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Enter Chaos

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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. 

 

                *             *             *

CREEEAK

 

“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.” 

 

CRACK!

 

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.”

 

Creak.  Shuffle.

 

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?”

Chapter Text

“Do not smoke in my ER, Detective,” the doctor warned, not looking up from his work.  “Hold him steady,” he directed the two nurses assisting him with the patient on the exam table.

 

“Sorry, over tired,” Kabane let the lighter click shut and put the cigarillo away again, stuffing the packet into the deep pocket of his rather eccentric uchikake-like coat.  “After 72 hours without much sleep, bad habits start to just take over.”

 

“Then why don’t you sleep?” the doctor used a pair of forceps to carefully remove what looked like a combination of stinger and claw from the patient’s mauled abdomen.  He examined it closely, then dropped it in a stainless steel kidney dish on the tool cart. 

 

“People keep doing shit like this, which means other people keep waking me up, then I drink coffee, then I don’t sleep,” Kabane grumbled.  “Well?  Do I have a witness, or another homicide?” he looked at the guy on the table.  He looked pretty chewed up. 

 

The doctor’s black eyes flicked to him, then went back to his work.  “For now, I would say ‘attempted homicide’,” he concluded.  “Put him on life support, flush his blood of the toxins and make sure you strap him down.  There were no poison sacks attached to the fangs, but he may yet show a reaction to the transfer of DNA from any saliva or liquids that might have entered the wounds.”

 

“Yes, Doctor,” one of the two matching nurses said. 

 

Mephisto pulled off the gloves and dumped them in the biological waste bin, then stepped into the next curtained cubical to put another pair on.  He bent to check the patient’s eyes, prying one open with a thumb and forefinger.  He winced a frown at what he saw, then felt under the blanket to grasp and pull out the patient’s arm.  “This one is too far gone.” The arm was covered in half chitinous scales and thick spike like black hairs, the hand blackened.  

 

The nurse on duty picked a red tabbed hypodermic needle off the tray on the cart and stuck it in the unconscious man, putting a little muscle into getting it into his vein through the scales.  His body stiffened, then went limp.  The nurse disposed of the hypodermic and started unplugging the now silent sensors, flipping the blanket over the man’s head with dethatched professionalism. 

 

“Not a chance, eh?” Kabane commented grimly.

 

“Once they have been changed this far, there is no turning back,” Mephisto peeled off the gloves.  “I think you know that as well as I do by now, Detective.”

 

Kabane scowled with an angry sigh of frustration.  “Why do people do this to themselves?”

 

“I suspect the advertising is skewed toward the ideal rather than the side effects,” the doctor said dryly, turning to  take a good critical look at him.

 

“Oh no,” Kabane realized what was up.  “No, you don—!”

 

Two more of the strangely similar nurses caught the burly detective as he fell under the Doctor’s raised hand.  “Put him on the couch in my office and make certain he is not disturbed for the next 24 hours.  He’s a danger to himself and others in this condition.”

 

“Doctor,” his chief executive interrupted while he had a chance. “We’re reaching capacity.”

 

“See about getting some of the less ill patients discharged early,” Mephisto said.  “And narrow triage down to damage control.  This new mix on the streets is too virulent for them to expect to survive its effects.”

 

“Yes, Doctor,” the pale ash blond man so like the nurses as to be a fraternal twin said. 

 

“And tell the Mayor I want a word with him,” Mephisto spoke with a flash of anger that was very much unlike his cold blooded self. 

 

“Yes, Doctor,” the Chief said, mildly surprised. 

 

                *             *             *

 

The sound of something being dragged across the floor had ceased with a creaking noise that was even more subtly irritating. Something was dripping, like the slow, steady leak of rain through a roof.  Or—the drip of blood from a hung body.  

 

‘Someone’s been watching too much television,’ Yuuji thought, sitting up.  He looked down at Aya.  Time to put it to the test.  “Crawford thinks your talent can do something about this, why don’t you give it a try?”

 

Aya shoved the blanket down and stared up at him as if he were mad.  “I don’t—I can’t—What?” he said in disbelief.

 

Yuuji lost his temper.  He licked his fingers and wiped the moisture on Aya’s temple.  “I said do something,” he ordered. 

 

Aya frowned, irritated, then rubbed the side of his face.  He shoved the cover off the rest of the way and picked up his folded jeans, putting them on half way before getting to his feet and pulling them up the rest of the way to zip and button them.  “Yohji—,” he looked confused.

 

“Right now, anything would be good,” Yuuji said, the resonance of his voice working right into Aya’s brain.  “Listen to me.  This is a danger to us.  Who knows what it might do if this continues.  Defend yourself.” 

 

Aya wobbled a little like he had a migraine coming on, then in a daze, picked up his sword and buckled it on. 

 

Yuuji got up and put his own pants on.  He hated to over power him this way, but extenuating circumstances were called that for a reason. 

 

The sound had ceased.  But Aya was already in motion.  He turned, looking for something, then walked over to the tatami room’s currently bare tokonoma.  He put a hand on the main post, the lightly stripped and varnished natural tree limb that had traditionally represented a Japanese home’s main connection with the Earth. 

 

The entire house around them made a very strange sound, a sort of strangled groan, very short, very odd.  There was nothing to compare it to in Yuuji’s experience, ever, but it sent his skin prickling with goose bumps, and an underlying urge to run like hell flared up. 

 

Aya let go of the post and looked around, seeking something else.  Yuuji caught the flare of the low lantern in his eyes and saw he’d been correct.  The pupils were wide open, the purple black strangeness flashing in them.  Whatever Aya’s talent was, it wasn’t immune to his

 

Aya took out his sword and in one backward swing, slashed the tokonoma post in two. 

 

“Oh shit,” Yuuji said. 

 

The house shuddered and things started to slam and bang, and anyone outside would have thought they were doing major construction in there. 

 

Yuuji felt the floor slide out from under him and was unable to catch his balance, something very foreign to his experience.  He landed on his shoulder and hip with a slam that was going to hurt later.  He saw Aya go down as well, and managed to crawl over to him.  A ceiling beam swung down with a crash, then shifted of its own volition. 

 

The fucking house was rearranging itself!  he realized.

 

                *             *             *

 

Yuuji wasn’t sure how long it had taken, but by the time it stopped, they were no longer in a tatami room.  The marginally useful light of his newest phone revealed  a small side room with old, dark floors, wall to wall empty book shelves and a view of the moonlit garden.  “What the living fuck!” Yuuji said, daring to get to his feet slowly. 

 

Aya was unconscious, his sword on the floor beside him, still gripped in his hand; unharmed, from the quick look over he gave him.  Yuuji stepped over him to open the paneled and slightly warped old door and looked into a hallway.  “What the hell?” he asked aloud. 

 

Not a bang, not a snap, not a sound.  Just an old wooden house that looked its age now. 

 

“Damn,” Yuuji said. 

 

                *             *             *

 

“What are you doing in our kitchen?” Schuldig said, bleary eyed and annoyed at the sight of Yuuji standing there at the stove. 

 

Yuuji gulped down another swallow of coffee.  “Evil house,” he shuddered, then rolled the sausages over in the electric frying pan to brown on the other side. 

 

“I hate you,” Schuldig made his way to the coffee maker and poured himself a cup.  Then he noticed Aya who was pretty much asleep in his chair at the kitchen table; head down on his arms, a cup of tea going cold beside him.  “Correction.  I hate you both.  How the hell did you get in?”

 

“Over road the alarm and picked the lock,” Yuuji said, cracking a few eggs into a bowl and picking up the whisk. 

 

Schuldig squinted at him threateningly, then went to tell Brad they’d been invaded. 

 

                *             *             *

 

“I told you this would happen,” Schuldig reminded Brad, who didn’t seem to care much at all, possibly due to the food on his plate. 

 

“I don’t believe a word of it,” Brad said.  “Even if you are telling the truth.”

 

“I swear I’m telling the truth.” Yuuji said.  “Ask him,” he pointed his fork at Aya. 

 

Everyone at the crowded table stared at Aya, who looked like he was about to flee for his life.  He swallowed his mouth full of sausage and eggs and nodded.  “When I came to, I thought we were in a different house.”

 

“He blacked out after he busted the tokonoma post,” Yuuji said. 

 

Brad eyed him. 

 

Yuuji gave him the wider eyed ‘believe me!’ look. 

 

Tot was still staring at her plate in pouty misery.  This was not her omu-rice. 

 

Eat it!” Yuuji ordered. 

 

She picked up her fork and started to eat.  Nagi was stunned.    

 

“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that without consulting me first,” Brad told Yuuji.

 

“Haunted. Evil. House.” Yuuji reminded him, stabbing another sausage and stuffing it into his own face. 

 

“Well, what was so evil about it?” Brad asked mildly.  “If all it did was re-arrange itself.”

 

“Not even discussing it with you,” Yuuji stated. 

 

“I hope this doesn’t void the lease or something,” Brad frowned. 

 

Creepy ass self aware house, Brad.  Who’s to say it won’t start just eating people!” Yuuji raised his voice, forgetting he wasn’t discussing it. 

 

“True,” Brad allowed, sipping his coffee. 

 

“I’d live in it,” Farfarello stated. 

 

“That might be a good idea,” Brad said.  “With Farfarello’s heightened senses and lack of fear, we might find out what’s happened there to cause this.”

 

“Curiosity; Cat,” Schuldig stated.  “Don’t we have something else to deal with?”

 

“I suppose it will have to wait, but I’m damned curious,” Brad admitted.  “Nagi, look into it.  Scribble up a report.  It might be something to distract the Council with.  Cross reference it to the Shinjuku problem.  And see if anything more like it has cropped up in the past five years.  The Alignment and so forth.”

 

“Still getting someone else to do your homework for you?” Yuuji said, looking at him over his fork. 

 

Brad let his fork drop with a clank onto his plate.  “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m team leader here and I delegate tasks to those best able to handle them.”

 

“He used to threaten to slit the throats of the class nerds in their sleep if they didn’t pony up,” Yuuji told Nagi. 

 

Nagi sat there and just looked at Brad.  

 

“Whoah, now we’re into embarrassing uncle territory,” Schuldig quietly commented, knowing everyone would hear him.  “More coffee, anyone?” he said brightly.

Chapter Text

“The most important things are sanitation, circulation and renal care,” Yuuji said slowly, thinking it out while standing at the gurney side of Aya’s sister. “She has to be turned or repositioned a minimum of three times a day to relieve pressure on her soft tissues, and massage combined with sponge bath at least once a day, to keep her blood flowing cleanly. From what I remember, the catheter tube and the area around it has to be gently cleaned with a very mild sanitary wipe at least once a day, not to irritate her, usually during the sponge bath. The tube has be watched for clogs, or it can back up and really do a number on her. Can we find out what type of catheter it is? If it’s latex Teflon, it can be left for around 28 days or so, we need to find out when it was last changed. Gods, this is gross.”

“I got the nurse’s dailies,” Schuldig indicated the metal box clip board on the bedside table. “Tot, can you handle most of this? One of us can help you turn her or what ever.”

“I’ve done it,” she said. “Icky. Guys are easier, because you just—,” she demonstrated with hand gestures.

All three men averted their eyes in horror, thighs defensively clenching if not actually crossing. “Never mind,” Schuldig said hastily, “we get the point.”

“Is she menstruating?” Yuuji asked Aya.

Aya blushed. “I—I’m not, I don’t—I never asked,” he flailed verbally.

“It will be on the charts,” Tot chirped.

“She’s probably been given something to stop it for a while. I don’t remember the name of the drug,” Yuuji said. “But they have to let the cycle go through at least twice a year for health sake.”

“And you know this how?” Aya asked.

“Gymnastic competitions,” Yuuji said. “The girls don’t like being slowed down by biology. We boys were once subjected to an overly detailed conversation on ‘how things work’ by team mates on a too long bus trip. They did it on purpose. I think it’s what made me Gay,” he winced at the memory.

“Careful, you’ll get into trouble with the ‘it’s genetic, not a choice’ crowd,” Schuldig warned, his own inclinations having been strictly curtailed by his guardians until he’d met Brad. {Then all hell had broken lose.}

“Oh, fuck ‘em,” Yuuji said seriously.

Aya snorted and Schuldig broke out laughing. Tot just thought they were being ridiculous.

* * *

It was no use, Brad had to see the haunted house for himself.

He walked through the house, opening doors and looking into rooms and closets. The place was once again decidedly pre-war. Even the light switches had reverted to the old tacked on wire/round switches. The thing with being a precognitive was that he couldn’t walk back the time line. He could only see forward. It would take a psychometric talent to find out what had happened here. His mouth twitched as he came to a decision. He pulled out his phone and found the number. “Crawford here. I’m standing in the living room at—,” he gave him the address from the tag on the keys. “Look, Matsushita-san, you need to come down here right away. Something very odd has happened this time. And you might bring your check book.” He tucked his phone away.

“Tightwad,” Yuuji said. “What about you?” he asked Schuldig.

“Don’t be so bossy,” the red head said, annoyed with his attitude. “I’m not picking up a thing, there’s no brain here to read. The neighbors are freaking out, though. They’ve noticed the change on the outside.”

Brad looked at him, “Is there anyone around here old enough to remember the house’s occupants fairly far back? Before the house was redone?”

“I’ll check,” he said, “But it will be easier if I take a walk around the neighborhood. Fujimiya and Sarazawa are transmitting low grade panic and it’s interfering.”

“It’s not panic, it’s informed ill ease,” Yuuji said, giving him back the narrowed eyed suspicious look he’d been flinging around all morning.

“Semantics,” Schuldig stated and headed for the front door.

Aya, not happy, took a step closer to Yuuji so they stood back to back again.

“How cute,” Brad said in German, referring to Aya’s clinging. “Do you think you could remember who is in charge here? I’m still a ranking member of Esset and this is my territory, not one of your little terrorist embedments.”

“Sorry,” Yuuji said, reaching down to catch Aya’s wrist at his side and hold on loosely, though he was facing and talking to Brad, to remind himself his new beau was right there. “But to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a decent night’s sleep or two before we take on this expedition into Shinjuku.”

“You forced him to act and he did, and this happened. I find that interesting. Was this his doing, or the result of his doing?”

“I’d say the result. You know that destroying the tokanoma’s main pole used to be striking at the heart of a Japanese house, don’t you?”

“But he obeyed you,” Brad said seriously, getting at something.

“Yes,” Yuuji stated. “I put it to him that this was a threat to his life, to our lives, and he had to do something. I wasn’t specific, but it worked well enough. What are you thinking?”

“That my little prank might get us all in deeper trouble than I had imagined. The council will want to know who I put in here and why. I’ll have to have Nagi delete that report.”

“He wouldn’t have sent it already?”

“He knows better. And I’ll thank you not to put me in the position of ‘bad parent’ ever again. I don’t relish having to give him the ‘do as I say, not as I did’ lecture, especially now that he’s in the shitty part of adolescence, when it’s all just stock piling weapons. I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. Technically, it’s undermining my authority and I should give you a good spanking.”

“But you want him to have the advantages you didn’t, how sweet,” Yuuji tossed back at him with a smile. “You haven’t answered me. What’s your interest in the nut job here? The house is nothing.”

“He’s an asset,” Brad’s eye flicked to Aya’s burgundy hair over Yuuji’s shoulder. “You’ve really landed on your feet,” he smiled a little, tensely.

“It’s not just that. He’s sort of grown on me.”

“You saw something you could use and took advantage of it,” Brad looked at the floor, noting the old, thick boards. “Are you happy?”

“Not really, but I’ll live, and I’ve seen how happy you are. They must have been out of their minds to put him on your team.”

“I believe they thought they were going to use him to control me,” Brad said, slipping his hands into the pockets of his slacks and relaxing his shoulders a little.

Yuuji laughed and gave Aya’s wrist a little squeeze. “Which proves they’d gone senile. I’ve been meaning to ask you, what are you going to do now?”

“You might as well know, too,” Brad looked at him again. “I can’t see anything from the moment we step into Shinjuku. Since I’m determined to go in, the future’s a blank wall to me. Remember what you once told me? ‘This is the way everyone else lives.’ I have to face this, I want to. I’ll deal with the council later. When I make up my mind, will you be there?”

“You need to ask?” Yuuji said, stung.

Schuldig came back into the house. “No one who’d lived here back past twenty years,” he said, still speaking in Japanese, “which is unusual for this type of neighborhood. Generations of families are usually the norm in these old working class areas.”

“The banks forced a lot of people out in some neighborhoods during the Bubble,” Aya said quietly. “There was a lot of moving around of land deeds, a lot of money changing hands, house holders found themselves unable to pay loans they’d taken out thinking they were the ones who would be better off.”

“Banks like your old man’s,” Schuldig told him, “Working for Takatori Reiji.”

Yuuji felt Aya’s start through his grip on his wrist, and squeezed it in warning.

“Maybe we should find the bank that ran this neighborhood’s estates?” Schuldig ignored the wave of hate coming at him out of simple habit, looking at Brad. “This being Japan, they might not have shredded the records.”

“An interesting idea,” Brad said. “Thank you, Fujimiya. Ah, Matsushita San,” he turned to the bewildered man who now stood in the front doorway. “I’ll thank you for my deposit back,” he stated coldly.

* * *

“What were you talking about in there,” Aya asked Yuuji in the car. They’d taken his separately from Crawford’s.

“The house, Esset, my loyalties,” Yuuji said.

“You both switched to a language I don’t understand,” Aya stated. “I’m not a small child you need to speak in code in front of.”

“A language I’ve spoken all my life, and with him. It’s habit,” Yuuji reminded him. “I’m sleeping with you, Aya, not indoctrinating you to Esset. There are things you don’t need to know.”

“So, where do your ‘loyalties’ lie?”

“Where they always have. With Crawford,” Yuuji said. “And with him, it all hinges on this bizarre crap with Shinjuku, so in we go. You might say it’s his Poland.”

Aya glanced at him, confused. “What does that mean?”

“Never mind,” Yuuji soothed, the weight of the past day pressing down his tired mind. “He’d have smacked me for that one, too. I need a nap.” He tipped the Porsche’s too comfortable passenger seat back and closed his eyes.

* * *

Detective Kabane woke to quite noises; a chair shifting, drawers opening and closing, the click of computer keys. Not the usual phone ringing clatter of the police office. “Damn it,” he opened his one eye and focused on the two story high, plant festooned ceiling of Mephisto’s office. "I ought to run you in for interfering with an officer.”

He sat up, groggy from having been so deeply out of it. There was a tray with a fancy coffee set on it he did not say no to. Mephisto was known to have a stash of coffee the equivalent of caffeinated ambrosia. Yep, this was the stuff. "Bribery accepted," Kabane said after a swallow.

At his desk, Mephisto smiled ruefully, and continued his work. After a few minutes, he sat back in his chair and looked over at the detective. "I called your office to let them know where you were. I've also spoken with the Mayor. He’s finally agreed that the situation is a serious danger to the community.”

“You know how politicians are, they work for everyone,” Kabane said sarcastically. “This isn’t just casual drug use, it’s like a damned plague.”

“So I informed him,” Mephisto said calmly. “If the damage of this drug can be spread by infection of wounds on those who chose not to take it, it’s contagious.”

“Never mind the exploding labs, innocent deaths, and plain stupid people killing themselves on the off chance that they might develop the ability to transform back and forth if they survive,” Kabane drained the delicate little china cup and poured himself some more coffee. He briefly considered just drinking straight out of the pot, then pulled himself together. “It might not be on the scale of yakuza shooting up the streets, or some sword wielding nut going on a rampage in mid town, but it’s still a problem.”

Mephisto glanced at him, but said nothing.

“Speaking of, Doll has a message for you. She’s afraid the old lady will get wind of her tattling, so she asked me to pass it along. We’ve got more trouble heading this way. Your way, from what I understand. She had to be cryptic about it.”

“Oh?” the Doctor looked up, curiosity spiked. Like Sherlock Holmes, he had a serious problem with problems.

“Someone’s looking for you; a small cadre with a girl who needs help. My guess is the old biddy wants to head them off and charge them a fortune, same as always. But Doll’s not convinced a witch is what this girl needs. Thing is, one of them’s got a katana. Your boy wouldn’t have reassembled himself, would he?”

“No,” Mephisto said, a be-ringed hand straying to the cover of a large ornate book, about the size of an old fashioned European printed atlas, that ‘lived’ on the corner of his desk. “I doubt we will ever see that particular combination of circumstances again.”

“I’ve set a watch for them, but it’s the West Gate. Right smack into the middle of the Spider Gang’s territory. Looks like it’s going to be a two-for.”

* * *

Nagi liked nothing better than a good data chase. He was sitting on one of the sofas, laptop on the coffee table, happily hacking away at the bank records with the address of the freakish property; locating information and chasing down names and neighbors, living or dead.

When Tot wasn’t checking on Fujimiya’s sister, she was beside him, absorbing everything he told her. Well, possibly absorbing it, it was hard to tell with her, not without asking Schuldig. Brad couldn’t take the saccharine and went to see about a cup of coffee.

“It’s positively gooshy out there,” Yuuji commented in the kitchen. “Were we ever that idiotic?”

“Yes,” Brad said. “Why are you cooking?”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m unemployed. This leads to being a little more self sufficient in conserving funds,” Yuuji paused in slicing up carrots into little strips to nibble one. “Plus, I’m paying you back for using up your groceries.”

“You ass, you’ve got a small fortune socked away. What’s the real problem here?”

Yuuji tilted his pony tailed head from side to side, “I just want to. Do you have any idea of how long it’s been since I’ve been Me?”

“Yes, I do,” Brad stated. “I’m just thinking you should be wearing those food handling gloves or something.”

“Bitch, please,” Yuuji said. “You know it takes at least an hour before I become ‘viable’ again after washing, and I’ve been washing constantly. I’m not out to take over your team.” He dumped the julienned vegetables into a frying pan of shallow oil, giving them a stir and putting a splatter screen on the pan.

Brad exhaled an almost sigh. “Maybe this isn’t the best time for you to be You. I hate to be the voice of reason, but what the hell are you thinking? Fujimiya is sulking on the balcony while you’re in here alone. It doesn’t help either that Schuldig is out with Farfarello getting that wheel chair.”

Yuuji concentrated on what he was doing, stirring a mess of canned crab meat into some sort of meatloaf-like mix.

Brad caught his wrist, took the wooden paddle from him and put it in the bowl, then pulled him around to put his other hand behind his head, and kissed him.

Yuuji didn’t even put up a fight. He put his arms around Brad and held him tightly, making up for a lot of lost time.

“I was trying to make a point,” Brad said when he got the chance. “I see it backfired.”

Yuuji caught him by the chin and looked into his eyes. “This breaking up thing is not working.”

“Yeah,” Brad admitted, making certain Fujimiya was not going to walk in on them in the next few minutes.

