, still having his silent conversation with the Mastermind as he dresses calmly. He is mostly dressed by the time Schuldich slips out of his mind and touches mine.
    Have fun? he asks, leer evident in every single nuance of the mental words.
    Yes I did, I shoot back primly but blushing anyway. Did you?
    He laughs. Oh yeah. You know, Crawdad's got a surprising amount of stamina for someone who acts so stiff and untouchable all the time.
    Good for you. What do you want? I hurry around the bed and try to push Farfarello in the direction of the window, but he refuses to budge, and it's like trying to move a boulder.
    Did you pack?
    I stop trying to propel Farfarello out of the room and stare blankly at his broad chest. ...Yes. Last night during the party, when I told them I was going to the bathroom. Why?
    You know why. Hope you said all your little goodbyes, princess. Follow Farf. He knows where to meet us. Then he slips from my mind and is gone.
    I drop my hands by my sides and stare at the window without seeing it.
    I knew I was going to be leaving. I thought I was ready. But now that it's actually happening...
    There isn't any sense of fear or heartbreak, really. More like a form of regret. I wish I didn't have to leave my brother like this, stealing out of the house like a thief, leaving him to find my room empty without so much as a last goodbye. But it's better this way. He might change his mind when confronted with it and try to stop me again.
    I wish I could have been the sister he holds in his memories.
    I wish I still had enough of that girl inside of me to let me cry.
    But wishes are useless; all I can do is what I have to. And trust that this really will keep Ran and the others safe.
    "Hold on a second," I mumble. I bend over and drag my small suitcase out from under the bed, the one I packed last night. There isn't much in there; a lot of my materialistic value seems absent lately. Another after-effect of Farfarello's sickness, I suppose. I've packed only the necessities: clothes, toiletries, pain medication, things like that, with only a few little trinkets. The golden earrings my brother got for me, of course. The rabbit Tot left on my hospital bed, its inclusion to the packing automatic, for reasons I'm unsure of. And a picture taken shortly after my release from the hospital, of all of us in front of the shop. I strip myself of the pajamas and open my suitcase to stuff them in, and pause, studying the picture lying on top of my scant belongings.
    It's a fairly happy picture, and it will be a nice reminder of home.
    But looking at it now, I wonder if whoever took that picture noticed that the girl with the cane is giving such an obviously fake smile that doesn't reach her eyes. And that the redhead on her left has cold eyes for one so young. I place the pajamas on top of the picture and close the suitcase firmly.
    I dress quickly, leave a brief note of farewell on my pillow, and gather both cane and suitcase. I have to move carefully to avoid aggravating my wound, but Farfarello's strong hand around my elbow keeps me steady as I climb out of the window and onto the fire escape. We leave without a word, heading quickly down the stairs and then down the street to meet with the rest of Schwarz.
    I don't realize until we're several blocks away that I never looked back once.
    Later, will that bother me?
    Impulsively I reach out and find Farfarello's hand with my own. He looks at me sideways, startled and confused, but I stare straight ahead. Finally he looks away without saying anything.
    We make a strange sight for anyone up and about that early in the morning: a young girl with a cane, being led by the hand down the street by a barbaric looking man with a patch on one eye.

Author's Notes: That was the last real chapter-- all that's left now is an epilogue.
Oh, and sorry for anyone who was hoping for a somewhat more detailed sex scene... XD;; it took me a long time to actually work up the courage to write my first yaoi lemon a few years ago (I am a prude at heart in a lot of ways, believe it or not), so I can't really be expected to just write a het lemon all graphic and intense on my first attempt ^^;;;;
Anywho... epilogue should be up shortly XDD Thanks for reading~ <3

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