Yuuji was quiet through the drive back to the house. Now he know what the term ‘emotional hurricane’ amounted to. He had stood in the same room with them both, and it alarmed him how he could be so certain one moment that Aya was ‘it’, but then still feel the way he did when he was right there with Brad and Aya was beside him. No matter what he’d done in the field under orders, Brad was the one he’d always gone back to; his safe harbor, his one true love, as stupid as that sounded.
“She looked alright,” Aya finally said. “I was always afraid taking her out of the hospital might—do something to her.”
“Yeah,” Yuuji said.
“What’s wrong with you?” Aya asked flat out. “You’re never this quiet.”
He thought about it. A diversion was never too hard to find, even if it didn’t work on himself. “You were willing to let your sister die for me. I just—it’s a lot to handle.” What had it really been about? Brad knew how much he’d always loved his bad boy behavior. That was the thing, Brad knew him, how to manipulate him, how to amuse him, everything between them, even the fights, had always been such a fun game.
“Being put on the spot like that,” Aya said, “I’ve always thought what would I do if the call finally came, if they said she’s gone. But now—I was selfish,” he said sadly.
Yuuji watched the darkening streets go by without really seeing them. He wished he could go back. If he got on his knees and apologized, if he begged, he knew Brad would take him back. But doing so would be so wrong. Aya’s little glitch of fraternal fail was nothing compared to how selfish he could be. He’d settle for ‘sometime, anytime’, rather than loose that man all together again. ‘I’m an ass and I need a smoke,’ he thought. ‘Damn it, Kudoh, go stuff yourself! You don’t exist!’ He reached over and put his hand on Aya’s thigh, giving him a little squeeze to let him know he had heard him. “For what it’s worth, you saved your sister with that selfish decision; nothing bad happened, so don’t worry about it anymore, okay?”
* * *
/We could just shoot her anyway,/ was Schuldig’s opinion.
/Never mind,/ Brad responded in a mental drawl. /Come out here./
Schuldig left Tot chattering away to the unconscious girl whose head he had not openly been holding a gun to, and walked out into the rented flat’s living room. “That was pretty awful of you, getting my hopes up like that.”
“I’m still confused,” Brad was amused. “I thought you wanted Yuuji to be out of the picture.”
“He’s not, is he? He’s like—living next door with his little play thing, and dropping in to borrow beer and lube. Next thing you know they’ll be making out on our couch. Why is our life a sit-com?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Brad said. “After all, he is house broken.”
“Speaking of broken houses, what’s with the haunted place? I thought such things were absolutely not in existence. Mein gott, if any of the people I’ve killed came back as ghosts, I’ll really be pissed off. Death is supposed to be a final solution,” Schuldig pouted.
“I’m not sure. I’ve been in the house and picked up nothing, and I haven’t ‘seen’ anything related to it. And yet, there have been reports, from both normal people and our own. It’s very strange.”
“Well, so was Shinjuku being cut out like a cookie cutter to be enveloped in some sort of wonky space timey wimey bubble,” Schuldig made quote-y fingers. “And then you’ve got crazy people waiting all their strangely extended lives to make with some sort of devil worshiping ritual that was going to give them the world on a string, no? Who’s to say ghosts can’t exist? Maybe only normals pick up on them?” He knew if he said ‘muggles’ one more time, Brad would shoot him.
“This was happening well before Shinjuku. I still want to see what happens there. Fujimiya’s power is more like a possession, wouldn’t you say?”
Schuldig frowned slightly. “I’ve never come across anything like it in my life, but it has to be grounded in mutation. It’s real, it’s capable of physical damage through some form of pre-emptive telekinesis and it’s—well it’s there, it’s been proved to exist, if you believe Sarazawa really did intend to kill him when he tested it.”
“Once Sarazawa decides to kill someone, he does it,” Brad said seriously, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “My concern is how much of him is buried, being held back, under this Kudoh persona. It’s there and it’s not there; he may be hesitating because of it. But in the end, I believe him. He got a result, he must have been trying.”
“And there is a key,” Schuldig tapped the air between them for emphasis. “Buried. Suppressed. This power is buried, you say possession-like, but what, psychologically, is the root of possession? A buried alternate ego, a aggressive/defensive personality takes over due to some event on the psyche. When I go too deep and pick things up, I’m being ‘possessed’ by an alternate ego I think is mine. Perhaps this talent is a smothered part of his ego that for some reason he refuses to acknowledge.”
“Still, an un-killable killer,” Brad murmured. “If I were loyal, I’d recruit him; he’s a damned fine asset. As it is, he’s Yuuji’s to run. And as long as he’s suffering from an induced case of ‘moral dilemma’, I’m not sure how that will work out.”