“What if we just say, maybe one—no, two days a month? Just us, like the old days?” Yuuji pleaded.

“You can control Fujimiya?”

“I’m sure of it now,” Yuuji said.

Brad traced fingertips down the lightly tanned cheek, then kissed him again, holding him tighter this time, to feel the delicious length of his body pressed against his own.

Yuuji was the one to hold him off, swallowing hard and catching his breath. “We’d better throw some ice on this for now,” he said reluctantly. “Or dinner’s not the only thing going to go up in flames.”

“Two days,” Brad said. “Otherwise, hands off, and for godsake, behave yourself.”

“I think I can stick to that,” Yuuji said, adjusting the uncomfortable lump in his pants under the apron he’d borrowed. “I’m used to waiting, as long as I know you’ll be there.”

“But why? I thought you cared for him?” Brad asked, concerned about this complication to some tentative plans of his own in the back corner of his mind.

“I do,” Yuuji yanked the screen off the now aromatic vegetables and stirred them, then got them off the burner, onto a hot plate. “I just—I’m out of my fucking mind, that’s what.” He started scooping out blobs of the crab mix into a bowl of bread crumbs, then dropping them into another pan with shallow oil in it. “Quitting Weiss and being dead to Esset has left me hanging. I’m going cabin crazy in my own head.”

Brad smiled fondly. It wasn’t just that, and he knew it. Yuuji was too addicted to the game. He’d seen this before, when his friend was off duty for more than a week. He liked sparing with trouble, and if he wasn’t in it, he went looking for it. “Save it for Shinjuku,” he advised. “What’s for dessert?”

“Dessert? What the hell is with that refrigerator? There’s three cakes in there?” Yuuji complained. “You haven’t actually been living on beer and cake have you?”

Brad laughed, leaning back on the counter and crossing his arms, watching him work. “You’ll have to discus that with Rabi-chan.”

Chapter Text

Aya fussed over his sister and the complicated wheel chair, making certain that all the buckles worked securely and that the straps were loose but tight enough, and that everything was just as comfortable as it could be.  Basically, his nerves were showing raw.

 

“You don’t want her sitting upright all the time,” Yuuji told him.  “It’s a strain on her heart.”  He adjusted a few levers and put the chair into a semi-recline position, like an astronaut.  “And then it can be lowered to almost completely flat this way,” he showed Aya how to deal with the buttons and knobs. 

 

“What about the person you took this from?” Aya asked Schuldig.  His reluctance to speak to any of them was still very obvious.

 

“Show room floor model,” Schuldig answered.  “Don’t traumatize yourself over it, very few people can afford things like this.  And those who can would have GPS chipped it and insured it. Which reminds me, Nagi, just in case, Crawford wants both the girl and the chair chipped.”

 

“I’ll get the gun,” Nagi said, going down the short hall to his own room. 

 

/I should wring your neck,/ Schuldig thought viciously at Yuuji, letting his anger be felt.

 

/It’s just two little days a month, not even two together, that’s all I’m asking,/ Yuuji thought back at him, biting his tongue to remind himself not to respond aloud. 

 

/You’ve got Fujimiya, that was the whole point!  After the bullshit you’ve pulled, you just walk right back in?  How many times are you going to—/ he stopped short, not willing to give out that information.  Brad wouldn’t like it one bit.

 

Yuuji looked at him, and read not his mind but his face.  /You try it.  You’ve known him what, not even three years?  He’s been there half my life!/

 

Schuldig wanted to punch him in the nose, but Aya and his sister’s fool wheel chair were in the way and Nagi had just come back in and got in the way, too. Nagi knelt to slot the chip gun up against the solid rubber of  one of the two larger wheels.   It injected a GPS micro-chip just like a hypodermic vaccine gun injected a shot.  On flesh, it left a little fraction of a centimeter cut that would soon heal.  

 

/I still hate you!/

 

 /You hate everyone,/ Yuuji reminded him.  /We had an agreement, Schuldig./

 

/Nuh-unh, you broke it, and I had to pick up the pieces.  Do you think it’s so easy?  Being a fucking telepath and having to deal with that!  I’d rather be beaten up with a damned golf club again than to feel all that pain!/ he froze, realizing what he’d just done anyway. 

 

Yuuji watched the color drain from the German’s cheeks.  /Then we stop the pain for all of us/ he thought as quietly and calmly at him as he could.  /It will be all right.  Aya might find out and try to kill me, but otherwise, it will be all right.  I’m not out to take him from you.  Read every part of my mind if you like, that’s not my plan.  I just want what he and I used to have, just a little time here and there.  No more pain for any of us./ he pleaded.

 

“Right here will be fine,” Nagi showed Aya where he was going to inject the chip into his sister’s thigh muscle.  He applied the ‘gun’ and pulled the little trigger. 

 

“Isn’t it radioactive or something?” Aya asked, worried a bit too late.

 

“Barely,” Nagi said.  “Not even as much as a pacemaker battery.” 

 

Schuldig stomped out of the room and did not slam the door, but the impression left was that he had dearly wished to. 

 

A minute later, they were all startled by the sound of a pistol shot in the living room. 

 

Damn it, Schuldig, I’ve warned you about that!” Brad roared angrily. 

 

“He has,” Farfarello said quite calmly in his mild Irish voice, not looking up from the instruction booklet for the wheelchair. “Repeatedly.”

 

You said to do it if this came up again, I’m doing it!  Hold still!” Schuldig ordered and fired again. 

 

“I was joking!”

 

Bullshit!” the German yelled. 

 

Yuuji was rather glad Schuldig was so angry his next words were in German, because Aya would have gotten an ear full and then he would have most certainly gotten killed.

 

“I wondered how long the peace was going to last.” Nagi said, swabbing the little cut on Aya-chan’s leg and putting a Hello Kitty band aid on it.  Tot mimed Rabi-chan giving it a kiss to make the pain go away.  Her eyes were wide with nerves, but she kept looking at Nagi for reassurance, and his calm acceptance made her keep her chin up.   

 

Yuuji was impressed; Schuldig could certainly hold his own in an argument with Brad.  But then the fight escalated into the physical, if you counted fists over bullets as being more physical. 

 

Dear gods, he’d never actually seen Brad follow through on that threat to spank someone.  He had it down to a science.

 

He shut the door to the bedroom behind him and stood in front of it, holding it shut so the others couldn’t see it.  He decided that clearly (and loudly) explaining the tricks of pushing a wheel chair properly was in order.  He’d never been very fond of the baby carriage trick.  You could pack more explosives under a full grown human form in a wheel chair, and people had even less of a tendency to suspect a wheel chair than a baby carriage. 

 

“We’re not blowing my sister up!” Aya protested at this off side information. 

 

                *              *              *

 

Schuldig held on, the roll of hips and thrusts of pleasure making it very difficult to hold a grudge, even though his butt was still stinging a little bit. 

 

Brad kissed him along the collar bone and shoulders, then watched his face, a smile on his own lips as he strained with effort. 

 

Schuldig caressed his cheek, then curled up to kiss his mouth and hold on tighter.  Brad shifted his weight momentarily to grab and stuff another pillow under his lover’s shoulders, and worked harder to bring them both to that dizzying cliff’s edge.

 

 “Are you going to share or not?” Brad asked, rather breathlessly.

 

“Still mad at you,” the red head stated between gasps.

 

“Come on, Babe, give up,” Brad urged, kissing him on the neck with that strange desperation that only being in the middle of sex can bring on.  Then he dug his hand under one round buttock and pulled while he pushed deeper.

 

/Ungh!/ the connection clicked into place and Schuldig was there, that golden shimmering warmth that went through Brad’s center of being like a spike, that said here, here you are and nowhere else,this dependence on you for existence, this simbiont resonance of life shared, of being there at the heart of another person, desire and fulfillment in infinite reflection.  /I’m —still—mad at you./ Schuldig’s thoughts whispered past the wall of intense pleasure, just before he orgasmed.

 

Brad heard himself laugh through Schuldig’s ears, and then his own orgasm took front and center, his body making its own demands for intimacy.     

 

                *              *              *

 

“What the hell happened there?” Aya finally asked, unpacking his things into the dresser of the hotel room.  “Why were they fighting?”

 

“Telepaths are a little on the crazy side,” Yuuji left his stuff in the duffle bag, not all that concerned with unpacking.  He figured Aya just needed something to do.  “Who knows what sets them off?  He probably picked up something Crawford was thinking and went ballistic over it.” Yeah, pretty much…

 

“Hnn,” was Aya’s response.  He was very busy precisely refolding his underwear. 

 

Yuuji figured something was up, but on the other hand, if the guy didn’t want to talk, he didn’t.  He was used to Aya’s profound silences, even if he got picked on for being too quiet.   “You read all of Naoe’s report on Shinjuku?” it was rhetorical, but a topic of conversation that had to be had some time and would do for now.

 

“It sounds like something Takatori Masafume was aiming at all along,” Aya shut the drawer and turned to him.  “I think we have enough experience with things like that to go in there ourselves, but with my sister—I’m nervous about the whole thing,” he looked at Yuuji.  “It’s not like a mission from Kritiker.”

 

“No,” Yuuji said.  “No pre-defined bad guy to take down.  We can’t even really say what we’ll be facing when we go in, just the general idea that we might enter at a point when the whole thing is supposedly tilting more to ‘civilized’ on the whack-o-meter.  I’d still like to know what triggered this in the first place.” 

 

And then there was Esset, basically in ruins.  Their biggest failure before hadn’t been for lack of trying; rather, over kill.  Things were so much more subtle now; they’d learned the lessons of expense. But without The Three, would the organization survive all the infighting and egotism?  When you based an entire society on the principals of Darwinism and  Nietzsche as well as good old Teutonic nepotism, things got medieval pretty quickly when the shit hit the fan.    

 

The problem was, every time he looked at the News, he couldn’t help thinking that if he had to be on any side, it was the one he knew.  The one with the machinery in place to hold off a world war, and finish it, if not start it.  If the idiots didn’t destroy that machinery in the process of weathering the current situation. 

 

Aya plopped onto the bed and looked down at him, putting a hand on his chest.  “I should get used to calling you ‘Yuuji’, shouldn’t I?” 

 

“I’d prefer it,” he smiled, reaching to run a hand up Aya’s arm and rub his bicep.  “But when do I get to call you ‘Ran’?”

 

Aya frowned.  “I don’t think I’d answer to that anymore," he said, reservedly quiet.  "You called me ‘Aya’."

 

Yuuji half sat up to put his hand on Aya’s neck and kissed him tenderly. Then he looked into those purple eyes, playing with a tendril of wine color hair. "It’s going to get confusing when your sister's back on her feet."

 

“Before all this, she had plans.  A school, overseas.  I really want to give her back those plans."

 

"Then I’ll call you Fujimiya when she’s around," Yuuji gave the end of his nose a little one finger pat.  "And you have to call me Sarazawa"

 

Aya shifted on the bed to lay down beside him, and Yuuji wrapped an arm around him.  "What are your plans?  So far all we’ve done is run from one nightmare to another."

 

Yuuji looked at the ceiling. " I was just thinking about that. I'm basically trained to be a deep cover operative.  But it’s not like I can just go back, under the circumstances."

 

“Would you want to?  But why, if they're so evil even their own people want them destroyed?  Why do they want you dead?”

 

“Well, I think the problem is I pissed off some people here and there along the way.  And while I’m sure no one had a hand in blowing me up, I think only my parents were sad to see me go.”

 

Your parents?” Aya asked, a little alarmed.  “Yohji, do your parents know you’re alive?” He forgot to use the right name again in shock.

 

“I’m sure they’ve heard by now,” he said, faintly worried about that.  Because if he was going to do what he was vaguely thinking about, they’d be there.

 

“Would—anyone have harmed them?” Aya asked quietly.  “If you say things are bad there, would they be caught up in it?”

 

“Maybe,” he said.  But then again, his parents had known what they were doing when they sat him down and told him to go make friends with the little Crawford boy.  “But they’re grownups, they can handle themselves.” He didn’t realize he was smiling, thinking of that skinny little owl faced, white as a sheet kid wearing  more dirt than gym shorts.  “They’d know about the edict on me and distance themselves.” He wondered if they’d seen how gorgeous Brad was now?  If they had any idea of what he’d managed to do, even if the official line was ‘it was all Weiss’ fault’. 

 

He couldn’t let their plans go to waste.  He was a good and dutiful son, and they had poured all their treasures into him, at great risk.  And not once had they said, not that far, Yuuji-kun, when he’d made it clear he’d been—in love.  Although at the confession, his mother had sighed and looked at him like she’d wondered who had switched out her boy for some alien spawn.  But then his father had handed him a sample bottle and told him to do his duty or he wasn’t leaving the house. 

 

For all he knew,  he had kids by now. 

 

He looked at Aya.  “Come to think of it, they’ve probably replaced me by now,” he said with an awkward laugh.  Damn. 

 

                *              *              *

 

The phone was buzzing.  Brad picked it up off the bedside and looked at it.  “Damn it,” he pressed the green icon.  “What now?”

 

“Oh good, you survived,” Yuuji said, amused.  “I assume Shuu-chan did, too?”

 

“Barely,” Brad said, looking over the passed out telepath still clasping his other hand under his cheek on the rumpled sheets.  “I repeat; what now?”

 

“Is there any chance of you getting in contact with my parents?”

 

“Your parents?” Brad was surprised.  Yuuji pretty much never mentioned them.  In fact he was convinced most of the time that the fool had been hatched from some egg.  Possibly one with clownish speckles, laid by some odd cross between a peacock and a lawn flamingo. 

 

“Yeah, I sort of—well,” Yuuji fell silent. 

 

Brad got the message.  “I’ll try in the morning, since we’re not leaving for Shinjuku until the evening.  But—if we don’t come back out, wouldn’t that be a bit harsh?”

 

“They must know I’m alive by now. The edict.”     

 

“You’re right,” Brad said. “There is that.” He paused, then asked “Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine.  Stop worrying, it might make you sound human, and then where would we be?”

 

“What do I tell them?”

 

Yuuji was silent for a long moment.  “You know, I don’t know.  It’s not something we ever planned for.  I just wanted—to let them know I was thinking of them.”

 

“Let’s get back from Shinjuku first,” Brad decided.  “Then we’ll handle it.”

 

Yuuji sighed against the phone’s mic. “I suppose you’re right.”

Chapter Text

Brad had narrowed it down, with Nagi’s help of course, to the scant hour before the quake.  He still wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t yet another ritual from some one else’s plan to take over the world that had gone wrong.  But what had divided it right along the lines of the map?  Yes, it was the most geologically stable region of Japan, but the political boundaries were not drawn along those particular lines.  Something was at work in this country; Esset’s insistence on staging their ‘come back’ as a world force here, Shinjuku, that house.  What the hell was up with that house

 

/Brad, you’ve drifted off course again,/ Schuldig nudged.

 

/Have I?  Or am I just having a moment’s peace and quiet with my own thoughts?/ he retorted.

 

/Sorry, but I’m jittery as hell./ the German grouched.

 

Brad ran down a list.  Coffee maker off, fridge cleaned of perishables, rents and utilities paid for 2 months in advance, anything important (which included their cache of extra weapons and computers, passports, visas and a nice chunk of cash, the usual little precautions) locked in storage or bank deposit boxes.  That just left pesky telepaths to be petted and soothed like a cat on the way to the vet.  He could certainly hope that no one was going to get a thermometer up their butt; but still, one just didn’t know.  /It will be no worse than the usual incursion.  Not quite a picnic in the park, not quite all out war./

 

“Now you’re just guessing,” Schuldig hissed at him and went to not give Fujimiya a good boot in the ass for fussing so much over that blasted girl and just being there.

 

Brad smirked at the trail of muttering thoughts directed at him, and went back to his own.  Esset wanted their damned report, he was following orders.  After finding out what was going on at Koua, he wasn’t so certain the goal was the same any more.  Cloning? Genetic messing?  No more hit and run breeding talent to talent and hoping for the best?  Masafumi Takatori had been left in his playpen, despite his danger to the supposed primary goal of his father being made Prime Minister.  Why?

 

He’d had Nagi dig into things, just letting him loose.  The boy had come up with the backgrounds of the genetic researchers working in the universities and laboratories in Shinjuku.  There had been some pretty powerful minds in there, and gods only knew what experiments had been going on under the counters.  Scientists just couldn’t help messing.

 

“Are you going to lend a hand, Crawford, or just stand there looking like a GQ model someone’s posed and forgot to tell the shoot was over?” Yuuji asked from the end of the rented van. 

 

“Shoot him,” Schuldig urged in annoyance, lugging an arm full of cased rifles past him. 

 

“I’m doing my job Sarazawa; you do yours,” Brad said.  “After all, you wouldn’t want to drop something on your foot and break it if I wasn’t around to warn you, now would you?”

 

“Talented ass,” Yuuji stage muttered, knowing he’d hear it.

 

Aya looked at him in jealous annoyance as he secured the wheel chair in the back of the van.  There were cargo straps and bolted down metal loops on the floor, so it was a fairly easy job.  He was finding that more Yuuji was around these people the more he acted like one of them.  It wasn’t anything he was doing that was patently wrong, it was just—Aya still wasn’t sure where he stood.  Not when ‘Yuuji’s’ eyes were almost always on Crawford every time Aya looked at him.  And Crawford’s were invariably on him. 

 

And Schuldig.  Schuldig was glaring daggers at Yuuji every time he passed him, to which Yuuji’s response was a sly grin that was just short of a dare to the red head to do something about whatever it was going on there. 

 

When Yuuji went to pop the hood on the van and check over the engine, Aya did something he’d never thought he’d do.  He caught Schuldig by the arm and looked into those creepy blue eyes.  The man froze, glaring at him.  He quickly took his hand off him.  “I’m not blind. What’s going on between them?”

 

Crawford barked out an order in German and Schuldig’s head snapped to look at him, then he looked at Aya.  “No, you’re not blind,” he stated.  “Now pay attention to what you’re doing.” He turned and went back to Crawford. 

 

/Let them sort it out themselves,/ Brad told Schuldig curtly.  /I need a cohesive team here, and stirring things up just because you’re pissed off isn’t the best way to insure we all survive./

 

/Fucker grabbed me,/ Schuldig stated, rubbing his arm where Aya had touched him, as if it would wipe off the psychic ‘boogies’.  /Broke my concentration./

 

/That’s because you weren’t really concentrating on what you were doing, now isn’t it?/ Brad looked at him coldly.  /Stop this nonsense, you haven’t lost anything./

 

The eyes that Fujimiya found eerily creepy and Brad found amazing looked at him in pain.  Telepaths.  He put a hand on Schuldig’s shoulder and squeezed a little, “You haven’t lost anything,” he repeated aloud more gently.  “Stop fighting and be friends again, I don’t want Sarazawa feeling that he has to compete with you.  He’s behaving more and more like his old self but he’s still unstable.  Let him get over his issues and just—fucking go with the flow, Okay?”

 

Schuldig drew a deep breath and let it out in a huff.  “Okay.” He wasn’t happy, but turned and went back to work.

 

Sometimes the man acted like he was a thirteen year old with one sock scrunched down.  That was the problem with telepaths.  The fact that Schuldig was one of Esset’s ‘most stable’ did little to reassure him right now.  Brad just hoped this little excursion wasn’t going to get them all killed in there.  Having the wider range of his power back again, and having it stopped short of a certain ‘event’ like this was bringing him right to the edge of sanity again and he had to stay well back of it.   

 

*             *             *

 

Golden eyes with the pupils of a snake that widened in the lowering evening as shadows crossed the streets focused more sharply.  They were watching a figure as round as it was tall, in long skirts and a hooded cape, stalking down the street like a small tank; sensibly in the middle, away from buildings that might have concealed other predators. 

 

She stopped short and looked right up at him.  “Prince Yakou,” she stated.  “Not thinking of taking a nice juicy bite out of me, are you?”

 

“Of course not, Madam,” he said, expertly blending urbane affront with aristocratic manners and sprinkling all of it with an air of pleasant jest.  He contrived to bow politely, even though he was hanging upside down from a pedestrian overpass.  “And how are you this lovely evening?”

 

Tonveau Nuvenberg did nothing to hide her suspicion.  Where she came from in the depths of the Ukraine, these creatures had been wiped into the realm of superstition; here, they seemed to breed like rats.  No matter how hoity-toity they educated themselves to act and speak, they were just another Shinjuku monster.  “And what are you doing out so early?  Getting a sun tan?”

 

He chuckled smoothly.  “Perhaps you forget.  We (and he used the aristocratic ‘ware ware wa’) are charged by the Mayor to patrol the night when human police have the disadvantage.  No doubt you are aware that the Spider Clan has been increasing their activities in this area?”

 

She snorted and shook her wicked cudgel of a walking stick.  “I’m not afraid of a few over grown bugs.” Nor of overgrown flying rodents, but she wasn’t about to get politically incorrect with the local Prince of Vampires, who could call down a flock 150 strong and leave a grown human nothing but a desiccated skeleton in seconds, should he forget his impeccable Etonian and Oxford manners.  “You can be on your way,” she said still curtly,  “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

 

He smiled coolly and ‘bowed’ again, wrapping his cape-like wings around himself with a leathery whisper.  “Your pardon, Madam Nuvenberg.  I have an appointment to meet someone here.”

 

“Do you?” she stated.  “In this dangerous area?”

 

“What better place to meet a fellow soldier?” the Prince asked, unruffled. 

 

Her ears picked up footsteps.  She turned to see a familiar white and floral patterned coat in the now even darker street before she made out the sun baked swarthy features of Det. Kabane approaching, the red of his cigarillo flashing as he removed it from his lips.  “Madam Nuvenberg,” he said.  “You might want to clear off home.  We’ve had notice there may be a gang war around here tonight.”

 

She frowned, sensing something wasn’t quite kosher about the coincidence.  “Detective Kabane, perhaps I can help,” she smiled sweetly at him. 

 

He looked down at her with his one visible eye, square jaw set.  “I’d prefer it if you didn’t get in the way,” he stated.  “Last time you ‘helped’ some of my men ended up in hospital as well.  Your spells need to be a little more pick and choose.”

 

She let her irritation show now, determined to stand her ground.   “I’m supposed to be meeting someone here, too.”

 

“Are you?” Kabane said, having another puff of his cigarillo.  “Make a new appointment.  There’s this thing, called the telephone.  It works just as well if not better than staring into a pot.”

 

She gave him the evil eye.  He gave it right back.   

 

“Kabane-san…” Yakou said softly in warning.

 

The two on the street froze, as Shinjuku-ites have learned to do, listening intently, their ears nowhere near as sensitive as the vampire’s.  

 

The quiet night was silent at first.  Then the little noises came out.  The distant swish of cars in the safe zone, a screech or scream here and there from diurnal hunters getting their breakfast, and then—the quiet tap of too many feet moving at too fast a pace.  It was the sort of noise ‘outsiders’ only heard in horror movies.  The one described as ‘chitinous’. 

 

“Get her out of here,” Kabane ordered. 

 

The Prince put two fingers in his mouth and whistled piercingly. 

 

And here is where Tondeau Nuvenberg found out exactly how many female vampires it took to lift her into the air.  Not a thing to brag about, considering how powerful vampire’s wings were.

 

Whisked up into the air with a viscera wrenching dip, a hasty catch with added assistance joining in, and then dumped on her own doorstep in Magic Lane, she shook her gnarled walking stick at the retreating hussies in their short skirts and told them what she thought of their kind in general.  Their response was a circling chorus of giggles before shooting back the way they’d came.        

 

“Welcome home, Mistress,” Doll said in the open door with a curtsey.

 

Nuvenberg looked at her suspiciously.  “What are you laughing about?”

 

Permanently wide eyed Doll looked ever so innocent.  “It must be a trick of the light, Madam.  My aspect was designed to be pleasant.” 

 

*             *             *

 

“Alright, people,” Brad said, addressing the van load from the open back doors.  “We have able bodied, well trained fighters, guns and explosives.  What could possibly go wrong?  Baring a family of cute little ducklings crossing the road and destroying our chances of slipping un-noticed if we just run them over, I think we’re ready?”

 

Tot looked like she was about to cry.  “But we can’t run over duckies!”

 

“It was just a joke,” Nagi assured her.

 

You have a rotten sense of humor, Crawford-san!” she accused.

 

“Yes, I do,” he said, looking her straight in the eyes. “It’s my way of coping with little—problems in life,” he caught himself before he just blurted out the truth.  At least she wasn’t trying to call him Papa or Uncle any more. 

 

She pouted and backed down, crushing her toy rabbit to her chest.  She’d insisted on bringing it. 

 

Brad wondered if Rabi-chan would survive this mission.  The toy was looking like his stuffing needed replacing.  He shut the doors on them all before anyone else could mouth off, and smacked his hand on the doors, which were to be bolted from the inside.  Van doors had a tendency to pop open at the worst possibly times, and he wasn’t taking any chances on a six year old rental that might have seen better days under the nice paint job.     

 

It had been decided that Yuuji drive, with the precaution that should either Brad or Schuldig’s talent act up, the last place they should be was at the wheel.  Yuuji flat out veto’d Aya driving.  “No.  Just no,” he’d told the younger man.  “The telepath needs to concentrate and you get distracted way too easily.” 

 

He was relegated to sitting in back, and found himself the object of speculation by the one eyed platinum haired Irish-man. 

 

“You ought to be on meds,” was the conclusion. 

 

“There, there, Jei, we all know who’s the craziest one here,” Schuldig said, tilting his head to discreetly indicate Tot. 

 

Farfarello graphically contemplated turning him into a pincushion. 

 

“Oh, take a joke,” Schuldig said in derision at this mental image of himself.  “Is everyone’s head up their ass tonight?”

 

“You would know,” Farfarello said. 

 

“Break it up back there,” Brad said from the front passenger seat.  “Save the aggression for whatever we run into.” 

 

“Teamwork,” Yuuji said dryly. “Gotta love it.”

 

“Your problem is that when you’re done with a team, they’re usually dead or in prison for life,” Brad said.  “I have to live with them.”

 

“I’m having difficulty seeing why you think I have a problem,” Yuuji backed the van out of the parking space, watching the street corner mirror for traffic.  “I let the last batch live,” he added ruefully.

 

“Near misses don’t count.  Schuldig, unlink us until I say otherwise,” Brad said calmly.  “I don’t want to risk any psychic reverb if something goes wrong.  Verbal report until we’re inside and I say to link us again.”

 

*             *             *

 

Det. Kabane shook his head. “These bastards don’t fight fair,” he whispered. 

 

Prince Yakou had easily caught him up by the shoulders of his preposterous coat and landed him on the projected edge of a building.  While some of the Spider Clan could go right up a building, at least they were out of sight for a while as the gang, or group, or pod, or whatever you called a small clutch of half human half spiders, clattering into the street below came hunting. 

 

While Yakou had built in night vision, Kabane had recourse to a small pair of binoculars he kept in one of the over sized inner pockets of his coat.  These were original gang members, the ones who had been hit first with the DNA changing drugs raided from the ruins of the university laboratories; mostly human with the extra limbs, able to hide it until they transformed at will.  They ran the patrols, then called in the more mutated members to do the grunt work.  But how did they control them?

 

Whatever had hit them first, they’d been working hard to find a way to repeat the process.  Why, he had no idea.  What was the point of being a giant bug.

 

But then again, he was standing next to a guy who could sprout wings like a bat.  Sometimes he wondered if he should just go back where he came from.  If it were still possible. 

Chapter Text

It was a simple plan. Schuldig was to blank out all minds to them as they drove up to the barrier that had been slapped across the one remaining highway into the city.  Yuuji was to get the guards to open it for them, taking some of the burden off Schuldig at the crucial point.  If all else failed, hang on for dear life, because he was going to hit the gas and pray. 

 

It went off like a charm.  But that was the easy part.  On the other side, the only way in was to drive up onto the train bridge, not necessarily an easy thing to do.  The best Nagi could do was lighten the load enough to make it less of a strain on the engine to bump them up over the twisted metal.  There was the added ‘fun’ of selectively ignoring that the damaged bridge now ran over a very deep drop, making it like a concrete Grand Canyon.    

 

“This is insane,” Brad stated. 

 

“Agreed,” Yuuji said.  “Just hold on, I think I can manage this,” he fought with the wheel until the van’s wheels were between lines.  Then it wasn’t so bad. 

 

“The anomaly is starting to fuck with my head,” Schuldig stated. 

 

He wasn’t the only one.  Brad was experiencing a sort of vertigo, unable to locate himself in the time line.  At first it was like squashing into something that resisted him, held him back.  Then as the van continued forward, his ‘visions’ sped up to a dizzying speed.  His mind couldn’t deal with it.  

 

“Brad!” Yuuji exclaimed as the man slumped in his seat.

 

“I shut him down,” Schuldig said through clenched teeth.  “Not doing so hot myself.” 

 

He was picking up the minds of so many more people than there should be at the same time, no, of their thoughts all happening at once.  It congealed into a burst of static that made him feel the way people do when their ears won’t pop at high altitude or on a plane that climbed too fast, except that it was his whole mind. 

 

He shut himself down.  With a telepath, it was a conscious decision to give into the urge to black out.  {Or as his instructors had told him, never admit to ‘just fainting’, it makes you look ridiculous. Fainting is Nature’s little way of saying your brain needs a reality break. Take it, before something else goes.}

 

With a sudden spike of self preservation, Yuuji checked himself.  Nope, all he was feeling was the struggle in his arms to keep the wheels lined up the way he wanted them too, even with the power steering.  The ride was too rough to make out anyone in the rearview mirror.  “Anyone else going to black out?”

 

“I’m going to let go of the van,” Nagi stated. 

 

“I think we’re okay, the track’s fairly smooth now that we’re past the interchange,” Yuuji looked ahead, wondering what the hell it was they were going through, and definitely not thinking about that drop if the bridge gave way.  He felt the van settle onto the wheels more, and realized now how much the kid’s power had been doing to improve matters. 

 

“The anomaly  was fighting me,” Nagi said. “It’s not affecting me now that I’ve stopped using my talent.”

 

“Just keep your head,” Yuuji advised, glancing at Brad and worrying.  “Just a few more meters and we’re across.” He was concerned too, about Aya, who’s talent was a huge freaking question mark.  “Aya?”

 

“I’m fine,” he said, more occupied with how his sister was being jolted about. 

 

And then they were across the railway bridge.  “I’m going to need your help here, Kid, how’s your talent now?”

 

Nagi tried.  There was no resistance now.  “It’s working.”

 

With his help, Yuuji forced the van over the tracks again, onto the gravel, then concrete and finally onto a street where he let the van roll to a stop and parked it.  The sun was fully down now, but the towers were there.  "We wait here until Brad and Schuldig recover. Naoe, how is he?" He took off his seat belt to half turn and check Brad's pulse. It was fluttery but strong enough.

 

Nagi checked Schuldig. "He seems okay.  Just out cold."  He patted the red head’s cheek.  “Schuldig.  Schuldig, come on.  Wake up.  If you don’t wake up, we’ll leave you in the car seat.”

 

Schuldig finally came to again, and for a moment was confused.  Nagi kept patting, on purpose.  “Stop that,” he stated.

 

“I just remembered, the smelling salt vial is in the first aid kit,” Nagi said.  “Check Brad.”

 

Schuldig went into a mild panic, checking.  “He’s okay,” he said.  “I put him down pretty deep.  I’m going to bring him back out of it slowly, just to be safe.”

 

Brad finally opened his eyes a few minutes later while everyone sat waiting, wondering what the hell was going to happen. 

 

“You okay?” Yuuji asked, still half turned in the seat, looking at him worriedly.

 

Brad smiled at him, a sleepy sort of smile he’d seen so many times after late nights before and classes that day.  “Hey,” he said softly. 

 

“Brad,” Schuldig stated sharply, breaking this up.  “We’re in.”

 

Brad took a deep breath and exhaled, pulling himself together.  He checked cautiously.  His visions went skittering again, the way they had done after Schuldig had undid the blocks set on it.  “Sort of,” he answered Yuuji’s question.  “A little out of control, but nothing to write a report to headquarters about.”

 

“As if you ever would,” Schuldig commented.  “I’m picking up some pretty crazy stuff myself.  Twenty meters that way,” he pointed, “there is a plant trying it on a stupid drunk.  A fucking plant.  I am reading a plant’s mind.  A hungry plant that is deliberately making ‘I’m a sexy girl’ noises at a drunk to lure him into its reach.”

 

“I’m thinking it wasn’t a plant to start with, then,” Brad said. 

 

“This place is totally fucked,” Schuldig stated.  “Okay, we’ve seen it; turn the van around and get us out of here.”

 

“Afraid of a little tentacle rape, Shuu-kun?” Yuuji asked wryly. 

 

“Alright, behave,” Brad ordered.  “Tot, how’s the girl?”

 

“Whoops,” Schuldig said under his breath.  He’d been about to blurt out something about Masafumi and his crap. 

 

Tot checked Aya-chan over, making sure that the bumpy ride hadn’t dislodged or disturbed anything.  The girl was a pretty good practical nurse. 

 

With some effort, Brad threw off the last of the groggy sensation in his mind and shifted in his seat, stretching what he could in the confinement.  “Has anyone or thing capable of actually doing us damage spotted us?”

 

Schuldig checked.  “Okaaay, there are flying things up there,” he pointed up.  “We’ve been spotted alright.  They’re intelligent on a human level, and they’re shielding.  It’s not true telepathy, but the moment after I connected, they blocked.  The sensation was between ‘what the fuck’ and ‘not one of us’.  Whatever they are, they have mild talent.”

 

Brad let his talent expand a little, cautiously.  “The hell…” he blinked.  “Alright people, we have another dimension to watch out for.  Nagi, you’re going to have to shield the van.”

 

“Without seeing?” Nagi said.

 

“Don’t question, just do,” Brad said mildly, not a reprimand, but an encouragement.  “Keep it low key and only increase your shield if something hits.”

 

“Kid’s that good?” Yuuji asked.

 

Brad spared him an archly smug look.  “Yet another mistake on Their part,” he said.  “Schuldig, get us directions, will you?” 

 

Something big landed in front of them just as Yuuji started the engine again.  It filled the windshield view startling them, then backed off. 

 

“Oh, shit,” Schuldig said.  “Aya, NO!” he stole the words out of Yuuji’s brain before the nut job could pull his sword in the confines of the van. “Everyone, FREEZE!”

 

The creature folded its wings just like a big bird, white hands smoothing down a very businesslike black skirt suit jacket over a white blouse.  Then it—she—walked forward on what might be called a sensible cross between high heels and flats, and peered in at them.  She took a small case out of her jacket pocket and opened it, holding it up against the glass on Yuuji’s side.

 

“Jees, it’s the cops,” Yuuji stated, stunned. 

 

“She’s not going hurt us,” Brad said, curiosity flaring.  “Nagi, stand down.”

 

The bat winged creature made the ‘roll down your window’ motion they must train cops in making. 

 

“If she asks for my license and registration, I’m going to shit,” Yuuji rolled it down just so far.  “Let me guess, we’re parked in a restricted zone,” the change in his voice was so obvious even Aya who was sort of used to his evil ways noticed it, jealousy flaring.

 

The woman-thing blinked, looking at him oddly more like a huge bird of prey than a human, with that accipitridraen ‘are you an edible turtle or just a big rock’ question in her eyes.  “What are you?” she asked, slightly sibilant due to the length of her fangs.  Otherwise, she looked like any elite young executive career woman, with regular, pretty features, dark hair expertly waved, and immaculate make up.  But with fangs.  And huge bat wings. 

 

“Um—human?” he said, wondering if the glass would hold long enough for him to defend himself somehow.  “Last time I checked.”

 

She responded by inhaling at him as if he were a fragrant blossom, nostrils flaring, eyes relaxing into a more normal human woman look he knew all too well.  “You smell delicious,” she licked her lips before the drool could actually run down her chin.

 

Brad leaned over to look up at her.  “Madam,” he stated.  “Can you direct us to a Doctor Mephisto?”

 

She blinked at him.  “Do you have a girl in a wheelchair?” she asked rather sharply.

 

He blinked back.  “Yeeesss,” he allowed. 

 

She pulled out an phone, tapped a button with her manicured red thumbnail and put it to her ear.  “Yakou-sama, we’ve located them.” “A large white utility van.”  She listened for a moment, frowning slightly.  “As you wish, Yakou-sama.”  She put the phone away then leaned back down to speak to Yuuji.  “You’ll have to wait here, there’s an altercation in the direction you wish to go.”

 

Brad let his talent out a bit further on the leash and picked up the nightmarish scenario.  “I’m a precog, and what your boss can’t tell you is that they’re about to be over whelmed.  Let us help.”

 

She looked at him, frowning. 

 

“It’s true,” Yuuji said, “he’s pretty accurate about these things.  Let us help,” he smiled.

 

She raised an eyebrow, knowing ‘glamour’ when she saw it. “You’re not one of us, but you have all the tricks, don’t you?” she smirked knowingly.

 

Yuuji looked perfectly harmless and innocent.  “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met one of you before.” 

 

Brad spoke up again, pulling things from his visions.  “Your Yakou-sama, he’s too young to have any experience in real battle, he’s strictly one on one.  Not like his grandfather.  Let us help.”

 

She frowned, “I have orders….”

 

“Your siblings will die, two have already been savaged,” Brad stated.  “Reach out with your own powers; see if I’m telling the truth.”

 

She looked up and ‘listened’ intently, then frowned more in anger. “Damn it!  But if you’re lying about anything else, or pulling a spell, he forfeits,” she pointed to Yuuji with a very long slim sharp red nailed finger.

 

“Fair enough,” Brad said. 

 

“Brad!” Yuuji protested mildly. 

 

In the back of the van, Farfarello had a headlock on Aya, and one of his daggers across his throat. Schuldig had his hand locked over the younger red head’s mouth, cupped to avoid being bit.  Schuldig held up a warning finger with his free hand. /Don’t get us into more trouble than you’re worth,/” he warned mentally.  /Crawford knows what he’s doing!/

 

Aya shrugged the Irishman off and returned to his own seat sullenly. 

 

“Move over,” the vampire ordered Yuuji.  “It’s easier to drive then to tell you the way.”  Where her wings had gone he didn't know.  One moment they were there, then they weren't.

 

While he unlocked the door, then managed to squeeze over, grateful for an automatic transmission on the van, she looked upward and called out, “Assist Yakou-sama!” 

 

“Balinese,” Aya said, biting back yet another fit of jealousy.  “There’s room back here.”

 

Too late, the van slung forward as the vampire hit the gas pedal.  Yuuji’s butt was sat back down half in Brad's lap by the laws of gravity and motion.

 

“Wait, can you drive?” he demanded, hanging on.

 

“It’s easy,” she said, looking at him instead of the street.  “You just put your foot down here, and spin this round thing the way you want to go, no?”  Then she laughed.  “The look on your face!  Shut up and hold on, I know what I’m doing,” she got her eyes back on the road. 

 

*             *             *

 

The van swerved sideways to a stop.  “You wanted to help; get out and help!” the vampire woman ordered, slinging open the door and launching herself from the driver’s seat. 

 

“Schuldig, Nagi, guns,” Brad ordered.

 

Both man and teen unlocked the cases and started tossing out weapons. Yuui grabbed an automatic rifle with a night scope and made sure the mechanisms were in order. “You’re going to need a real gun,” he informed Brad and handing it to him.

 

“Alright, alright; I’ve been in gun fights,” Brad grumbled, slinging the rifle strap over his arm and shoulder. 

 

“Not in the ‘stans’ you haven’t,” Yuuji said grimly.  “And this looks a hell of a lot worse.”

 

“Farfarello, no tasting,” Brad ordered in warning, “or I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

 

The van rocked, then the metal of the back doors creaked from the handle outward, straining the latch and rocking the van again.  Nagi closed his eyes and held up his hands, feeling for the mass of whatever was out there and sending it flying back from the van.  Something shrieked angrily like a sound effect from a Godzilla movie.

 

“Let us out of here!” Aya demanded, thumping a fist in useless frustration on the side of the van. 

 

“Nagi, doors please,” Brad stated.  “Then stay with the girls.”

 

The kid popped them like a soda can top. 

 

The scene outside would have been horrific if Brad hadn’t already ‘seen’ it.  As it was, it was still a nightmare come to life.  Huge freaking spiders, only their heads bearing some resemblance to the human beings they had been.  /Schuldig!/

 

/No way,/ the telepath stated.

 

/Way!/ Brad opened fire, cutting across the disgustingly alien looking body of one with its back to him.  “Someone’s controlling them!” he called aloud.  “If they’re being controlled, they can be shut down!”

 

Aya charged in like a maniac; long, lethal blade out and down for a low, murderous swing that took the the supporting legs right off of one and then caught its screeching head on an up and back swing before it even finished collapsing. 

 

Stay with the girls?” Nagi suddenly realized what he’d been reduced to.  He took up a defensive position in the van’s open doors and tried squishing one of the fugly things.  The bodies were full grown human size, but the legs raised them up half again as high.  And nothing was creepier than a half mutated human spider thing with eight fucking eyes and mandibles that ended in poison dripping fangs.  Yeah, killing that, no problem

 

“Oh, shit!” Schuldig complained, barely managing to keep from getting splattered with greenish goop.  “Implode, Nagi, IMPLODE.  That stuff’s fucking toxic!” He was already frantically reloading his rifle with another clip of ammo.

 

Whoops.  Nagi tried the gentler, kinder method this time, compressing the next one’s head. 

 

Yucky!” Tot announced as it popped like a grape and then clapped her hands in glee.   

 

Nagi tried not to let his cool level bust his own head just then.  He had a freaking cheering section.  He focused on another one of the damned things. 

 

Aya, get back here!” Yuuji yelled after him.  “If you get that crap on you, you’re going to turn into one of them!”

 

“I doubt it,” Brad yelled over the gun fire.  “Look at the way the splatter’s avoiding him.”

 

At that point he half turned to look at the more recognizably human spider-thing that had leapt up on to the top of a nearby parked SUV and was grinning at him with an entirely human face.  A sticky rope of some sort had caught up the barrel of his automatic rifle, and now yanked it from his hands, pulling him half off his feet by the strap he’d slung over his shoulder.  Faster than he could react, the creature launched down onto him. 

 

Yuuji swung round to fire into the monster’s face.  Brad!

 

One of the creature’s clawed feet had pinned him by the chest.  Blood welled from around a wickedly hooked claw as the thing twitched in death throes, digging deeper. 

 

Yuuji lost it and fired the rest of his ammo into the thing, then dropped to his knees to pull its foot off Brad and shove it aside, prying at the torn jacket and shirt to look at the gaping wound.  “Ah fuck, no, fuck!” he tried to find something to make a compress with.

 

Brad caught his wrist, fighting to stay conscious longer. He couldn’t form the words, a mangled whispering escaping his lips before he slid down into blackness.

 

A roar of pure anguished rage sounded, and the rest of the spider monsters’ brains spontaneously imploded for blocks around them, crumpling them to the ground like they’d been turned off with a switch, leaving everyone else’s heads throbbing as if from a migraine.

 

Yohji was brutally shoved aside.  Schuldig landed on his knees hard on the tarmac and grabbed Brad by the lapels and screamed at him, then kept screaming. 

Chapter Text

 

“What’s his problem?” A guy in army boots, black leather cargo pants, and a now greenish gore splattered white and floral coat said, standing over Yuuji. 

 

Yuuji caught the keening German’s shoulders, attempting to pry him back from preventing a couple of the male vampires with a first aid kit from dealing with Brad.  After the third try, he gave up knocked him out with a karate strike, realizing the telepath might just lash out again and this time not be so specific about who’s brains he turned to mush.  In lieu of anything more sensible at the moment, he held the now unconscious red head.  “I’m sorry, Shuu, I’m sorry.”  

 

Outsiders,” Kabane said, taking out another cigarillo to light.  “Get him to the Doc,” he told the vampires who had slapped a compress over the wound and taped it down. They latched onto the guy’s suit and airlifted him. 

 

“All right, put down the weapons,” Kabane announced.  “Everyone’s under arrest until we get this sorted out.” 

 

Yakou landed light as a cat in front of him.  “Kabane-san, is that any way to treat people who have come here seeking Dr. Mephisto's help?”

 

Kabane looked at him balefully.  “Probably not.  But I just like arresting people now and then, rather than calling the coroner.  Especially the kind who show up here with a shit load of illegal weapons.” He kicked a couple of empty casings laying on the street for emphasis, sending the brass shells clattering.  “As if we don’t have enough in here already.”

 

The female vampire who had called dibs on Yuuji landed beside Prince Yakou.  “Your highness, Det. Kabane, the man who was—wounded,” she glanced down at Yuuji and Schuldig, “insisted on helping us against the Spider Clan, when he could have simply waited it out.  Without them, we would still be fighting or fleeing a losing battle.”

 

“Then it’s settled,” Yakou stated.  “They are all under my protection, I will take responsibility.  This can be sorted out at the hospital.  Now if you will forgive me, I must attend to our own wounded and see that they, too, are taken to the doctor.  We have no idea of whether we are immune to this DNA changing drug or not.”

 

Kabane scowled, “Alright, fine.” He looked around at the disgusting mess.  “Let’s hope this sends a ‘back the fuck off’ rather than a ‘you’ve been deeply insulted, now really trash the town’ message to these assholes.”