“And how much longer can we keep fobbing off the remaining council with dis-information and very good excuses? Sooner or later someone will climb to the top of the heap of dead bodies and declare themselves The One, and the shit will start all over again.”
“That’s the thing,” Brad said with a slight frown. “As long as I’m determined to go into that ‘bubble’, I can’t see anything past it,” he admitted.
Schuldig didn’t know if this was alarming or just made sense under the circumstances. At the moment, as an Esset trained talent, accustomed to having things go a certain way to with certain advantages, he was inclined to be horrified.
“As long as they don’t know I have my talent back, they’ll just have to live with what I give them,” Brad said. “Oh, stop looking like someone trod on your grave, you don’t even know where you’re going to be disposed of yet.”
“When did we ever discus that?” Schuldig asked, even more alarmed.
* * *
“Yoooohji, make it stop,” Aya complained on the futon beside him.
It had been quiet all evening, through a meal of take out, a bit of laundry, some news and minor entertainment on the laptop wifi and a couple of quick, nerve wracked showers, one keeping watch while the other washed up. The moment they were under the cover, it had started. Small pops and snaps, then increasing slowly to the creaks and bangs of the night before. If it followed the same pattern, which it seemed to be, it would get worse by near midnight.
Yuuji counted silently to ten. This time the creaking noise like someone taking a step across the floor above came at the count of seven. “I’m thinking.” Why he should be the one to make it stop was questionable. Perhaps because he’d turned down the idea of a hotel again. They couldn’t continue to use their plastic and not be found by anyone looking for them.
Aya groaned and pulled the blanket back over his head just enough for only a bit of his ridiculously burgundy color mop to show.
Yuuji had to smile. He was adorable in his own way. “What normally causes a house to be haunted in stories and legends?”
“Some spurned woman tossed down a well, things that are kept around too long,” Aya said, peeking out at him. “Curses.”
“And so far as we know, there have been families since the 80s moving in and fleeing, then two lower level Esset agents who also ran for their lives.”
Aya flopped over on to his back, an arm above his head on the pillow as another ‘footstep’ sounded on the ceiling above their heads. “What is a lower level Esset agent?”
“Oh, data gatherers, office workers, salary men types. Nothing special. No talent. Just people who can get in and settle down to providing a steady stream of information and a quick sabotage or suspicious death.”
Aya frowned. “And you? You said you were a field agent. Undercover. But you weren’t just a salary man type, were you?”
“Mm,” Yuuji said, a bit of a panic rising.
Aya looked over at him in the dim light of the low wattage paper lantern behind them on the floor. “This thing inside me, it’s what you call ‘talent’, right? Some sort of genetic paranormal thing, like Schwarz. The people you’re very friendly with have powers—you have talent too, don’t you?”
Yuuji counted to ten again, and not to pace the noises this time. “What makes you think that?” he said with just the right about unconcerned curiosity.
Aya was not smiling. “Crawford listens to you. You’re not ‘beneath’ him. He doesn’t strike me as being someone who would give a rats ass about anyone who wasn’t on his level. And yet you got away with talking to him as if you could stop him doing what ever you didn’t want him to do.”
Perceptive little devil. “Aya, we were kids together. I know just how far I can push him before he loses his temper, that’s all.”
“Your code name, Virus. What does that mean?”
“It means I’m a sneaky son of a bitch,” Yuuji stated. “You’ve seen me work the women.” Gods, he wanted a cigarette. In fact he wanted to just get up and put his pants on and go for a walk. One ending in a bar somewhere with a bottle.
“Virus is a pretty strange code name for someone with out one of those weird ‘super powers’ to go with it.”
Aya started a little. “It’s only going to get worse again, isn’t it?”
“I think so,” Yuuji said. “On the other hand, being called ‘Balinese’ isn’t strange, Abyssinian?”
“It’s a step up from ‘Pawn’,” Aya groused. “Still, I’m not convinced you don’t have some sort of mysterious talent you’re not telling me about yet.”
Yuuji turned over to look at him, head propped up on his hand. “I’m just—very acrobatic, that’s all. In case you hadn’t noticed.”
“’Virus’?” Aya said again, not believing a word of it. “Acrobatic?”
Yuuji reached under the blankets to find his hand and pull it up to his lips, putting a finger tip into his mouth to set his teeth into and lick playfully, and adjusted the pitch of his voice. “We don’t get to chose our own code names, you know. It’s like hurricanes, they go down a list. I’m convinced there is some poor guy out there labeled Syphilis. We could try to just sleep through it, Aya, knowing it can’t actually hurt us.”
His fluttering eyelids opened wide again; Aya froze on his side of the futon. “It sounds like someone dragging a body. What the fuck!” he whispered.
“Okay, we are in a haunted house,” Yuuji stated, rolling onto his back again. “What are we going to do?”