 

Nagi hopped down off the back of the van and looked around.  Time to be co-operative.  He raised his hands to use his power to gather all the spider corpses in sight into one pile.  “Sarazawa-san,” he spoke firmly, calmly, hoping it would sound confident.  “If you’ll carry Schuldig to the van, and the—Lady—will show us the way to the hospital?” he looked at her.

 

Det. Kabane and the Prince of Vampires looked at the kid, their expressions just short of mouth falling open. 

 

“Please?” Nagi added, realizing he’d forgotten to say it.  But for emphasis, he motioned again, and a stray spider leg from the sidewalk was tossed on top of the pile. 

 

“I give up,” Kabane said.  “Mayor’s probably going to pin a medal on them.”

 

Aya wiped his sword off on some bushes and walked over from where he had been standing since the spider he had been fighting had collapsed. 

 

Yuuji stood and slung Schuldig up into a fireman’s lift, and carried him to the van.  Aya trudged along behind him.  He slid Schuldig down off his shoulder into the back of the van and then climbed in to drag him further in. Right now he just put one foot in front of the other, not daring to think about anything but that next necessary step.

 

Aya stood there on the street, looking at him. 

 

“Come on, Aya, let’s go,” Yuuji said, not about to put up with any of this sullen bullshit right now.  “Just be careful with that goop on your sword.  They’re saying it’s infectious or something.”

 

Aya frowned and slid it in under the row of seating, then climbed in. 

 

Yuuji got down out of the van, and made way for Nagi to climb in. “Tot-chan, how’s the girl?” he remembered to ask now.

 

“No change,” Tot said.  “She missed all the fun!” she pouted. 

 

“Um, yeah, too bad,” Yuuji said.  “Nagi—where is Farfarello?” he’d realized the Irishman wasn’t with them.

 

Nagi shrugged, wadding up a canvas gun case into a pillow and putting it under Schuldig’s head on the floor.  He hadn’t seen him laying dead anywhere, so the natural assumption was Jei’d done what he did best.  Disappeared, under the circumstances, to remain peripheral until further notice or need.  Or so he hoped.  The Irishman had been showing an unusual interest in the benighted city.  Maybe he’d gone walk-about.

 

“Okaaay, well, let’s go the hospital.  After all, that’s what we came here for,” Yuuji shut the van doors.  He hoped his neck was off the hook now with the vampire chick.  Because she was still looking at him like he was on the menu when he got into driver’s side.  He wasn’t sure whether ‘dessert’ was a down or an upgrade, though.  “Sarazawa Yuuji, by the way,” he introduced himself.  “Kid’s Naoe Nagi, his friend Tot, and the patient there is Fujimiya Aya-chan.  That’s her big brother, Fujimiya Ran, my boyfriend, and the head case on the floor is Schuldig, Crawford’s partner.  Crawford being the casualty,” he almost stumbled on the word, but the casual smile was plastered to his face like a drowning man clinging to a life saver. 

 

She turned to look at Aya specifically, sizing him up; then looked again at Yuuji with a slight difference in her gaze now.  “Hmm, very pretty.  You have good taste.”

 

Yeah, that from a vampire, very complimentary.  He started the van up. 

 

“Kabuki-cho Police, Takada Keiko,” she said.  “Toyama Vampire Clan.  You’ll be looking for what outsiders know as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.”

 

“It’s near there?” he spotted the lit up twin towers through some of the other tall buildings, remarkably unscathed by the catastrophic earthquake. 

 

“It is there. Dr. Mephisto commandeered the buildings and turned it into Mephisto Hospital.  Is there a reason the one eyed, fair foreign man didn’t want to be seen and you appear unconcerned with his disappearance?” 

 

“Most likely,” Yuuji said.  “You never know when you’ll need someone on the outside.” 

 

“I do hope he’s very careful.  The Demon City tends to eat outsiders,” she smiled, one of her fangs flashing in the street lights.   

 

*             *             *

 

The reception at the hospital was—interesting.  Aya had watched them roll away his sister with a fatalism born of years of being unable to do anything but let medical people do their job. 

 

Set upon by a team in white scrubs, they were then all whisked off to be stripped down and showered.  Yuuji noticed that the staff were all most all very oddly alike; pale ashen blonde, ashen grey eyed men and women, neither quite Japanese, nor quite Caucasian, with only a few brunette Japanese men in blue scrubs mixed in.  He noted also that while the blue scrub wearing ones were basically normal seeming, the fair ones’ hands were quite cool, and they were very focused on their work, not hesitating or even blinking at physical connection with him.  They also didn’t give a damned if Tot was shoved in with the men for the decontamination, splattered with bug guts or not.  Her male ‘team mates’ studiously avoided looking at her full coverage blushing, backs turned toward her, hands in the age old ‘not the nuts’ position as the chemically smelly water, then a rinse cycle hit them from a series of nozzles set in the ceiling and wall of the shower area. 

 

“We’ll have to decontaminate everything, the van included,” a man, one of the lead doctors, informed them while they dressed in the provided patient pajamas.  His grey eyes were slightly darker and a bit more lively in communicating, and his ash blond hair was more blond than ash.  Plus, he had all the indications of ‘doctory-ness’; stethoscope, name tag, pens (one of which had stained his lab coat), slight circles under his eyes, and that harried look someone in charge of life or death on an irritatingly routine basis gave major hospital ER doctors.  “The fluids from the spider mutants has virulent destructive properties.  We’ve learned not to take any chances.  Nurse,” he stepped aside to allow a woman with a rolling cart to move in on them, then pulled a small electronic note pad out of a weighed down lap coat pocket and tapped on it. 

 

The nurse caught Tot’s arm first, and proceeded to put a coded band on her wrist and then tag it with color plastic clips, same as any modern hospital.  She picked up an injection spray gun and inoculated the girl with something that made Tot wince at the sting.  A needle was stuck in her arm and four vials of blood were drawn in quick succession, then the needle was pulled out and a band aid slapped on the puncture.

 

“Owee!” Tot complained, but the Nurse held her firm and did her job, neither rough nor sympathetic, then moved on to Aya, who flinched as she reached for his arm.

 

“Don’t fight it, they’ll only over power you,” the doctor said calmly, raising his arm to look at the watch on it, which was beeping in a quiet, attention getting way.  He pressed a button on it, “Yes, Doctor?”

 

A small hologram screen sprung up from the watch, shimmering from any angle but a direct view of it.  “Send the brother up to Women’s, 28 B, Chief, thank you,” a voice drawled. 

 

“Immediately, Doctor,” the doctor said, the hologram switching off.  He consulted his note pad again.  “Fujimiya-san, is it?  A nurse will show you to room 28 B.  The staff will take care of the rest of you and see that you are made comfortable.  Please keep in mind we are very busy, and this may all take some time.”

 

Clones?” Nagi whispered to Yuuji as one collected Aya and lead him away in a white cotton kimono wrap top, drawstring pants and slip proof ‘footies’. 

 

“Rabi-chan!” Tot suddenly realized. 

 

Nagi turned to catch her hand and hold it in his.  “Decontamination,” he reminded her.  “He’ll be squeaky clean when you get him back.”  Or it’ll be the final straw for the tatty old thing and she’d need a new one before she melted down completely.  

 

*             *             *

 

“Fujimiya-san, Doctor,” the pale nurse announced and deposited Aya in the room, then withdrew, shutting the door behind her. 

 

Aya saw his sister laid out on a bed; once again hooked up to machines that beeped and tubes that delivered and removed liquids. He let out a small sigh of irritation.  Then he realized the person standing on the other side of the bed checking her pulse the old fashioned way was—very oddly dressed for a medical worker. 

 

Smothered in swathes of white cloth, some sort of all covering, double layered cape.  But the first thing one noticed about the person was that the hair was blue-black and very long; then the hands, long, thin, capable, and be-ringed.  There were chunky jeweled bracelets on the wrists, worn above close fitting laced cuffs; a heavy gold chain necklace shared chest space with a jeweled broach to hold the cloak closed over a top with the same ornate and lush lace as the cuffs at the collar.

 

Aya’s mind wavered a bit as he looked at the face of the person, not able at first to determine the gender.  Taller than Aya, the facial features were perfectly even; perfectly balanced between male and female; delicately arched black brows framed simultaneously expressive and cold black eyes; eyes that had an oddly golden sheen in the shift of light as the person looked up.  They were framed in lush black lashes.  The lips neither too thin nor too thick, and the rosebud color children lost as they grew up.  The skin was as pale as any geisha could wish for without resorting to white rice powder, yet tinged with a living warmth that needed no excess of color.

 

The spell was broken as the Doctor laid Aya-chan’s hand gently back on the coverlet.   “I’m Doctor Mephisto,” the man, and most definitely a man with that voice, stated.  “Fujimiya Ran?”

 

Aya’s brain stopped staggering and clicked back into place, now that he had some grounding.  “Yes, I—my sister, can you help her?” he blurted out, manners be damned. 

 

The deep space-black eyes lowered to the girl on the bed again.  “A rather interesting case, especially to have come from outside.  I’ve already examined her. There’s really nothing wrong with her physically.  However,” his fingers trailed the girl’s forehead momentarily.  “This profound coma doesn’t appear to be physical.”  The hand was retracted into the folds of the cloak.  “We should have an answer in a day or two.  In the mean time, you and your companions will be under observation for any effects of DNA contamination from the spider creatures.  I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you, if you’ve shown no signs by now.  However the man who was injured, your relation to him is?”

 

Aya thought of Yohji—Yuuji—and how he’d shut down like that.  “I don’t know him that well, but my friend does,” he said quietly.  “We weren’t sure—what we’d be walking into.”

 

“Cheers for erring to the excess,” Mephisto said in a lightly amused tone.  “It’s the only way to deal with things here in Shinjuku,” he pressed the call button for a nurse.  “I’ll have more questions for you in the morning.  In the mean time, get some rest.”

 

*             *             *

 

The nurse brought Aya back to a lounge where the others had been settled in temporarily with coffee, tea and sandwiches.  “Sarazawa-san, the doctor would like to see you  

 

He looked at Yohji—no, he had to remember, Yuuji.  The man he knew and didn’t know.  “Where is Schuldig?”

 

“One of those nurses said they put him in the Mental Health ward,” Nagi answered.  “He wouldn’t stop screaming when he came to, so they sedated him.”

 

“And—Crawford?” Aya asked hesitantly. 

 

“We’re waiting on that,” Nagi said, frowning slightly. 

 

Aya walked over to Yuuji, who hadn’t even looked up since he came in.  He was just sitting there in an armchair, hands clasped between his knees, staring at the carpet-tiled floor, a full cup of coffee going cold before him on the low table.   Aya hesitantly touched his shoulder.  “Yuuji?”

 

“Can they cure your sister?” the man asked, his voice flat, empty of any of his usual warmth. 

 

“I met the doctor.  He said they’ll know more in a day or two.”

 

“Good.  We wouldn’t want this whole thing to be a total waste.”

 

Aya stood there, not sure what to say, or even think at this statement.  Yohji dealt with things by getting drunk, chain smoking, partying, making a wreck of himself.  He didn’t know how this person would behave.  He’d seemed so much more capable, more in charge, since he remembered who he was, and Aya had been fine with that; letting someone else take over for a while, relying on someone.  Now he was left standing on his own again. 

 

He knelt to lay a hand on Yuuji’s, looking up at him.  He wouldn’t meet Aya’s eyes.  “Yohji,” he said softly, hoping to remind him, “If this doctor can cure my sister, he can cure—your friend.”

 

“It moved so fast.  Even Masafumi’s monsters weren’t that fast.”

 

“I think,” Nagi said quietly, “it’s just everything.  It’s too much to take in.  Schuldig was freaking out before Brad was hurt.  They were both holding back their talent, and it slowed them down.  Holding back—just slows things down,” he sounded irritated. 

 

Tot slipped her arm around him and laid her head against his shoulder, and hand on his knee.  “It will be alright, Nagi-kun.” 

 

“Yuuji,” Aya said, rubbing his hand over his clenched ones. 

 

Finally, green eyes turned up to him, and focused on him.  Aya found himself looking into the deep end of a pool of pain.  He moved closer on his knees to put his arms around him and ended up with his cheek pressed to Yuuji’s chest, holding tightly. 

 

The door opened and one of the nurses came in.  “Sarazawa-san?” she said.  “Mr. Crawford is asking for you.”

 

“Is he okay?” Nagi asked, and fuck if his damned voice didn’t pick that moment to crack and embarrass the hell out of him. 

 

“He’s stable,” she said.  “But we want to keep him calm, so only one visitor at a time.”

 

Yuuji pushed himself up from the seat and pulled himself together.  Still on his knees, Aya watched him follow the nurse out. 

 

Chapter Text

  

“There’s nothing physically wrong with him,” his second in command said to Mephisto.  “He just keeps screaming like a maniac every time he comes out of the sedation.”

 

Mephisto looked down at the flame haired young man on the bed.  He put his fingertips lightly on the man’s forehead, then trailed them across and around the lines of his skull.  “Something—in the somatosensory—ah.  An abnormal amount of fine neural bundles, threading throughout the parietal lobes,” he frowned in concentration for a moment, then removed his hand.  “Hmm.”

 

“A new mutation in the spider poison?”

 

“I believe it’s congenital,” the Chief said.  “There’s a very nicely enhanced blood supply in the area, as well.  It’s not the uneven mess of sudden growth.  The rest of the brain is quite normal.  Let him come out of sedation.  Page me when he’s conscious.  Tell the nurse to gag him if it gets irritating.”

 

“Yes, Doctor,” he made a note on his pad, then looked up.  “You believe he’s an adept?”

 

“Very likely,” Mephisto said thoughtfully.  “Perhaps this is why Madam Neuvenberg was so intent on contacting them first?”   

 

*             *             *

 

If he’d been asked, Yuuji would not have been able to describe the amount of relief he felt walking into that hospital room and seeing Brad laying there groggy but alive.  He lowered the rail on the side of the bed that wasn’t encumbered with tubes and sat down to slide an arm under and around him as gently as possible.  “Hey, Sweetheart, how are you?” he kissed him on the cheek fervently.

 

“They think I’m going to turn into a giant spider,” Brad rasped.  “I told you I’d be alright.”

 

“No, you said ‘bleh-bleh-gurgle’ and passed out bleeding in the street,” he kissed him on the temple and then looked at him adoringly. 

 

“Schuldig?”

 

“You would ruin the moment,” Yuuji said, smoothing his hair back from the widow’s peak.  “They’re keeping him sedated.  Nagi said he was freaking out before the spider-creep attacked you.  After you went down, he freaked out and killed them all telepathically. You said your talent was acting up.  I think his went out of control.” 

 

Brad struggled to sit up, “I need to see him—.” A bolt of pain from the wound made him re-think this.

 

“You’re not going anywhere,” Yuuji held him down by the shoulders.  “You’ve got a hole the size of a grapefruit in your side.  They’ve patched you up, but you’ve got to let it heal.  Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.”

 

“Bring him to me, Yuuji,” Brad looked up at him “I can’t let him burn out.” 

 

“What about you?” Yuuji asked emphatically.  “How is this place affecting you?  You didn’t see that coming, you were holding back, too, weren’t you?”

 

Brad put his hand to Yuuji’s chest. “Helping him won’t hurt me, I promise.  But you’ve got to bring him to me.” 

 

The door opened and a tall, slender man with very long hair, swathed in a white cloak, walked in.  “Gentlemen,” he said, noting the somewhat compromising position the blond was in.  “Mr. Crawford.  I am Doctor Mephisto.  I understand you came through the barrier as some sort of security team to help that young man’s sister?”

 

“It’s complicated, but in a round about way, yes,” Brad said as Yuuji unhanded him without embarrassment.  “How long has it been since the quake?”

 

“A good twelve years,” Mephisto said, a little surprised at the question from a patient obviously in pain.

 

“It’s been a little more than two weeks for us,” Brad looked around, rather helplessly for a moment.  “My glasses?”

 

Yuuji found them on the bedside table and handed them to him with the temple pieces open.  Suddenly Brad didn’t look so damned vulnerable any more.  Yuuji the water pitcher and pouring a paper cup half full for him.

 

“And yet you’ve come better prepared than most from your time,” Mephisto said approvingly.  “Your red headed companion, he’s an adept of some sort?”

 

“Schuldig,” Brad said, handing the paper cup back.  He attempted to sit up again, but it wasn’t happening this time, either. “He’s a telepath.  Something here in Shinjuku is overloading his mind.  I need to get him back into his own head.  I have to be in physical contact with him to do that.”

 

“Ah,” Mephisto said.  “So, it is some sort of brain storm.”  He held up his arm and tapped one of the ‘jewels’ on a bracelet.

 

“Mental Health,” a female voice answered.

 

“Bring the patient in 17 C  up to Men’s 33 A, please.  Restrain him if you need to, but under no circumstances is he to be sedated again.” 

 

“Understood, Doctor.”

 

“Now,” he lowered his arm.  “I hope you don’t think you’re going to get up and just walk out of here for some time.  You’ve lost a chunk of intestine and your right kidney was badly cut up, along with the possibility, which is growing fainter, that you’ve been infected with the mutagenic drug in the blood of the spiders themselves—is there some trouble with your vision, Mr. Crawford?” 

 

Brad was having some difficulty focusing despite his mild distance prescription.  “You don’t exist,” he stated.  He was seeing no time line for the man standing there.  None at all.    

 

The doctor smiled slightly, then walked over closer to the bed side and held out his hand.  “I assure you, I am quite real.”

 

Brad hesitantly laid two fingertips on the back of the offered hand, then drew his own hand back again.  “You’re blocking,” he stated.

 

“I’m not sure what you’re experiencing, but I’m fairly certain I do exist.  And I’m doing nothing to conceal myself from whatever your extra perception is trying to do,” Mephisto was amused.  Then he looked at Yuuji.  “Another one,” he said.  “You’re all adepts?” 

 

“The rumors were true,” Yuuji said.  “You’re some sort of paranormal talent yourself, aren’t you, Doctor?”

 

“Interesting.  The compulsion to answer your questions is physically generated,” Mephisto said.  “Try something else.”

 

“How much is the bill?” Yuuji asked, knowing a challenge when he saw one. 

 

“Skyrocketing by the minute,” The doctor laughed, black eyes flashing.  “However, I’m told your telepathic friend has brain fried the entire Spider Clan.  The Mayor has cancelled any debt you incur here at the hospital with a very large, open ended donation.  This is very interesting.  Outsiders—and you had these abilities before the quake?”

 

The door opened and two nurses came in with Schuldig strapped into a wheel chair with about three times the usual nylon strapping.  His eyes were rolled up into his head, and a bandage muffling his mouth.  He was starting to spasm faintly.

 

“Thank you, Nurse,” Mephisto said to the two pale women.  “Mr. Crawford, do you perceive my nurses as real?”

 

Brad tried.  They were like inanimate objects; their position in the frame work dependent on something outside their mass.  They acted when something else moved them.  But what?

 

“You may go now,” the doctor told them. 

 

“They aren’t human,” Brad stated. 

 

“Is any truly good nurse really human?” Mephisto said archly, and bent to check Schuldig, putting the back of his fingers to his temple as if checking his temperature.  “He’s about to go into another grande mal, the sedatives are burning out of his system.” 

 

“Let me touch him,” Brad said, his frustration showing now in his frown. 

 

Yuuji went to take the handles of the wheel chair and move it around beside the bed.

 

Brad stretched out his hand.  “Unbind him,” he told Yuuji.  “Give me his hand.”

 

Yuuji quickly undid the straps holding down Schuldig’s right arm and held it where Brad could reach him. 

 

He grasped Schuldig’s hand on the bed covers.  “Take that thing off his mouth!”  he snapped.

 

The blond obeyed.  “They really did a job of it, didn’t they?” he prized cotton pads out of Schuldig’s mouth. 

 

“They may have been afraid he would crack his teeth or bite his tongue off,” Mephisto said mildly, hand on chin, observing with intense interest.  

 

Schuldig began to shift and struggle, but not as badly as the past few hours. 

 

“Schuldig!” Brad ordered.  “Calm down!”

 

Blue eyes snapped open wide with shock. 

 

Yuuji had another cup of water ready and tipping Schuldig’s head up a little, moistened his lips and wiping off the dribble with his fingers.  “You awake?” he asked as the German began to calm a little.

 

“More,” Schuldig said shakily. 

 

Yuuji let him have a full mouth full, making sure he swallowed properly without choking.   

 

“Untie him,” Brad said, calmer himself now, gave the hand in his a squeeze.  “Don’t struggle,” he told Schuldig.  “Don’t lash out, stay calm.”

 

Schuldig’s eyes had hit on the Doctor, pupils widening, overwrought suspicion about to expand into self defense.  “I’m seeing things,” he stated. 

 

“Join the club,” Brad said.  “This is Doctor Mephisto.  He’s invisible to our particular talents.  You killed all the spider things.”

 

Schuldig looked at him, eyes softening to tears.  “They killed you,” he started to break down again.  “You let them kill you.  You’re supposed to see these things coming, you let them kill you.”

 

“Stop that,” Brad said softly. 

 

Yuuji finished taking off the last strap from his ankles and Schuldig got up out of the chair, and not giving a damn who saw, kissed Brad on the mouth. 

 

“Alright, now that you’ve made a perfect fool of yourself, I’m going to let go of your hand,” Brad said through clenched teeth when he’d let him speak again.

 

Schuldig shook his head.   “No.  I don’t like this place.  We need to go.  Now.”

 

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m in no condition to go anywhere,” Brad stated.  “Calm down!  That’s an order, Schuldig.”

 

Yuuji was watching the doctor, who was observing Schuldig more than either he or Brad.  “You said ‘adept’, Doctor?  Is that what they call paranormal talent here?”

 

“Something here in Shinjuku draws spell users, witches, sorcerers, mages; adept is the old term for such.  The quake set loose three things; the destruction of the quake itself, which was caused by an attempt to bend the physical world to one man’s magic; a nuclear reactor at one of the universities cracked and leaked; and the genetic studies laboratories were affected by both radiation and ‘magic’.  Nature seems to have contained the entire event somehow, but there are leaks, or perhaps, vents, that allow living beings to travel in and out of the event.  The tourists from the future are particularly annoying.  No survival instincts.”    

 

“Magic,” Yuuji said with a hint of derision.  “There’s no more scientific term for it?  You’ve had twelve years to study it.”

 

“Ah, but you see, I spent the first half of those years simply exploring my new world,” Mephisto said.  “You’re quite a clever little band, aren’t you?” he looked at Brad now.  “Each of you steps back and lets the one who’s abilities are needed most take over, don’t you?”

 

Brad frowned.  “Not that I’m ungrateful for the help, Doctor, but this person who set off the quake—?”

 

“Was destroyed, and his son as well, ten years later.”

 

“Not you, then,” Brad said. 

 

“No, not me.”

 

“What are you?” Brad asked flatly. 

 

Mephisto smiled faintly.  “Is it that important to you to know?” he said mildly.

 

“Pretty please?” Yuuji threw all his charm into it.

 

Black eyes focused on him again.  “I am what you see.  Twelve years ago, I woke to find myself laying half trapped in the rubble with no memory, no name, nothing on me to indicate who I was.  I supposed finally, that I am just another result of that quake and moved on with my life.  But you should rest, Mr. Crawford, not only you, but your friends, it is very late,” he walked over to open the door, standing aside to indicate that Schuldig and Yuuji were to leave his patient alone. 

 

Brad looked at Schuldig, giving his hand a little squeeze.  “It’s alright.  Just accept that there are things here you don’t understand and don’t try to, you’ll be alright.” 

 

Schuldig searched his eyes.

 

“You’ll be alright if you just let it flow around you,” Brad reassured him.  “Center yourself and let it go around you.” 

 

Schuldig decided to trust him.  “Don’t let anything else happen to you, mein Mann,” he murmured in German and bent to kiss him again. 

 

Brad pinkened, not exactly happy to have all this going on in front of a complete stranger, but he was too weak to smack him.

 

Yuuji reached over to take his hand when Schuldig was out of the way.  “Behave yourself and obey the nurses, alright?” 

 

“It’ll be novel, but I’ll try,” Brad said, looking up at him. 

 

“What about your little boy toy’s sister, Sarazawa?” Schuldig sniped, wanting to break this up. 

 

Yuuji rolled his eyes and slid his hand free again.  “Good question,” he turned to Mephisto.  “You’ve seen her, Doctor?”

 

“Yes, but let us leave Mr. Crawford to his sleep, shall we?” Mephisto could make it clear with his voice, too, that he would brook no more delaying. 

 

After the two men were in the hallway, he turned to look at Crawford.  “Shame on you, Mr. Crawford,” he smiled saucily, then stepped out to draw the door shut. 

 

Brad frowned, not sure he was going to come out of any of this with any dignity intact.

Chapter Text

 

"Mr. Crawford.  Mr. Crawford."

Brad woke to find a nurse standing over him.  Another of the same pale look-a-likes; primly pinned up ash blond hair under a cap, equally prim glasses, blandly attractive, frighteningly efficient. To his mind it was creepy the way she 'existed', as if a chair or a table moved while he wasn't looking, or a radio spoke directly to him, rather than a person, and that only his talent made him aware of the difference.

"Your breakfast is here, and you have a visitor. Det. Kabane, from the Police."

"Am I under arrest?" He tried to sit up.

A strong hand firmly nailed his shoulder down and she whipped the blankets down to examine the wound. "Doctor does not allow criminals," she flipped the blankets back up and smoothed them down, then adjusted the bed via the controls underneath. "You are not to use these muscles," she touched his flank for clarification, "for the next few days, not until Doctor approves it.  Get used to it, Mr. Crawford."

"Or what?" He looked at her, relieved to be a little more visually level with the world.

"Doctor will not be happy with you," she warned.

"And what does Doctor do to people he's not happy with?"

"It depends," she said, in the process of fixing the tray table so he could easily have his meal. "On how healthy your other organs are." Dusty gray eyes met his through her glasses. 

He realized the glasses were to conceal their inhuman quality from the normal confrontation.  Then she looked away again, "You're on a soft diet for the next few days. Complain if it makes you feel better, but it won’t change a thing.  Eat everything on your tray and you won’t be force fed." She then went to open the blinds to let daylight in. 

He sighed and found that while it was hospital food, it wasn't that tasteless. There were eggs, a sort of gravy-like soup, and pureed fruit.  His intestine had better heal fast, he frowned.  They had him eating ‘baby’ food.  "Nurse," he said as she changed the bag at the end of a tube he was distinctly aware went under the blankets and up his leg. "Not to be too personal, but I am aware you are not human.  May I ask what exactly you are?" he tried to sound polite and curious without being demanding or sarcastic. Sometimes Yuuji's methods worked.

She looked up from the chart, "I am a Nurse, Mr. Crawford," her voice was neither high nor low, just a level, pleasant but preoccupied pitch, almost as blank as the rest of her.

"A robot, a construct?" he asked.

"A Nurse," she said, putting the chart back on its hook. 

"Your name tag doesn't have a name on it," he'd noticed.

"You may call me 'Nurse'," she said pleasantly enough.

He realized he was probably very close to getting an enema (or worse) and desisted. "Thank you, Nurse." He ate his eggs.

"When you are half way through your meal, take the pills.  They are vitamins and antibiotics.  We will know if you cheat," she held up two vials in between the fingers of a gloved hand, one lemony, one blood red, then tucked them in her tunic pocket.

"Yes, Nurse," he said like a good boy, amused. 

She smiled very efficiently and left the room, nodding to the man waiting outside the door.

Presumably this outlandish guy with the dreads, securely strapped leather eye patch, square jaw and hairy little chin who wore a cross section between combat and fashion runway, was the detective.  "I'm sure if you smoke in here, the nurse will kill you," Brad tried the coffee and stared at the melamine cup, then blinked and sipped again.

"True," the man sat in a rough voice, then pulled up a chair and sat down. "I've seen them strip a man down faster than a chop shop do a Toyota. Always a market for replacement parts in Shinjuku."

"Not to be rude, but why not replace the eye, if this Doctor is so good?  A friend of mine is also missing one, but he cut it out himself in a religious fit."

"That's a very long story I don't like to tell, Mr. Crawford.  Your Japanese is pretty good.  Are you native?"

"Just proficient," Brad said, fascinated with the coffee. 

“Doc must like you, he doesn’t hand that stuff out to just anyone,” Kabane was amused.   

“Perhaps that’s the point, getting people hooked on it,” Brad said, then looked at him again.  “I’m not accustomed to talking to people from such a weakened position, Detective.  What is it you want?”  Lifting the cup and eating was becoming exhausting.   Now he was realizing just how weakened and vulnerable he was.  That and his power was playing up so badly he didn’t dare to go further than a few seconds.  He swallowed a sigh before he made himself look weak.

“You came into Shinjuku armed to the teeth,” Kabane felt for his cigarillos, then remembered where he was and let it go.  “Any particular reason for that?”

“We did the research,” Brad said.  “When we came from, there were rumors; people who had gotten out, people who had gone in to look for loved ones and escaped again.  The city itself appears to go through a cycle of destruction and normalcy, but the anomaly that contains it remains static.  It’s separated from the rest of Tokyo by a crevasse they haven’t been able to determine the depth of yet, right around the municipal lines.  Not a natural phenomena by any means.” He looked at Kabane.  “My intent was to find out what was going on.  Fujimiya,” he added,  “was insistent on coming in when he heard the rumors of a doctor who was performing miracles.  His sister was caught in an explosion that killed their parents, and has been in a coma for almost three years now.  The complication being that the girl hasn’t aged or deteriorated in any way.”

“’When’ you came from.  Doc said it’s only been two weeks on your side,” Kabane stated. 

“A little over.  The combined American and Japanese military have lost a number of helicopters and the Prime Minister.”

“He was sent back years ago,” Kabane said.  “He gave Doctor Mephisto the buildings.”

“Very generous,” Brad commented.  “Considering the government could no longer use them.” 

“Well, by then they were sort of not happy with people anyway,” Kabane said, settling back and broadly crossing one leg over the other.  “There are rules here that aren’t written down yet, and probably never will be, but we try to make most people aware of them.  Don’t piss off the Doctor, or interfere with his hospital.  He’s not exactly the Hippocratic Oath type.  And as you’ve seen, pretty much everything here is unfairly advantaged to lure you in and eat you, preferably alive and kicking for flavour.  Buildings, shadows, plants, animals, monsters, people, you name it; you’re barely a step up on the scale from that plate of eggs.  Most of the civilized folk like the Vampires try to tone it down, but if you suddenly find yourself thinking out of the blue about how great it would be to just lay down and let something start nibbling you, it’s probably the person or thing standing in front of you. 

“Stay out of Chuuo Park, it’s dangerous.  You’ll notice the fenced off no-go zones.  More than often, they look like just an empty space with a chain link fence, a revolving light, and warning signs, but sometimes the gangs like to play silly buggers and move the fences.”

“Interesting,” Brad said, considering all of this.   

“I’m telling you all this because Doc says you’re going to be stuck here for a while.  Your little troop is obviously going to hang around waiting for you to get well enough to leave, and there’s no guarantee that when you walk out of the hospital, you’ll be able to return to ‘when’ you left, as I understand it.”

Brad looked at him.  “You’re from outside, too, aren’t you?  Despite the slang, some of your language usage is considerably out of date.  What ever happened here has spread down as well as up through the time line?”

“Gave me away, did it?” Kabane smiled a little, patting the flat of his hand on the side of his combat boot.  “Which reminds me, watch out for an old baggage, the ‘official Witch’ of Shinjuku.  Her sister was a nice enough lady, she died saving the place; but the younger one and present Madam Nuevenberg is not the most polite of persons.  She was looking for your batch, probably saw you coming in one of her crystal balls and thought she’d make a nice profit off it; selling you some damned potion to cure the girl by half killing her.  Doc keeps her at bay, but if your people go wondering around, you’d best warn them to watch out for a human tank who’d go around selling poisoned apples like some damned fairly tale if it would up her business selling cures.”

Brad looked at him and sipped the coffee again, noting how neatly Kabane had just not given any personal information.  “I’ll do that, Detective.  Is it true my man destroyed all the spider creatures?”

“Hell, yes,” Kabane said.  “Mayor would give a you a parade, if it wouldn’t turn into a smorgasbord.  Not a one of the bastards found alive in the whole region, rotting bugs everywhere.  Doc says it was some telepathic EMP-type thing?” 

“Schuldig’s been trained to control it since childhood, if you’re worried it might happen again to the wrong people,” Brad said honestly.  It was obvious from the reports, this guy had to be used to dealing with things like this. 

“Guilty? Guilty of what?” Kabane commented. 

“Pretty much everything,” Brad said, amused.  “It’s his name.  You know German or—Dutch, is it?” he asked, racking his brains for Japan’s history.   

Kabane shrugged.  “Ik heb een beetje(1).  Being a cop, you pick things up.  He seems a little fragile; light in the sandals, is he?”

Brad snorted and almost spilled his coffee.  “Yes.  We’re—he’s my boyfriend,” he finally admitted.

To his mild surprise, the man didn’t even blink over this.  “I’d watch him if I were you.  Doc likes them pretty.  Good thing the Mayor is springing for your bill,” he stood up and shifted his coat, digging out a business card.  “Just in case,” he set it down on the bedside table.  “I mean that from a police point of view, not helping you fend off the Doc if he gets any ideas.  In that case, you’re on your own.”

 *             *              *

The hospital’s cafeteria was much like any other.  Slide a tray along, chose food, pay up, sit down, wonder what you’d gotten into, decide it was, after all, edible.  And not bad.  The large room was a mix of staff and presumably waiting family; murmuring and occasionally laughing or sobbing under a drowsy blanket of low volume Mozart. 

Yuuji looked at the others.  “What about Farfarello?” he asked.

“Can fend for himself,” Schuldig said from his left side, separating the pineapple from his fruit bowl with a sneer of disgust.  Nagi and Tot sat across from them at the table, with Aya on the end at Yuuji’s right elbow. 

“The guy’s a psychotic,” Yuuji protested, making sure no one was listening.  “We have to round him up before he does something.  Isn’t he on medications or something?”

“He knows when to take them,” Schuldig looked at him.  “What happened to Mister Irresponsible I’m Not Esset Anymore?  Suddenly you’re trying to take over?”

“I’m not trying to take over, I’m trying to keep us all out of trouble while Brad is stuck here,” Yuuji hissed at him. 

“Obviously no one has died and made you boss,” Schuldig said, and then looked past him at Aya. “Hey, you, keep your boyfriend in check.”

“Schuldig,” Nagi said.  “How is your head?”

Schuldig frowned miserably, “Even you?  Everyone just stab me to death now and get it over with.”

“Alright, Caesar, no need to be such a drama queen,” Yuuji said.  “What is wrong with pineapple?”

“I don’t like pineapple,” Schuldig said.  “Now you’re my mother?  That must have been painful.”

“I’m going to count to ten, and then scream very loud and embarrass everyone, possibly bringing security down on us,” Nagi stated. 

Schuldig set down his knife and fork and looked at him.  “My head is about to explode, thank you for asking,” he hissed very politely.

Then ask for some help,” Nagi said through clenched teeth.  “You’re in a hospital that deals with weird shit.” 

Yuuji blinked at the kid.  “That’s just creepy,” he murmured to Schuldig. “All he needs is glasses.”

“He’s been around him too long,” Schuldig said.  “Alright, fine, I will ask for some help.  But don’t blame me if they give me a lobotomy.  I don’t like the way that doctor keeps sizing up my skull.  Last time I saw that look on something’s face, I was watching ‘Predator’.”

Yuuji looked over at Tot who was once again staring in total dismay at a plate of food that was not omurice, despite being scrambled eggs with a pile of some spiced up rice next to it.  “EAT IT!” he ordered.

She started eating as if it had been on her mind all along.

“Why do you do that?” Schuldig asked him, as Nagi rolled his eyes and sighed in annoyance.  “She’s just a picky eater, that’s all.”

“Jealous?” Yuuji asked, deliberately stabbing a piece of pineapple with his fork and holding it up to eye level before biting it off.  “You couldn’t even make that girl aim straight.”

That was his damned luck!” Schuldig gave him the narrowed evil eyes of doom, then went back to eating his own food. 

Yuuji turned, only to find Aya giving him the same look. “How’s your tea?” he asked, to make conversation.

Aya picked up his cup of tea and dumped it in Yuuji’s lap, set the cup down and got up and walked away.

“Touché, Bitch,” Schuldig said, not even looking up from his plate. 

“Did you just make him do that!” Yuuji demanded, grabbing napkins to mop himself up with. 

“Nope, that was all him, and so well deserved if you ask me.”

“God damn it, Shuldig, can’t you get over anything?”

“I will if you will,” Schuldig said in a mild sing-song tone, and viciously bit a piece of sausage link off his fork at him. 

Yuuji half considered going after Aya, but he had an idea of where he would go and decided breakfast was the better part of discretion. 

“The honeymoon is over?” Tot giggled. 

Nagi looked at her ruefully.  Then smothered a laugh without the best of results. 

*              *              *

Just when Brad thought he was about to go mad and start screaming, the door opened.  “Where the hell have you been?” he demanded and then realized how petulant it had come out sounding.

Schuldig blinked  “You’re blocking, too,” he noted, shutting the door behind him.  “Me, not so good, as usual,” he tapped his head.  “What is it doing to you?”

“Same as when you took off the block the Elders put on me,” he frowned.  “It’s sliding all over the place, I lose track after about ten seconds.” He wasn’t going to mention the feeling of vertigo and panic it induced in him. 

“They wouldn’t let me see you until visiting hours,” Schuldig came over to sit beside him and half lay across the bed to be held.  “How is your side?” he asked, stiff muscles relaxing as low key static washed over him, muffling all the other noises in his head but his own thinking. 

“It feels like something’s trying to eat its way into me but I’m too numb to really feel it,” Brad frowned, an arm across the redhead’s shoulders.  He kept having nightmares he’d woken up with half his body eaten away and one of those things still chewing on him.  “I don’t like being on medications.”

 “Yuuji is freaking out over Farfarello, Nagi is trying to play grown up, and Fujimiya has gotten ‘a clue’ about the blond lover boy not being all that cute in reality.”

“Yuuji’s stressing out, like the rest of us,” was Brad’s opinion.  “But his talent’s still working, Mephisto called him out on it.  Somehow, he can see our talents working.  And everyone seems to know it was you who destroyed the spider things.”

 “Nagi told them, the little rat. I want to go home,” Schuldig complained to his chest. 

And something occurred to Brad that hadn’t before in his pain killer induced haze.  On this side of the anomaly that formed a barrier around Shinjuku, they were 12 years in the future.  “I think I have a way of keeping everyone sane,” he said. 

“Not another one of your insane plans,” Schuldig said miserably. 

Brad smiled and stroked his hair.  “See if the lovely doctor has something for your head, then I want you and Nagi to see if there’s a way of getting news from the outside world.  And keep Jei outside until I’m sure what the Doctor is going to do about us.”

“He’s probably got tentacles under that cloak,” Schuldig grumbled.  “What are we going to do?”

“I suppose it’s laying here being bored out of my mind, but I want to see how things have been affected by this slap in the face of physics,” he rubbed Schuldig’s back then squeezed his shoulder.  “Then I will decide what I want to do about it.”

Schuldig sat up and looked at him very skeptically.  “Are you sure that’s not the medication talking?”

“You wish,” Brad said, lifting his chin a little, and reaching for the back of the red head’s neck to pull him down for a kiss. 

 

Note:

(1)’I have a little,’ in Dutch.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Yuuji had obtained a new pair of ‘pajama’ pants from the nurse’s station and changed in a bathroom.  He’d been told to just toss the tea soaked ones in a laundry bin in the hallway.  “So, we’re still under quarantine?” he asked as one of the pale nurses was about to pass by him.

 

The nurse caught his wrist and looked at the band’s color clips.  “You are Doctor Mephisto’s guests until he says otherwise,” she let his arm drop with a polite smile and continued on her way. 

 

“Weird place,” he said, and went looking for the room Aya’s sister was in.  28 B, if he’d remember correctly.  The place was huge, but he finally located the women’s ward and the 28th floor.  At least the doors were labeled with the patient’s names.  He tapped quietly and then opened the door. 

 

Aya was sitting beside his sister. He looked miserable.  All this, and the girl was still laying there like a corpse.  Yuuji felt a twinge of remorse.  He could smooth this out, he knew he could. He stepped into the room. “I’m sorry,” he said. 

 

Aya sat there, not looking up.

 

Yuuji realized the one thing that had finally endeared the brat to him was his farouche personality; the odd combination of shy boy and wild nut job.  Now Aya was closed in on himself again, caged.  The guy was stressing, just like the rest of them.  Freaking ass strange place, at the mercy of strange people; possibly they would be stopped from leaving the hospital, if Yuuji’s suspicions were correct.  Culture shock in what had been the heart of Japan, of all places. 

 

While ‘Yohji’ had been all ‘heart on his sleeve’, Yuuji was reserved with his emotions, hiding them behind his weapons; using just enough ‘empathy’ to determine how to manipulate his victims. He walked over to Aya’s side, and glanced down at the girl, remembering the last time he had done this.  He caught a lock of wine red in his fingers and let it slide over them.  “No changes?” he asked softly.

 

“No,” Aya said, his voice empty. 

 

Yuuji smoothed his hair down tenderly.  It was a pretty color, oddly perfect for those purple eyes.  “We’re all on edge, you can’t take off handed talk seriously.”

 

“It’s everything. They know you.  I don’t.”

 

Yuuji sighed and let his hand fall to Aya’s shoulder.  “Crawford knows me.  I met the others a few months after I met you, and that was when we were all trying to kill each other.”

 

“That’s not what I mean,” Aya said. 

 

Yuuji considered this.  “Then—what do you mean?”

 

Aya looked down at his hands in his lap. 

 

Yuuji looked up at the ceiling, not sure he wanted to deal with this after all.  He squatted to look him in the eyes better, an arm across Aya’s knees, the other hand on his arm—not bare skin this time, he didn’t want that contact right now.  “Alright I deserved it, I knew that.  I was too busy being a smart ass to the guy who’s sleeping with my ex to remember you were the one being shot at.  Give it some time, Aya,” he looked up at him.  “I’ve lost almost three years out of my life, and half the time I wake up, I don’t know who the hell I am, or what’s got me where I am.  Can you—can you just keep up with me?” he took his hand now, pleading, hoping it wouldn’t just be his talent working to make Aya see what he was trying to make him see.

 

Aya pulled his hand free, but only to put his arms around Yuuji’s shoulders and hug him. 

 

                *             *             *

 

Schuldig for once didn’t know where to begin.  Normally all he had to do was reach out and grab, like someone looking things on the internet.  But in his case, there was no search engine, only a blanket search for keywords in a given environment.  Someone was bound to be thinking about something he needed to know.  For instance if he was traveling, and needed to know directions to go somewhere, someone else had that place in mind; road maps, train schedules, it was there in someone’s head.  This time, he didn’t dare even try to focus on the minds around him.  The nurses were all most all non-entities; the patients with their mutations so alien to him, that even the normal seeming ones weren’t worth the potential shock. And some of them focused right on his talent when he was just walking by.  Not telepaths, but unusually sensitive to the fact that something was ‘wrong’ with him; like rabbits seeing the whisper of a snake in the grass nearby. His head ached, and he wanted some peace and quiet! 

 

He tried to pull himself together.  He didn’t want to appear weak, not in a place where three quarters of the population were predators of a sort, and the ‘prey’ was prone to self defense at the drop of a wrong look.  Sort of like down town Los Angeles, only without the heat.  He finally walked up to the main nurse’s station on the floor he found himself on.  “Is it possible for me to see Dr. Mephisto.” He didn’t want to do this, not at all, but Brad seemed to be okay with the situation.  It wasn’t a matter of trust, it was desperation. 

 

“May I see your wrist band, please?” The nurse behind the counter held out her hand. 

 

He let her have his arm.  She looked at the band, her fingers on his skin, then released him and it was just too weird; the contact let him see nothing of her mind.  It was as if he had brushed against a table edge.  Not blocking, that he would have felt as a resistant force, but just—not there at all.

 

The woman pressed a button and spoke to something behind the raised counter on her desk.  “Dr. Mephisto, are you available to guests?  Mister Schuldig would like to meet with you.”  “Disorientation, dizziness, nausea, above normal blood pressure and headache.”  “Yes, Doctor.”

 

Schuldig gave her a narrowed eyed look.  He’d heard nothing from the speaker, and she had no ear phone on.  And she’d nailed his current situation a little too closely from only touching him. 

 

“Yes, Doctor,” she looked up at him again.  “Doctor will see you in his office.” She gave him the directions.

 

                *             *             *

 

For some reason he expected the doctor to be like any other; coat off, putting away on a mini-green or something.  But when the door opened, he found himself looking into an atrium of sorts.  The room was huge, with vast windows, even to the ceiling.  He remembered now that this had been the main government building in Tokyo’s municipal center.  How the rich lived. 

 

He stepped in.  There was a—what the heck was it?—huge glass tubes, in a raised box, with some sort of gaseous mist in them, vines growing up them into some sort of cluster of tubes and conduits.  Another eclectic object d’art (or planter?) was a stack of globes of varying design, encased in plants.  A bird cage big enough to put a human in (or a small pterodactyl?) hung to one side, empty, but strangely, plant less.  A collection of very odd skulls clustered on a shelving unit, making Schuldig pretty sure that his initial thinking was correct.  He noticed on second look that some had horns despite looking human.  The room was scattered with plants trying to take everything back to the Eocene or whatever, judging by the giant ferns.   

 

The doctor sat at a large table, in a very comfortable looking chair.  On the desk in front of him was a keyboard, the blurry shimmer of a holographic screen, a large old book that looked suspiciously stage scary ominous, and a few bits and pieces of things he saw as he got closer were probably bones or rocks.  The doctor closed down the screen.  “How can I help you?” he set his hands on the table, fingers loosely laced together.

 

First of all, stop pretending to be a human being, Schuldig thought.  “Let’s not play games.  You know I’m a telepath.”

 

“Yes,” Mephisto said.  “You’re having some sort of problem with not being able to ‘see’ other people?”

 

“Normally I would be thrilled not to have to listen to most of the shit that other people broadcast with their wide open minds,” Schuldig said.  “But this place is like a house of mirrors; everything is distorted until nothing is real.”

 

“And this is the cause of your headache?” Mephisto sat back in his chair, studying him.   

 

“Yes, damn it, my brain hurts,” Schuldig snapped.  “And until Crawford is well enough to leave this place, I’m stuck here, too.”

 

“Can you not simply accept that there are some places your mind can not go?” 

 

“If someone cut off your legs, would you be a little pissed off, or just accept it?” Schuldig countered.

 

Mephisto smiled faintly.  “The simplest answer to your problem would be to remove the sections of your brain that contains the source of your telepathic ability.  In your case, that might as well be a full lobotomy.”

 

“Then I need drugs,” Schuldig stated.  “Something to stop this.”

 

“Because your pain is not caused by anything more than your own mind, I don’t think that would be wise.  Such drugs are for the genetically flawed, and meant to replace missing chemicals the body cannot produce.”

 

“A doctor who won’t prescribe drugs?” Schuldig sneered in annoyance. 

 

Mephisto laughed softly.  “You’re very angry and hurting, but I get your point.  No, I’m not going to hand you a pill and tell you this will make everything alright.  Nor will I willingly destroy your mind just because you have a headache.  It may feel right now as if you want to blow a hole in your own head, but it will pass, if you let it.  People who have their legs cut off eventually learn to cope, or manage to kill themselves.  You don’t strike me as suicidal, and you have people who care about keeping you alive, for some strange reason,” he said the last with humor. 

 

Schuldig frowned suspiciously.  “Can you read my mind?”

 

“Like a road map,” Mephisto said.  “And like a road map, I can tell you where things are, not what someone is thinking in one of those little houses alongside the road.  You read thought processes, not minds.  I ‘read’ the physical world. What I can do is see the synapses functioning as you think.  And as far as I can see, you are in perfect health.  Albeit, with a very clearly stress induced headache.”

 

“How can you read the physical world, when you’re not even part of it?” Schuldig asked in annoyance.  “And what about those—those nurses or whatever they are?  Are you even from this planet!” 

 

The doctor held up his hands with a mocking regretful look.  “I must confess, I have no idea, but here I am,” he let his hands drop again to the arms of his chair. “My ‘talent’ as you call it, is for healing; both myself and others.  Any living thing, really.”

 

Schuldig let this sink in.  “Crawford will be alright?”

 

“As uncomfortable as he is at the moment, yes, he’ll be fine.”

 

“And the girl?”

 

There’s a puzzle,” Mephisto sat forward again, elbows on his desk, fingers intertwined under his chin.  “I assume you have had a look inside her mind?”

 

“Her mind is there, just too deeply asleep for me to reach.  No one is answering the door.  We think maybe someone induced the coma to deal with a concussion, and then someone else found a way to keep her in that coma.  And supposedly she has not aged since the original damage to her head.”

 

“And why would someone want to keep her in a coma?” Mephisto asked, his hand straying to the cover of the book, fingers lightly stroking it.

 

Why not?  This entire place was crazy, how crazy would he sound telling the truth?  “Certain people wanted to perform a ritual.  The girl was to be the vessel for a resurrection.”

 

Mephisto blinked.  “She’s been in a coma for almost three years?”

 

“Yes,” Schuldig started to wonder if he’d said something too interesting.  He decided to keep quiet about the timing of the thing.   

 

“This ritual, what ‘god’ was it supposed to call up?” 

 

“We don’t know.  Only that the people who wanted to do it were convinced it would grant them unimaginable power along with eternal life.  And that it would probably be classified more as a ‘devil’ than a ‘god’.”

 

Mephisto was still looking disturbed, if only mildly so; his perfect face like a marble statue’s.  “A few weeks ago, we had such an incident here.  A religious group wanted to resurrect their god.  Here in Shinjuku, because for some reason, the parts of their god found their way here.  They also needed a ‘perfect’ body to put the parts.  It didn’t go well, needless to say.  Are these people still seeking this girl?”

 

“No, we—“ Schuldig paused, looking at him.  “We killed them,” he said flatly.  “Someone had to.” 

 

Mephisto was rubbing his chin in thought. 

 

“The parts?” Schuldig asked.

 

“Dust.” Black eyes looked at him.  “As for your headache, I’m sure it will subside the more you accept what is going on around you.  If you don’t mind, I have other things to do, and you’ll have to go now.  Try to relax.  Before a Nurse decides you need a high colonic.”

 

Schuldig wished he had his gun still.  He turned to leave the office; then paused at the book case of skulls.  He pointed to them and half turned to look at the doctor.

 

“Oni,” Mephisto said simply.  “The little bastards like to eat human flesh.  The best way to keep them away from my patients is to remind them of their own mortality.”

 

“This is a problem here?” Schuldig asked, alarmed.

 

“Not anymore,” Mephisto said with a small flirtatious smile, and raised a hand to indicate the door. 

 

Schuldig walked out of the office with something else to think about other than his own stupid headache. 

 

*             *             *

 

“What in sanity’s name are you watching?” Yuuji asked Brad as he looked at the television panel hung over the bed on a reticulated arm.  On the screen an old fashioned Samurai fought off a band of trouble makers with a sword in one hand and a white cat tucked to his chest.

 

“Going cat mad seems to be a theme recently in Japan,” Brad said, picking up the remote and turning it off.  The robot like arm raised the screen back out of the way.  “It’s either ‘Neko Samurai’ or game shows,” he sighed.  “I’m bored; amuse me.  Just don’t make me laugh.  I’ll bleed to death and a Nurse will gut you for spare parts.” He took a good look at the blond, suspicion dawning.  “I know that look.”

 

Yuuji had sat down in the chair beside the bed and looked perfectly innocent.  “Look?”

 

“I should let the nurses have you,” Brad put the remote back on the side table and proceeded to sulk. 

 

“Just because you’re in no position to be pressing your luck is no reason other people should go without,” Yuuji defended.

 

“And how is the ‘nut job’?  Little sister back on her feet yet?”

 

“No,” Yuuji settled back more and crossed his leg over his other knee.  “He’s being his usual morbid, morose self.”

 

“I have no idea what you see in him,” Brad said, trying to get comfortable with the discomfort in his mauled side. 

 

“Oh, I don’t know.  Anti-social, bad tempered, prone to violence and no sense of humor; everything I could want in a man,” Yuuji said, picking at a loose thread on the knee of his pajama pants. 

 

“Un-educated, easily side tracked, easily cowed, and did I mention—just plain easy?”

 

“Give up Schuldig and we’ll call it a minor lapse in a lifelong relationship.”

 

“No,” Brad said sullenly. 

 

“Then stop being a swine,” Yuuji looked at him.  “You have your little rent boy, I have mine.”

 

Brad snorted.  “Rent?  I have the title deed on that property.” 

 

The door opened and as the saying goes, speak of the devil.  “I hate you both,” Schuldig stated, shutting the door behind him.  “I’m not sure I’m going to tell you what I found out.”

 

Find a realtor,” Yuuji cooed behind his hand.

 

“Shut up, you,” Schuldig snapped.  “Something weirder than we thought is going on here.”  He walked over to sit near the foot of the bed, and told them what he’d found out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“A few weeks ago,” Brad said thoughtfully.  “A few weeks ago, the quake happened in our time, then in

their time.  A few weeks ago…,” he frowned slightly. 

 

“Weird, no?  We need to get hold of some records, maybe they have a newspaper here or something,” Schuldig said.  “What is that word for things going round again?  Ist zyklisch.”

 

“Cyclical,” Yuuji supplied. 

 

“Okay, so I’m stupid in Japanese, I have a headache,” Schuldig waved his hand in the air dismissively, then realized where he was.  He flipped up the blankets and clamped his hand on Brad’s ankle.  The immediate relief was pure bliss.  “This ‘perfect’ bullshit seems to be a big thing in religions.  Kind of defeats the purpose?”

 

“It always has been.  This without flaw, that without imperfections, and always ending up throat slit.  Perfection never pays,” Brad shifted again.  “Damn it, my side hurts, and it itches, and I want to go home!” he announced just to get it out of his system.  “I hope no one thinks we’ve dragged Fujimiya’s sister here to fulfill some other damned prophecy.”

 

“Or worse; Aya,” Yuuji said, frowning. 

 

Schuldig considered this.  On the one hand, hmm.  On the other hand—well, neither made him happy.  “He’s not perfect,” was his final decision.  “Besides that, you keep forgetting; his talent won’t let him get killed.” 

 

A whooping siren sounded through the intercom at a low pitch urgent throb, startling the three of them.  “All staff to the main exits, all staff to the main exits, code red.” A calm voice ordered.  “Ambulatory patients and visitors return to your rooms and lock all doors.  Patients, return to your rooms and lock all doors.  If necessary, seek shelter in another patient’s room, and lock the door.  All staff to the main exits, code red.” 

 

“What the hell is that?” Brad said aloud, and dared to use his talent.  Just before it slid out of control again, he was able to see two things.  That he was safe (most important, after all…) and that something outside was heading for the hospital entrances.  “It’s big, like a mob or something.  An all out attack.  I can’t nail it down, it’s just this huge blur in my vision,” he said in frustration. 

 

“Should we do something?” Schuldig asked, nearly out of his mind because he didn’t want to look for himself. 

 

“Oh, why not,” Yuuji put his hands on the arms of the chair and slung himself to his feet, one hand automatically checking the secure clasp on his lethal watch with a twist.  “I’m bored.”

 

“Perhaps we shouldn’t get in the way,” Schuldig offered.  “You heard the nurse,” he tilted his head to the intercom speaker.  “We could end up strapped down.”

 

“You forget, this is Japan.  We foreigners don’t have to follow the rules,” Yuuji grinned. 

 

“Fine, go have fun.  Leave me here, bored and watching stupid television,” Brad sighed, reaching for the remote. 

 

Schuldig frowned, then made up his mind.   Actually, he did want to kill something.  “The fact that you are going to watch TV while I sit here is insult enough to let me know where I stand,” he let go of the ankle and stood. 

 

“Oh, get over yourself,” Brad said in annoyance.  “And don’t flounce…never mind,” he complained as Schuldig did just that out the door behind Yuuji.

               

*             *             *

 

In the hall way, well regulated hell was breaking loose, with staff getting the more helpless patients into rooms, and gurneys taking up the elevators, with more waiting in the hall.  “Stairs,” Yuuji said, looking around for the usually unobtrusive door. 

 

“There,” Schuldig pulled the location out of a passing male nurse wearing the blue uniform scrubs.  He was learning.  Blue scrubs, human; white, that other thing.  He pulled the door open just in time to step aside as four of the white wearing nurses came through.  They were armed with long barrel weapons and didn’t look like they were going to say ‘there, there, it won’t hurt a bit’.  This looked like it was going to hurt a lot.  Yuuji and he stood there gawking as two nurses took up positions beside the windows at the ends of the hall and the two others disappeared down side halls. 

 

“What floor are we on again?” Yuuji asked. 

 

“Thirty four,” Schuldig said. 

 

“Hmmm,” Yuuji noised.  “Let’s—go down anyway?” he pointed at the floor.

 

“Don’t ask me questions, I’m not putting my brain into anything nasty that I can avoid.  Blissfully ignorant for a change.  Down is as good as up.”

 

“You’re mad,” Yuuji said, and ducked through the stairway door onto the small landing.  Four more nurses marched past them, heading up the next stairs on the turn, pretty much ignoring them.  “I guess we look like we’re trying to obey orders, or, they’re too focused on major shit to harass us.”

 

“Good guess,” Schuldig stated.  “Just keep them away from me, and—I’ll stop calling your boyfriend names.”  That one would cost him nothing. 

 

Yuuji took five seconds to consider this.  “Deal,” he said, and headed down stairs. 

 

They both grabbed the railing as the building suddenly boomed and shuddered. 

 

“We’re on the most stable ground in Japan, in a building built on earthquake pads, it’s going to feel worse than it is, because the building rolls with the punches,” Yuuji announced, as much to himself as his companion.

 

“Oh, joy.  Bomb?” Schuldig asked, as they cautiously let go and continued downward. 

 

“No, that didn’t feel right,” Yuuji said, being the expert.  “Not sharp enough.  More like something ran into the building full force.”

 

“Oh, Scheisse, not terrorist planes,” Schuldig stopped short, and dared to check.  His mind was filled with images that had nothing to do with planes.  He backed off, slapping up what few shields he had. Normally they enough to block things to a dull roar, but here in Shinjuku there were bizarre shrieks and sudden roars of thought that had caused this migraine-like-hell in his skull.  “Not planes,” he said to Yuuji’s upturned and very serious face, picking up the internal screaming going on in the blond’s mind.  In a way it was comforting to know that someone else was just as dedicated to saving Brad at all costs.  “One of these days, Fujimiya is going to kill you.”  He was still processing what he thought he had picked up, but with all the other worries people had in their heads, most of them fearful imaginings, he wasn’t sure which one was really happening. 

 

Yuuji turned to start down again.  “When it happens, I’ll deal,” he stated. 

 

Ten floors down, Yuuji opened the door and looked out onto the floor.  The hall was empty, doors shut.  “Looks like they’ve have enough time to clear the halls.  Let’s take the elevator from here.” 

 

“Why were they going up?” Schuldig asked.

 

Getting to the ground floor seemed to take forever, during which the building shook twice more, the elevator cabin swaying to the point of stomach turning, bonging once off the shafts beams. 

 

“Okay, whatever it is, it’s big,” Yuuji said, his hands gripping the rail behind himself, knees bent, feet braced wide against another hit.  “Very big.”

 

“Oh, dear Gott, it’s Godzilla.  I told Brad, we can’t go to Japan, I’ve had these nightmares forever,” Schuldig muttered.  “It only got worse when I found out what Masafumi was doing after Nagi conned me into watching those stupid Jurassic movies!”

 

Yuuji looked at him.  “Are you insane?”

 

“You think someone is out there with a giant bulldozer ramming it into the building?  Hello, giant spider people tried to eat us!  Who says you can’t have Godzilla out there?” Schuldig demanded.

 

The elevator doors opened.  Nagi and Tot stood there staring at them.  “Guys, you’ve got to see this,” Nagi said with yet another annoying head flick to get his damned emo hair out of his eye. 

 

“You are getting a haircut!” Schuldig stated, pointing at him. 

 

“Whatever.  Just come look,” Nagi reached in to haul him out of the elevator by his hospital kimono shirt front. 

 

“Shit,” Yuuji squeaked, seeing what was beyond the double entry doors of the vestibule. 

 

A long greenish grey thing slid along the building front and sidewalk, pulsing disgustingly and leaving a trail of slime as it went.  Another one flailed down across the three story glass wall, and then lifted up to flail again. 

 

“Whatthemotherfuckisthat?” Schuldig caught Nagi by the shoulders and held him in front of himself.  Hey, it was training; Nagi was the muscle, after all.  He was just the brains.  Definitely more so than Tot, who stood there with her umbrella furled, bunny in hand, eyes blandly wide.  Obviously the girl had seen way too much and this was just not that alarming to her. 

 

The next elevator over dinged and Mephisto strode out, heading for the front doors without even stopping to assess the situation. 

 

“Giant catfish/tentacle thing,” Nagi said.  “I think,” he added. 

 

Mephisto hit a button on his arm band and the inner doors unlocked and opened. 

 

“Is he crazy, he’s going to get…,” Yuuji took a step, but Nagi caught him, telekinetic power holding him back.

 

“I don’t think so,” the boy said.  “He’s a grown up.”

 

Yuuji frowned at him, then realized the mistake he’d been about to make.  Long flowing clothing, long hair, pretty face; but definitely not a girl over 18 in need of rescuing.  He felt like smacking his head against a wall. 

 

The outer doors opened and before a tentacle could get in, it was flapping on the tiled floor, a puddle of blood forming. 

 

Yuuji processed what he had just seen. “Damn it, he uses a wire!” he exclaimed. 

 

“And now we know,” Nagi said simply. 

 

Now that the double doors were open, they could hear the thud of what sounded like small missiles.  A guttural hissing noise came from somewhere above and then a huge mass of flesh flopped down into the street, as another tentacle tried the building.

 

Nagi released Yuuji to go closer to the doors and basically just rubber neck.  “Damn, that thing is big,” he leaned over to look up higher along the glass.

 

Mephisto had a coil of wire in one hand and shaped it with the other, using it not like a lasso, but creating wire ‘creatures’ that attacked the monster, cutting off its tentacles one at a time, slowly narrowing it down to just the fish part.  It shuddered and hissed, flopping to the concrete, gills flaring, its huge eyes rolling.  Whatever had brought it to attack the hospital was up for theoretical grabs.  But it was certainly not going to survive the attempt. 

 

*             *             *

 

“Don’t eat the fish,” Schuldig said as they trooped back into Brad’s room, with Nagi and Tot right behind, and Aya behind them. 

 

“What was it?” Brad asked.  “Did I hear mortar fire?”

 

“A giant mutant catfish with tentacles climbed up out of Chuuo Koen and basically walked across the street,” Nagi said, flopping down in the only visitor’s chair.  “Apparently this happens.” 

 

“Mephisto not only uses razor wire, he’s telekinetic with it,” Yuuji said, parking himself on the wall and crossing his arms, irritated jealousy evident.

 

“We need to find Farfarello.  He can’t be out there with things like that roaming around,” Nagi said. “Tot and I will go looking for him, since Schuldig can’t think past his own toes.”

 

“Haha,” Schuldig said. 

 

“You’re not being held here?” Brad noticed Nagi and Tot were in street clothing. 

 

“Nope, free to go,” Nagi said.  “Quarantine’s up.  They gave us rooms across the street at the Hyatt and vouchers for room service.  Pretty cool.  Tot and I were going up to the observation platform here and then stopping by to report in when the monster showed up.”

 

“We wanted to see the Pterodactyls,” Tot piped up.  “Rabbi-chan says hurry up and get well so we can go home, Uncle Brad,” she added, waving the toy rabbit’s arms at him.

 

Brad winced, and it wasn’t from the pain in his side.

 

“Yes, Uncle Brad, we all want to go to hell home,” Schuldig dug the knife in deeper. 

 

“And Fujimiya’s sister?” Brad asked.  “We are not leaving without Sarazawa,” he shot Aya a dire look.  “We already suspected, and Mephisto warned me, that we might not end up in the same time we left.  Shinjuku is almost twelve years ahead of our time; we can’t leave separately.”

 

Yuuji looked over at Aya, who stood in front of the now closed door to the room.  The guy looked like he wanted to blend into the wall; which wasn’t going to ever work, not with his coloring. 

 

Aya walked over to him and Yuuji caught him and turned him, pulling him back against himself with an arm around his shoulders, to give him a fierce kiss on the side of the cheek, sending Aya into an angry blush; but he tolerated it more than he ever would have done in the flower shop.  “If my sister can’t be saved, at least she’ll be safe here,” he said. 

 

Brad thought it over.  “True.  However, I’m not setting any deadlines.  My intention was to find out what was going on in here.  My being laid up is inconvenient, but now that they’re letting the rest of you out of quarantine, I see no reason why we can’t follow through with that plan.”

 

*             *             *

 

Detective Kabane sighed, shoved his coat out of the way and squatted down to look at the black goo Mephisto was poking into a tube.  “Any thoughts on why a giant catfish octopus thing from the sewers of Chuuo Koen would suddenly develop an amour for your hospital,  Doc?”

 

“Some rather vague ideas at present, but nothing the police would find interesting,” Mephisto held the tube up to look at it with light behind it.  “This is not the blood of either species, and yet it was leaking from the gills of the creature.”

 

Kabane looked around at the mess.  “Is it dangerous?”

 

“Not that I can see,” Mephisto put the capped tube somewhere under his cloak and pulled out another tube for a second sample.  “But then again, things never are what they appear.  Fortunately, I’m not one to just leave things in the lab without a babysitter.” 

 

“Let the boys know when you’re done,” Kabane stood up again, tucking his hands in his pants pockets.  “I want this mess burned before it starts to rot, and I don’t want any smart ass getting his hands on the rest of that black goo thinking it’s a new way to xenograde themselves.  Last thing I need is a town full of walking fish men.  We had enough complaints from the last tentacle outbreak.”

 

Mephisto smiled and capped the second tube.  “I believe half those complaints were just reverse bragging, Detective.”

 

“That’s because you’re a misogynist,” Kabane said, only half joking. “How are those outsiders doing?”

 

“They’ve passed the quarantine,” Mephisto stood, still looking down at the black goo thoughtfully. The blood from the fish was beginning to spread, diluting it.  “Mr. Crawford is healing nicely, but given his condition, I don’t want to let him out and about for at least a week.  He doesn’t strike me as the type to sit at a desk, nor behave when told to avoid strenuous activity.”

 

Kabane caught something in the doctor’s tone of voice and raised an eyebrow.  “Jealous, Doc?” he asked slyly. 

 

Mephisto pouted ever so slightly, “Mind your own business, Detective,” he smiled at the man, and took himself back inside the hospital. 

 

*             *             *

 

“I wonder what he’s got there,” the rotund little witch murmured, peering into her kettle, practically stewing in curiosity herself.  “Always up to something, that one.”

 

“Better yet,” said the Raven, “What are they going to do with all that fresh fish?”

 

“You’d better not eat that,” she warned him.  “If it’s from Chuuo Koen, it’s GMO and radioactive.  You want a pair of tentacles or gills?”

 

The bird tipped his head focusing one bright beady eye on her.  “Tentacles, maybe.  Good as a pair of opposable thumbs.   Gills, not so much.” 

 

Doll continued sorting dried herbs and putting them into their properly labeled bottles.  She simply wondered how the girl in the wheel chair was doing.  Perhaps she’d go over later and find out.  “So you don’t think it was a magical attack?” she asked. 

 

“Not a sign of it,” Madam Neuvenburg stirred the pot.  “Go ask the good doctor what that was all about, Doll.”

 

Doll turned, blinking.  “Really?”

 

“These people come here, and suddenly things start attacking the hospital?  I wouldn’t be surprised if another monster shows up soon.”

 

“Isn’t that a rather false assumption?  People come in frequently and nothing on this scale happens,” the little girl shaped creation said.  

 

“People come in here and don’t blow up every mutated man-spider in Shinjuku frequently,” the witch stated, wagging her dripping wooden spoon at the doll.  “Now get!  I have a right to know what’s going on, it’s part of my job to protect this town.”

 

“Yes, Mistress,” Doll curtsied and went to get her cloak and basket. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The door to Crawford’s room opened and Jei stepped in, serious faced as ever.  “You alive, then?”

 

“Not really, but I’m getting there,” Brad fought the urge to sit up yet again.  He didn’t like being prone on his back, it was a psychological disadvantage. The slight angle of the upper part of the bed they did allow him was barely enough to keep him from dribbling all over himself while eating and drinking, and the pillows gave him a neck cramp if he had them piled up too high.  And he was convinced he was going to get a bald spot on the back of his head from all this laying about.  He decided to just be blunt. “My talent is smothered by this place, Schuldig is having headaches, Nagi doesn’t seem to be affected at all.  What have you to report?”

 

“This place really is whack,” the Irishman stated.  “Every last one of the rumors in Nagi’s compilation is true.  I saw a feck’n shadow eat a man.  The fool was drunk and staggered right into it, challenging it as being a joke.  There are places you don’t go at certain times of day.  And the weirdest thing is everyone is just business as usual about it all.  It’s like being in a loony bin, but no one cares, it’s just people getting on with it.  Feck’n libertarian utopia, even with all the polis.”  He walked over to sit down in the chair. 

 

Brad let this sink in.  “You were saying how the place was drawing you in before we entered.  What’s the effect on you now?”

 

“There’s the strange part,” Jei said honestly.  “I feel—normal.  I still can’t feel any pain, but I don’t have the compulsion to prove it any more.  It’s not like being on the dope, it’s just not that important any more.  Too much going on around me to focus on m’self.  It’s a great relief, really,” he seemed to be surprised at that himself. “I mean, I’ve got to be saner than a two headed dog, or a plant that can fake being a prosti to lure in guys so it can eat them; never mind the Vampires and the pterodactyls.”

 

“You’ve seen the thing that attacked the hospital?”

 

“Feck’n awesome! The local police just barrel in like it’s any old day, and start plunking away at it with anti-tank guns and all,” Jei said, throwing his hands up.  “Then they get the clean up crew in, haul the carcass back across to Chuuo Park, bang it down a great hole, hose down the streets, and everything’s back to normal.  Five minutes later, some bugger’s set up a folding table and selling t-shirts printed up with the “Beast of Chuuo Park” on it, tentacles and all.  ‘S pure mad.  Nice graphics, though,” he plucked at his new t-shirt, which Brad now saw was a tentacled catfish molesting the huge building. 

 

“In other words, it puts sanity in perspective,” he said, mildly amused.

 

“Well, really, it puts an open market economy in practice,” Jei said. 

 

“Ah,” Brad said, realizing he was still dealing with an obsessive.  “Well, just stay alive and out of trouble for now.  But I want you to understand, Jei,” he looked at him seriously, despite his ‘weak’ position.  “If we don’t leave here all together, we might not be able to meet up again.  I don’t even know if we’ll arrive back on the other side anywhere near the date we entered the anomaly.  I’m sure you know by now, that for Shinjuku, it’s been twelve years since the earthquake.”  He been considering his next words very carefully off and on since first realizing the draw this place had on the youth.  “If you’re thinking of staying, you’re going to be on your own, and I’ll make my report to Esset accordingly.  Missing presumed dead.  I’m also planning on making it very clear that given the debilitating effect this place has on higher level talents, and the rather exotic and uncontrolled nature of the mutations here, there is no reason to think Esset has any place in Shinjuku.  You’ll be free.”

 

Jei studied the floor for a long moment, then looked up again.  “I’ll think about.”

 

Brad nodded.  “Just let us know.”

 

Jei looked at him a bit longer.  “Schuldig’s right.  You’ve gone soft,” he stood up.  “I’ll be off, so?  I’ll check in again in a few days.”

 

“Do that,” Brad said.  Soft?  Preposterous.  It was just a matter of manipulating team members into behaving. 

 

*              *              *

 

Mephisto put the smallest touch of the glass rod, leaving a minute smudge of black on the glass slide, and put another thin slip of glass over it.  This went into the scanning electron microscope.

 

He ran the program to compare it to previous samples in the collection.

 

The results confirmed his suspicion.  The elements in the black goop were a more concentrated selection of the strange particles in the blood and flesh of the creature he had named Kazayuki.  That one had taken human form around the peripatetic spine of a sacrificed supposed god.  The result had not been the resurrection of the cult’s ‘messiah’, but a very blank slate tending toward a default state of violent self preservation and a rather charming sense of loyalty. 

 

He drummed gem laden fingers on the counter, weighing a decision.  The undying viscera of a god didn’t just pop up in Shinjuku every week or so.  If anything it was a rarity perhaps twenty-fifth along from cases of abdominal black holes. But there was the matter of an un-aging, comatose girl.

 

He smiled wolfishly.  But that would be bad. 

 

Then again, this was Shinjuku, and all bets were on.  He called up the records of the girl and her brother on his holographic monitor.

 

After a few minutes of double checking, he tapped his bracelet. 

 

“Yes, Doctor?” His chief médecin answered after a moment.

 

Mephisto pondered the question one last time.  Morally iffy, but then again, curiosity was the sign of any good scientist, was it not?  “Tell Fujimiya-san I’d like to discuss his sister’s case with him in my office, will you?  And bring me a medium size transplant cooler.”

 

“Doctor?” the fair haired man said, a bit taken aback. 

 

“Don’t fret, it’s nothing serious.  He’ll never miss it.”

 

“If you say so,” he sounded resigned. 

 

Mephisto sat back and laced his fingers before his chin, going over the report on the screen again.  Why would they chose the sister when the brother was in such excellent condition?  Was the only difference the fact that she was deeply unconscious to the point of being an empty vessel?  Or was it the fact that she was female? 

 

                *              *              *

 

“You look like you’ve had your gun taken away,” was Yuuji’s comment on seeing Crawford sulking in the bed.  “They’ve let you sit up a bit more,” he noticed.

 

“I’ve just been thoroughly violated,” Brad stated. 

 

“Ah, sponge bath,” Yuuji grinned. 

 

“And what do you want?  Shouldn’t you be draped all over Fujimiya somewhere, making sure your ‘asset’ is well under control?” He looked over the green t-shirt and new jeans the man had somehow gotten hold of.  It was a nice change from the hospital pajama things. He looked good. Not only had he lost the haggard look of an alcoholic with a smoking problem, the premature years were starting to drop off him as his gymnast’s muscles filled out again.

 

“Only you could make recruiting a new talent sound so dirty,” Yuuji leaned a hip on the metal frame work at the end of the bed, arms crossed.  “I can’t find him,” he frowned.  “The nurse, or nurses—I wonder, are they plural, or some sort of hive thing?—anyway, I asked and they keep telling me they’ve seen him here and there, and yet he’s not.”

 

“Nurse!” Brad raised his voice at the ceiling. 

 

“Yes, how can I help you, Mr. Crawford?” the voice came out of the wall speaker.

 

Yuuji frowned. 

 

“Are you seriously unable to pin point Fujimiya Ran anywhere in this building?” 

 

There was a long pause. 

 

“No,” the voice said. 

 

“Then where is he?”

 

More pause, this time longer.  “He has not left the hospital,” the voice came back finally.

 

“And you know this how?”

 

“Mr. Crawford, your blood pressure….”

 

“Is alarmingly high, so everyone keeps telling me.  Usually the people who are causing the problem in the first place.  Where is Fujimiya Ran?” he persisted. 

 

“They’re going to sedate you or something,” Yuuji warned, “Quit it.”

 

“Fujimiya-san is in conference with Dr. Mephisto,” the voice said, sounding a bit more confident.

 

“Nurse?” Brad said, his voice a suspicious purr now.

 

“Yeeesss?” Nurse was just as suspicious.

 

“Are you materially part of this building?” 

 

“We are here to serve, Mr. Crawford, not indulge in speculative fictions,” she retorted primly and there was a distinct click noise. 

 

“Don’t think I don’t know that was just a sound effect to make me think I’ve been hung up on!” Brad informed the ceiling. 

 

The AC cycled on and the room temperature quickly began to drop a chilling 5 degrees centigrade. 

 

“Cold shoulder?” Yuuji commented. 

 

“I’m betting hive thing,” Brad said.  “Somehow the building has taken on one of those shadow entities that was let loose or created by the quake, and it’s settled into being ‘A Hospital’ for all it’s worth.  I think the nurses are just a manifestation of some unholy combination of god only knows what and nanotechnology or something. I wonder what they feed it?” 

 

“Corpses?” Yuuji suggested.  “Steady supply, from what I’ve seen.”

 

“Anyway, why are you here?”

 

“To see how you’re doing,” the blond heaved his hip off the railing and walked around to sit on the edge of the bed and leaned over, all the better to look into his eyes.  “I do worry.” 

 

Brad studied him, then raised his chin a little. 

 

Yuuji kissed him, lightly at first, then decided what the hell and got serious about it.

 

Brad broke it off with a hand to his shoulder, “Quit it before Nurse comes in and tasers you or something.  ‘No strenuous activity’, remember?”

 

“It wouldn’t be strenuous if I—,”

 

Brad put two fingers over his mouth and shoved lightly.  “Not in the mood.  Don’t you have to go find Fujimiya?”

 

“Well, maybe now I do,” Yuuji said, wincing as he shifted his seat, adjusting himself in the new jeans.

 

“Swine,” Brad said flatly. “When you do find him, round up everyone, it’s time for a meeting.”

 

*              *              *

 

Aya was just coming out of the door to the Doctor’s office when Yuuji stepped out of the elevator.  “There you are,” Yuuji said.  “What the hell?  You just disappeared and no one would tell me where you were.”

 

“I was…” Aya half turned to look at the door he’d just closed, then with a puzzled expression, looked at Yuuji.  “Doctor Mephisto wanted to discus my sister’s case….” he looked into Yuuji’s eyes, frowning.  “I’m hungry.” He said.  “Didn’t we just eat breakfast?”

 

Yuuji checked his watch.  “It’s 1:26.  How long were you in there?  Are you alright?  Was it bad news?”

 

“I guess I kind of got confused by all the technical details,” Aya was in some sort of daze.  

 

Yuuji took him by the arm and lead him to the elevator.  “Other than being hungry,” he had a good look at the guy’s neck just to make sure. (After all, the place did have real vampires lurking about.) “Do you feel weird in any other way?”

 

Aya considered this.  “No, just—wow—I lost a few hours,” he rubbed an eye and yawned.  “I think I actually fell asleep while the doctor was talking to me.”

 

“You didn’t drink anything or take anything while you were in there?” Yuuji wasn’t about to just let this go. 

 

“No, we were just talking.” Aya was beginning to be a little more awake now.  “I guess it all just caught up with me.  All that medical stuff, it’s pretty boring.”

 

“Well, maybe your blood sugar is low or something.  We’ll get you something to eat, and then we have to get everyone together again.  Crawford wants a meeting.”

 

At the mention of the tall, annoyingly foreigner, Aya finally came back into focus mentally.  “Now what?”

 

“Good question,” Yuuji decided he’d have to keep an eye on him from now on.   

 

*              *              *

 

Mephisto slipped off his cloak and hung it up on a plant hanger's empty hook.  Rolling up the lace trimmed sleeves of his ornate tunic, he walked over to slide aside a decorative screen. It concealed the door to his working laboratory from the rest of the cavernous office.  While Fujimiya was sleeping off his minor surgery, the doctor had put the cooler in the lab.  He pressed his hand against the security plate and the door opened.

 

He’d had a morgue tray brought up for his experiment. It seemed a better idea than getting a normal operating table all messy. 

 

The creature that had been the primary part of Soyougi Kazayuki had told him that at first, ‘it’ was in a liquid state, wondering freely, until it had been drawn to the preternaturally living spine of the sacrificed god.  Now here was this liquid, attaching itself to a living creature from the same region of Chuuo Koen Soyougi had come from, and as Soyougi had done, headed straight from the hole in the park to the sidewalk across from the hospital.   

 

He just couldn’t resist giving it a try.  So many insane theories had proved correct over the years, it was getting to be an addiction to see what would happen next.   

 

Rather than put on gloves, he removed his rings and bracelets and washed his hands carefully.  Then he returned to the morgue tray with the cooler on a rolling cart beside it, and opened the cooler. He picked up a pair of sterilized glass tongs to remove the ‘floating’ rib he’d removed from the outsider’s swordsman.  Soyougi had taken to that discarded old sword like one born to wield it, despite having been melded with what was supposed to have been a god of peace and reconciliation. (And despite said god’s insane and violent followers…) It seemed basic karma to use another sword wielder as doner.

 

Fujimiya’s tests showed him to be just about as physically ‘perfect’ an example of human as one might find.  While the still bloody rib on the tray wasn’t exactly imbued with any special quality (such as being immortal), it was as yet living tissue and bone; and the cultural reference amused him as much as the possibility of recreating the phenomenon of evolution.  The black liquid was almost entirely carbon, and yet it lived, reacted to living things, and in the case of the mutated fish-squid, had possibly found a way to guide its behavior if not completely control it.  Rather like some parasites.

 

Now that he thought of it, this could get very messy if he was wrong.  Still, curiosity was just one of those things you either went with or lived a very boring life.  He had a blow torch ready at hand, just in case. 

 

He opened the tube with the larger sample in it, the liquid in the tube forming up against the press of his fingers, possibly seeking the warmth or faint electric charge of a living being.  He tipped it out on the tray, a few centimeters away from the slight spread of blood under the raw bone, and set the tube aside to observe. 

 

At first the black slime just lay there, and for an almost irritating amount of time, nothing happened.  Then a small section of it cautiously raised up like the antenna of a slug, wavering about. 

 

“Well, go on,” he told it.  It might not understand or it might; he had no way of knowing, other than that Soyougi had understood basic Japanese despite the foreign component his body had been formed on, and quickly picked up the meaning of words as they came at him.

 

Still it wavered, seeming to lean more in his direction. 

 

“Is it the sound of my voice you’re reacting to?” he asked. 

 

The tendril grew, expanding as more of the stuff moved into forming it.  Was it spreading out to sense more of what it was detecting? 

 

Soyougi had claimed he was self aware as the liquid.  Was this goop also self aware?   He wish he’d asked the fellow more questions, but there had been so many other (and more violent) problems to solve at the time.  In the mean time, the exposed rib wasn’t going to remain sterile and viable much longer at this rate.  He carefully held out one finger, the tip just above the stuff. 

 

It stretched up hesitantly.  He moved his finger very slowly and the tendril it fell over, then reformed as an amoeba will, spreading into itself, trailing along after the faint warmth.  However, it hesitated even more so at the edge of the small bits of blood shed from the rib. 

 

“Go on,” Mephisto urged mildly.  “It’s not going to bite you.  You are the odd factor here.”

 

Still the stuff wavered. 

 

“Hmm, perhaps it’s the wrong blood type?  But you have no blood type factors.  Why a giant mutant fish, but not this bit of human?”

 

The little puddle of black slumped and spread thin, then humped up in the middle and moved one way then the other, as if trying to decide. 

 

Mephisto frowned.  “This piece of bone will be alive for the next few hours, the cells still have life force, so you can’t tell me it’s the whole ‘immortal’ viscera thing.  Either make up your mind or it’s back to the sample tube.”  He picked up a glass rod and gave it a shove toward the bone.  For a liquid, it put up a bit of resistance. 

 

Then, when it was within micrometers of the bone, it suddenly was drawn to it, as if it had encountered some sort of gravity or vacuum. 

 

Mephisto wondered if it was one of those much speculated on simple cell life forms that might have arrived on a meteor millennia ago. 

 

The black spread thing, wrapping around the rib completely, becoming a very thin skin over it.  So thin the color of the bone and blood could still be seen through the black film. 

 

Nothing more happened. 

 

“Ah,” Mephisto said.  “It’s possible there wasn’t enough of the sample.  Damn it.  That might explain the fish.  You only had enough of yourself to affect its motor behavior.  And what there was of that was washed—down the drain,” he said the last three words very slowly.  “Biological sludge. There must have been quite a pool of it down there, to create Soyougi around the spinal column.”  He picked up the tongs and replaced the now skinned over rib in the cooler.  Then he picked up the smaller sample and let that slide out of the tube onto the rib.  It was absorbed to very little more effect, but seemed to settle in just as easily as the larger one had. 

 

The sensible thing to do would be to go down there with a team and locate as much of the sludge as possible. 

 

On the other hand, this was Shinjuku. 

 

*              *              *

 

Doll was just walking up to the doors of the hospital when Mephisto strode out with the cooler under one arm and a katana in a rusty sheath in the other hand.  “Good afternoon, Doctor Mephisto,” she curtsied as he swept past.  “It’s a very lovely day, isn’t it?”

 

He stopped short and turned to look at her.  “You were coming to see me?”

 

“Yes, actually,” she said.  “It’s rather tiresome but Madam Neuvenberg has sent me to spy on you.  She thinks you’re up to something.”

 

“And how does she propose you do that?” he was amused.  “Follow me at a discrete distance on my rounds?  She’d have been more sensible to send the Raven.”

 

Doll managed just a bit of a pout.  “I know I’m conspicuous,” she said, standing there, swathed in ruffles and bows.  “You needn’t rub it in.”

 

“Come along then. You can be a witness, in case something does actually happen,” he headed for the kerb. 

 

Doll tapped after him in her little white mary janes, parasol unfurled against the afternoon sun.  “Witness to what, Doctor?  Are you? Up to something?”

 

“Ostensibly.  I’m throwing a purloined rib down a big hole in Chuuo Koen,” he said, and crossed the street.  “Whether it leads to something is up to it.”

 

Doll tipped her golden ringletted head to one side, then hurried after him before the traffic light could change.

 

Chapter Text

Schuldig had managed to get some sleep, but the whole place was just too much for him. Brad wasn't sure he'd survive the psychic damage if they were here long enough for him to break down.

 

"This alone should prove to Esset that Shinjuku is not an objective. Nagi?"

 

"I've been able to tap into the police system,” the boy said.  “There is Wifi internally, and a phone service.  It’s a little more complicated, but nothing too troublesome. Based on the information from police records and local News media, I believe the only reason this place works is because it is Japan.  Esset has nothing to offer here; the world view is completely alien.  You might as well explain the Kojiki to the Eld—I mean the Council—as if it were real history. I have a report ready."

 

"The way this place behaves, the age of the gods has been restored," Brad mused, rubbing his healing side.  "I'm surprised the Hyakki Yagyou doesn’t go by at least once a day."

 

"Probably because something bigger would fall on the procession and eat everything," Yuuji said. "You can step in a harmless looking  puddle in the gutter that's fathoms deep, or get swooped up by a giant eagle out there. The few blocks around the ex-government complex away from Chuuo Koen is considered a safe zone, but that doesn't stop the yakuza from being over aggressive. Everyone here is strung so tight, people are like walking landmines.”

 

“They don’t openly advertise it, but the pace is under permanent Militia Law,” Nagi said.  “The Mayor, Kajiwara, seems to be well liked and keeps the factions copacetic, but it’s pretty much a fact that he’s only mayor because he can handle his crazy wife.  Apparently that gives him some credibility as a peace maker.”

 

His crazy wife?” Brad said in disbelief.

 

“According to the social columns, she’s one of those try-anything-once types.  Falling out of limos with her lack of panties showing is just a minor sample; she could give lessons in skank to Lindsey Lohan.  She's been turned into almost everything going,” Nagi said.  “Don’t ever call anyone else nuts ever again,” he added through his teeth. 

 

They all glanced at Tot, who was making her bunny do a happy walking dance along the window sill. 

 

“Who the hell is 'Lindsey Lohan'?” Aya whispered to Yuuji, making a mess of the L sounds.

 

“I think she’s either the earlier, or the later Brittany Spears.  Somewhere in the Courtney Love line of puking skank pseudo-royalty.  It’s an American thing.  Sounds like we’ve got a Queen of Hearts situation,” Yuuji commented. 

 

Brad looked at him with an old familiar look. The sort that made it clear that even after seventeen years, his sanity was still up for debate. 

 

“What?” Yuuji defended.  “Just saying.  Emotionally questionably hubby keeps her under control, but she’s whoop-whoop-whoop,” he twirled a finger by his head.  “Entertaining but scary.”

 

“Pretty much,” Nagi said.  “ ’It’s a dirty job but the Mayor does it’ sort of thing.  Grownups are weird.”

 

“Awww, would you like me to run down to the gift shop and buy you a teddy bear,” Schuldig taunted. 

 

“No thanks, it would probably come alive, slap tentacles around my head and eat me face first,” Nagi said distrustfully. 

 

“Ooo, what’s going on over there?” Tot stood on her toes and looked down through the window. 

 

*             *             *

 

"Soyougi-kun came from here?" Doll asked, a bit shocked.  Chuuo Koen was a no go zone.  Anything coming out of there was not going to be pleasant by any definition.  The origination didn't quite fit standard parameters. She pondered this.

 

"Yes," Mephisto said. "He said he climbed up from an abyss to see what the light was.  Why he then felt compelled to haul a giant mutant catfish he'd done battle with to the edge of the park, he didn't mention," he booted a scattering of very large fish bones, sending them rattling away from his chosen path.

 

Doll, edged closer to his side, scanning the area of low bush around them, all her sensors on defense. "Doctor, my programming is compelling me to cling to your robe. Do you mind?"

 

"Not at all," he said. "Though I find it odd, alongside your martial arts programming."

 

"Madam Galeen Neuvenburg went a little over board with my aspect," she said, getting a grip on the flowing fabric. "I'm scanning for temperature signatures, just in case."

 

Mephisto was keeping a wary eye out as well. The human race had always known there was power in words and the naming of concepts. Whatever had hit Shinjuku had taken 'Chuuo Koen', 'center park', seriously. It was a focused junk yard of some of the worst phenomena; mutant and magical, in Shinjuku. The area had played itself out some over the past decade, but that only meant the remaining dangerous things were now much more subtle.

 

A Pterodactyl shrieked and rattled its beak in the distance, now as normal a city noise in Shinjuku as crows on a power line in Osaka.     

 

They came to a clearing where an old, half-dead tree over shadowed what had been a sewer drain, the rusting square cast iron grate tossed to one side.  Now there was a widening crevasse in bone dry dirt and rock under fading sands. For a fleeting ghost of a moment, he felt he had seen this area before the destruction. Had there been a bench here? A bed of irises?

 

He ignored it. Whatever he might have been—or seen—before was now no part of him. 

 

But perhaps that strangely described re-birth had lead his sympathy toward the creature that became so heartbreakingly human. And rather stupidly put him here now.  "Would you mind holding this?"

 

He held the sword's handle out to the mechanical girl.

 

Doll took it, resting the tip on the ground, her other hand still holding up her parasol. "The ground is stable now, but I sense an unusually large open space below us."

 

"This must be it," he said, looking down the hole. "Poignant, having to exert one's all to enter a new life in a strange world from a dark and disgusting hole."

 

"I suspect you're being rude, Doctor," Doll said.

 

"Merely a philosophical observation," he smiled mildly. "Well then, let's tempt fate, shall we?" He set the cooler down and opened it, taking out the goop covered rib.  Holding it over the middle of the hole, he dropped it.

 

"And the sword?" Doll asked. 

 

“I believe the sword was impaled here,” he pointed to a ragged hole in the tree’s half rotten trunk.  “At hand, right when he needed it.  Oddly convenient, don’t you think?”

 

“I find most things involving organic intelligence and universal timing odd,” Doll said stoically.

 

Mephisto's bracelet chimed.  A trace of annoyance crossed his face and he answered it.

 

"Doctor," the chief said. "We've got another outbreak of the Red Mushroom Plague. Two patients arrived on foot to the ER with a report of a spooring body at an apartment. They went to check on a co-worker and when they touched the body, it exploded. Building ventilation contamination is a given.  I've alerted the police and a clean team is on the way now.  The two exposed patients are in isolation, but experiencing initial pulmonary congestion."

 

"I'll be there in minutes," Mephisto said, giving the hole a dismayed look. "Doll, can you over ride your fear factors to stand guard here for me?"

 

"Of course, Doctor," she said. "My orders are to see what you're up to, so it's perfectly within my function adjustment range.  I have to admit, I do feel curious.” She leaned over to peer down the hole. "Would this also be Soyougi-kun, or something like a half brother?"

 

“We may yet find out. Do not under any circumstances go down that hole,” he warned her with a raised finger.  “You will of course take evasive action if anything else comes your way, understood?”

 

“Yes, Doctor Mephisto,” she said. 

 

*             *             *

 

Nagi and Tot found the little blond girl standing beside the open sewer hole, waiting quite complacently for something. From the window, Nagi had seen the doctor striding back alone from the park. On impulse, and without permission, he’d barreled down to the ground floor of the hospital, Tot in tow, to find out what the hell had happened to the child who he had noticed joining the weird doctor in crossing the street into the most dangerous place in Shinjuku. 

 

Doll turned at the sudden crashing of feet through the path’s half overgrown bushes, eyes widening as the older boy slammed to a sliding stop on the gritty open ground and put out an arm to shield the girl with him from falling into the hole in the ground.  “What are you doing here?” she asked.  “It’s too dangerous.  You have to go back, now.”

 

“He left you out here by yourself,” Nagi exclaimed.  “And you’re telling us it’s dangerous.  Where is your mother?”

 

“CUTE!” Tot announced, clapping her hands with delight over the girl’s elaborate old fashioned French china doll clothing. 

 

“Shush,” Nagi said.  “You’re not staying in here alone,” he told Doll.  “He must be out of his mind!”

 

Doll sighed heavily.  “Wrong.  You’ve got it all wrong.  Thank you for your concern, you seem like a very nice boy, but we haven’t met yet.  I’m Doll, Madam Tonbeau Neuvenberg’s assistant.  I’m not—.”

 

Tot stuck to Nagi like glue as another Pterodactyl swooped over the forest canopy with a screech.  Doll found herself frozen in place, quite against her own decision.  The huge beast coasted on with a flap of leathery wings, leaving behind a backwash of musty odor that might as well have been labeled ‘dinosaur’. 

 

Nagi let down his hastily thrown up psychokinetic shields. “Come back with us.  We’ll find your—.”

 

“I’m an android construct with artificial intelligence!” Doll stated.  “Galeen Neuvenburg created me to look like an eight year old girl, and it’s really beginning to be a problem.  Why can’t people just accept me as I am!” she stamped her little foot and pouted as much as her features would allow. 

 

“She’s so CUTE!” Tot informed Nagi.  “I want to keep her!” 

 

“She belongs to someone else,” Nagi said.  “You can’t just kidnap her.”

 

“Why not?” Tot asked blankly. 

 

“Well for one thing, I’d just go home,” Doll said.  “I am Doll, Madam Neuvenberg’s assistant, and property,” she added for Tot’s edification.  “Dr. Mephisto was called back for a mushroom plague outbreak, and I’m keeping watch over his experiment.  I can’t be ‘rescued’ for my own good, I’m technically on loan to Doctor Mephisto, and most people in Shinjuku know better than to cross the doctor.  Unless you’re insane.  Are you?” She hadn’t liked the being frozen in place thing, and sensed that it might happen again with this boy.

 

Nagi frowned.  “I’m beginning to wonder.  What is this all about?” 

 

She looked down the hole again.  “It’s a long story, but something down there ‘rode’ that mutant catfish across the street, and I’m thinking that the Doctor is trying to see if he can recreate the ideal conditions to provide it with human form.  But I’m not so sure it’s going to be the same form,” she frowned. 

 

“And the rusty old sword?” Nagi watched Tot circle around in back of the girl, checking out her clothing.  Just to be safe, he decided he’d freeze his girlfriend in her tracks if she tried anything ridiculous. 

 

“Soyougi Kazeyuki pulled it out of that tree when he fought the first giant mutant catfish,” Doll pointed to the tree.  “I really can’t say why the doctor thought it would be useful, except maybe in case the experiment didn’t quite work the way he’s hoping it will,” she stood up straight again and half turned to look at Tot.  “I know why I’m dressed like this, but aren’t you a little old for it?”

 

Tot blinked, then smiled.  “I like dressing up as a princess!” she said.  “Where did you get your clothes?  I don’t recognize the brand.  They’re amazing!”

 

“Madam Galeen Neuvenberg made them for me,” Doll said.  "Before she passed away."

 

Nagi stepped closer to look down the hole.  “What’s down there, anyway?” he glanced over at the old grate.  Judging by its position away from the opening, it hadn’t just been laid aside by someone intent on going down.  More like flung by someone (or something) coming up.

 

“It was a sewer drain, but the quake opened it up even more.  There’s quite an expanse of caverns down there now.  The old pond is nearby, and the surviving catfish tend to get out after they reach a certain size.  They’ve never had squid tentacles before, though," this brought a puzzled look to her face.  Most of her expressions were a combination of head tilt and gesture more than facial mobility, but you had to be paying real attention to notice it. 

 

Nagi bent over to look as far as he could see.  The iron rung access ladder once concreted in to the side of the shaft was a mere remnant of rusty and jagged bits.  “Why would the doctor want to give this thing a human form?”

 

“I’m afraid my intelligence doesn’t quite go that far off to the left of logic. But Soyougi-kun was sort of,” she said with a thoughtful look.  “Very brave, and very—cute.” 

 

Nagi looked at her.  Girls.  “And Soyougi-kun is?  Was?”

 

“Dead,” Doll looked at him. 

 

*             *             *

 

"There he goes again, Prince Emo to the rescue," Schuldig said as the two young teens left the room.

 

"What happens when he runs into the rock he can't lift?" He looked at Brad as if he had the answer.

 

"I think we'd see more of a breakdown over something technological defying him than running into anything he can't deal with telekinetically," Brad sighed. "Though I would have appreciated being informed of what triggered the sudden dash."

 

"Worry," the telepath stated, "Concern for someone he doesn't even know. I'm not opening up for any more than surface emotions unless it's absolutely unavoidable," he swiped at the air with his hand, the idea symbolically off the table. "A closed mind is a happy mind."

 

"So much for that," Brad looked at Yuuji. "Skipping right along to the 'because I say so', we need to get out of here."

 

"Agreed," the blond said. "Give your side a few more days and we'll see what happens with Aya's sister. Then we'll go," he looked at Aya, who frowned slightly but nodded.

 

"Then do me a favor; go after Nagi.  He's powerful, but he's a sprinter.  If something teams up on him long enough, he's vulnerable."

 

"A favor," Yuuji held up a warning finger. "That means you'll owe me."

 

Brad smiled evilly.

 

Schuldig did a slow burn, knowing far too well the chemistry going on here. Fujimiya had to be thick as concrete blocks not to realize it. But sometimes he forgot others didn't have his advantageous point of view.

 

"Fujimiya, take your sword, if you still have it," Brad added as an afterthought.

 

"We had to check it in at the front desk," Yuuji said. "Come on, Aya, let's go kill something. If the kid has left anything alive."

 

Schuldig saw the half glimmer of bright in the gloom of Fujimiya's mind despite his own self imposed lock down. "There goes a pair," he commented dryly to Brad as the door shut.

 

Brad shifted and rubbed his healing side. "God damn it, I'm sick of laying around on my butt!" he fussed.

 

"But you have to heal before we can go," Schuldig frowned. "And maybe rethink this whole rejecting immortality thing."

 

"No, Baby. Enjoy every minute while you've got it; living too long just makes people crazy."

 

"But the Elders were obviously insane to start with," he countered.

 

"So, do you want to go get bitten by a vampire," Brad teased.

 

"Fuck no. For one thing, it takes me forever to get a tan as it is. Then there's the smell. You know I'm already over sensitive to body odors.  And after the years I had to be a metal mouth freak, do I need to be dealing with fangs? No."

 

Brad smiled at him gently. "You're adorable, you know that?"

 

"I know you're on medication. You always get more lovey-dovey when you're drugged," Schuldig said distrustfully. "What are you planning to talk me into?"

 

"Go check on Fujimiya's sister," Brad gave up trying to get past that congenital suspicion. "See if there's been any progress on her treatment."

 

"So, no blow job?" Schuldig arched a brow.

 

"No," Brad said ruefully.

 

"I meant for me, not you," the red head sniped, then left the room.  

 

 

Chapter Text

Chuuo Park. Long gone was the crisply landscaped refuge from city life. It had become a patch of jungle along the lines of The Lost World; an overgrown green menace, its wrought iron fence now reinforced by chain link and sporting warning signs in blaring kanji along with graphics for the particularly dense.  Going by the reports, some of the most bizarre non-human related phenomena extent in the anomaly Shinjuku had become were to be found in its confines. To even call it a 'park' was now a blatant joke in bad taste.

It was a death trap.

Whatever had prompted the kid to just dive in there?

Yuuji  tossed any hope of finding normal sense in this place to the eerie wind that sprung up as they stepped through the oddly open barriers facing the street across from the hospital.     

The sun bleached skull of a giant fish sat to one side of the broad path behind the bollards, ribs strewn about like fallen palm branches.

"Why only traffic breaks here?" Aya said, looking at the low concrete pillars, then back at the skyscraping hospital across the street.

"Maybe it doesn't do any good to put anything else up?" Yuuji was still not happy with the whole haunted house thing.  This was not going well. "Feel that?" He stepped back onto the brick work pavement, then across into the park again. The wind didn't pass the bollards.

"Creepy," Aya agreed.

Yuuji wondered how the park would deal with Aya.  

Minutes later, after they had left the open space behind, the younger man asked "Why are we doing this?" He glanced at Yuuji, then went back to searching the increasingly narrowing path for threats. 

"I suppose for the same reason we used to not run screaming from missions," Yuuji said mildly, looking at the ground. "They came this way; look, fresh trainer prints. In the end, no matter who we work for, we're soldiers.  Half moral enforcers, half suicidal thrill seekers."

"Pretty morbid."

"It's been a long, morbid week.  It's a wonder I'm not passed out drunk somewhere in a relapse."

"I think I liked you better when you were just a lazy, woman chasing dumb ass." Aya told him.

"Made it easier for you to marginalize me as 'just asking for it' and dehumanize me into a sex toy, did it?"

"Yep," Aya said.

"Sexist pig," Yuuji froze, then threw an arm across the path, palm out for silence, holding his breath, listening.

One, two, three long moments passed.

"You can drop the 'mom arm' now," Aya grouched, but quietly.

Yuuji did so, still on high alert.

Something slowly slithered; out of sight and only meters away to their right.  Something. Very. Big.

Aya heard it this time, too, and drew his sword as quietly as possible. 

There was an echoing screech from above, a sudden whoosh, a branch cracking crash and, followed by lots of scrabbling about in the undergrowth, flashes of struggle visible through the close grown tree trunks.  Reptilian hissing sounded like a steam train coming in to station, and then a further crash of branches as a bird lifted off with a still feebly struggling snake punctured by its wicked sharp talons.  A splatter of blood pattered over the leaves below. The bird was the size of a Cesna four-seater; the snake in the reticulated central ventilation duct size range.

Yuuji looked at Aya, stone faced.

"What?" Aya said, sheathing his sword.

"Never mind," Yuuji said, starting forward on the path again. As it opened into a small clearing, he was relieved to spot Naoe and Tot. They were sitting on the ground—along with a smaller, blond girl, arranged around a hole, looking down it.

"Naoe-kun, Crawford's not happy," Yuuji was worried. None of the three had looked up at their approach, despite the screamingly unsafe environment.  

"It's probably for the best," Nagi said, glancing up now. "It's never good when he is happy."

Yuuji frowned, a series of memories playing out in his mind. Okay, so this was arguably true.  The whole napalm in the morning thing was more Brad than little (emphases on little after what he'd just seen) birds twittering sweetly in the roses.  "What the hell are you doing staring down a big hole, and where is this child's mother?"

Doll's big blue eyes narrowed. "Not another one."

"Sarazawa, Doll. She's an android," Nagi introduced bluntly. "We're waiting to see what crawls out. Mephisto's got an experiment on, Doll's monitoring, and we're just nosy."

"Um," Tot nodded enthusiastically.

"We just didn't get eaten by a giant snake!  And you're sitting there waiting for another monster to show up?" Yuuji stated, feeling a building righteous fury against all things 'Shinjuku'.  "That's it. Everybody out. You should know better," he pointed at Naoe. "And you--" he looked at Doll, "should know better, too! Aren't androids supposed to protect humans or something?"

"I told them to go back, they refused. My responsibility is discharged.  I'm a little girl, not a Nanny."

"That's confusing," Yuuji accused.  "If you're a little girl, it follows you should obey adults."

"I am obeying adults," she stated indignently. "My mistress ordered me to find out what Doctor Mephisto was up to. He told me to moniter the experiment while he went to handle an emergency.  Adults that I know.  No sane child obeys a stranger," her little chin went up petulantly.

"Look," Nagi said, "We're here to investigate Shinjuku, Fujimiya's sister is just extra, and Crawford nearly getting killed is collateral.  Something interesting is happening down there, and so far the only dangerous things we've seen is one pterodactyl fly over, and him show up with a katana," he looked at Aya glumly.  "My experience has been he's the one that needs watching. So either go back and tell Crawford we're okay, or sit down and see what happens.  Out of date or totally confusing TV in a hotel room, Crawford recouperating, or monsters; you figure what's more in need of investigating under our orders."

Aya looked at Yuuji with a 'there, he told you' look.

Yuuji scowled and sat down.  "So what's supposed to happen?"

Aya sat down beside him, legs tucked under to one side, his sword laid where he could grab it on standing up.

Once again, Doll explained what little she knew.

"A rib," Yuuji said.  Something nagged him about that in the far back end of his mind, but he was too irritated to examine it.

"Well, last time it was a spine," Doll said, then looked past them.

"Quite a crowd has gathered," Mephisto called lightly to let them know he was approaching. Even accidentally sneaking up on people was a social faux pas in Shinjuku, liable to get you gutted.  His eyes went to Fujimiya, then Yuuji, Nagi and Tot. He raised a brow, then focused those marvelously black eyes on the doll.  "Anything yet?"

"I'm registering small movement," Doll said. "But we have no idea how long it took Soyougi-kun to form the first time. And it could just be a rat." She didn't say it but the implication was there.  The rib might be something's mid-afternoon snack.

"You're frankensteining people from bones and sewer sludge?" Yuuji asked bluntly, not at all sure he approved. In fact, his mind wanted to run screaming to fetch the rusticated villagers, farm equipment and flaming torches, and just in case, a back hoe.  Not another one, memories of green slimy tentacles lifting him like a ken doll in a toddler's sticky hand made him momentarily nauseous. 

"Oh, my--are you a luddite, Sarazawa-san?" Mephisto asked, bemused.

"No, I'm just not convinced mad science should be allowed loose." Not after Takatori Masafumi.

"Nor am I," Mephisto said in his smooth voice. "Which is exactly why I want to find out what this sentient sewer sludge is about.  We've already seen it take human form; you've seen what it can get up to when it takes over another life form's body.  By giving it a human form, I can at least ask it what it wants."

And there it was. The missing sign from the front fence of the park.  'Abandon sanity all ye who enter', along with a stylized graphic of tentacles holding a stick figure and popping its head off.  Yuuji sighed.  He wanted to go home.  "You didn't ask it last time?"

"The man who appeared to us was as lost as we to his 'birth'. By the time the pieces were lining up to the puzzle, he had suffered too much in too short a time. I don't know if it might have been the 'karma' attatched to the spine of the previous owner, or the inability of the new creation to cope with being human without the slow indocterination of growing up."

"Doctor," Doll said, her eyes focused down the hole. "The mass is now increasing."

Mephisto looked grim. "As I suspected."

*     *     *

Brad frowned as not a scary nurse stepped into his room, but the oddly dressed cop. "Det. Kabane."

Kabane sat down in the visitor's chair, settled back like a man who'd had a long day, and rested a boot on the lower bed frame, lacing fingers over what looked to be a tauntly muscled abdomen.  "How's the side?"

"Annoying," Brad answered.

"Well, if it's any consolation, it beats devolving into fertilizer for a deadly mushroom like the three guys we just had to mop up," Kabane said. "Are you planning on staying in Shinjuku long after Doc releases you?"

"Not really, no," Brad said mildly.  Run screaming at this point would be more like it, but he hadn't gone so far as to lose that much dignity (thank the gods they couldn't scrub that off, unless they could brain wipe him, that is.  Which now that he thought of it—best forgotten.)

"That red head of yours would come in handy, if he wants a job."

Brad focused on him. What exactly was going on here? "Schuldig's telepathic ability is being badly affected by the comparative insanity of Shinjuku's population."

The one eye regaurded him. "It doesn't bother you? That you might not reach your own time again?"

"Not when my own ability is also being affected by the barrier, no."

"Too bad," Kabane said. "Prince Yakou was thinking of making you a royal adviser. He's only a little overbearing.  The girl?"

"Nothing yet. Her brother is prepared to leave her in Mephisto's care. He's reached the end of his rope concerning her care."

"Sad," Kabane said, eye on the toe of his combat boot.  Then something in his gravelly voice changed ever so slightly.  More serious. "The police incident records say there was a deliberate bombing on the Fujimiya Bank. They never caught the guy?" 

Brad noted the subtle Japanese body language, even in a seemingly lax body.  The man was looking down, his face blank, but his entire being tightly focused on being subtle and getting what he wanted.  The more still they became, the more dangerous they are.  No bobbing and weaving, no false throws.  Brad fell into the same still mode himself, and sent faint tendrils of his talent out, just to the next second or two, before the cliff's edge Shinjuku seemed to have put everywhere he 'looked'.  "I vaguely remember something in the News. I'm not that well aquainted with Fujimiya." Brad remained pleasantly innocent while plotting the man's horrible death.

"You worked for Takatori Reiji until his murder?"

Ah, there it was.  "Sub-contracted, as personal security.  And no, based on my reports of his increasingly criminal activities, my company finally withdrew the contract. As for his being murdered mere hours later, I can tell you, after three years of working for the man, I did a little happy dance when I saw the News." 

"You never reported this activity to the Police?"

"Det. Kabane, you know his brother, Shuuichi, was the head of the Tokyo police," Brad said wryly. "As a foreign national, I kept my head down, lest I get hammered."

"Takatori Shuuichi was heading for a cliff even before his murder," Kabane looked at him now.  "Have you heard of a vigilante group called 'Weiss'."

Brad drew a deep breath slowly, silently, giving nothing away, to calm himself.  Twelve years had passed, and with them, more than enough time for an investigation, or even the two remaining members spilling their guts. Probably that insiped little Mamoru. "We had a few run ins with men sent by an organization called Kritiker," he said thoughtfully.  "I believe they used that code name."

Kabane studied him for a long moment. "And--Eszett? That ring any bells?"

Brad let the mask drop. What had those bastards done?    

Kabane shifted in the chair to sit forward a little. "So you are planning on leaving Shinjuku, Crawford-san?"  He wasn't asking.  He was politely making sure. 

"Absolutely," Brad stated, willing himself not to blush with fury.

"Tell me something," Kabane said, sitting back now with satisfaction. "What would you have gotten up to if Shinjuku didn't mess with your 'talents'?"

"Oh, I don't know," Brad said, nonchalantly picking up the pieces of his shattered nerves. "Being a pre-cog, I don't make a habit of useless speculation."

Kabane slapped his knees and stood up, shifting his oddly gorgeous coat back into neat folds around himself. "Well, another day, another hideously mutilated body to find and figure out how the hell it got there.  Recover soon, Crawford-san."

"Thank you," Brad's fake relaxed smile dropped again like a brick the moment the door shut.

"Some one needs a nice custard cup," Nurse commented in an amused or was it sarcastic coo over the loud speaker.

"No, I don't," Brad snapped.

"Your blood sugar levels...."

"I don't care, I'm sick of custard!"

"Don't make me force feed you, Mister Crawford," Nurse said, as if she were going to do it anyway and be happy to.

*     *     *

Schuldig stood at the foot of the girl's bed.  Like the strange hospital people, at this 'distance' she might as wall have been a table or chair.  The difference was that if he dug deep, he found the normal involuntary 'programming' being played out, breathing, digestion, and so on.  And if he went really deep, there was the sense of human presence there, just off to the side, in a room he couldn't enter.  He supposed it was as if she were haunting herself, a ghost in an empty room where once there had been all the furnishings of life, and the mental sounds to go with it. What he picked up with his talent stretched to the limit was the end of an echo.  Why had the Elders been so determined to use her?  Had his suspicions been true?  That the real vessel to rouse a demon should have been 'Lucky boy', the brother? 

That thing in Fujimiya—was it part of him?  It had to be.  But with all this magical nonsense, was it possible he was possessed?  Was there already a demon inside Ran Fujimiya?  Or was it like some mental  'fetus in fetu' twin? 

Schuldig picked up the clip board at the foot of the bed.  Mostly boring doses of this and that; keeping her hydrated, vitamins and minerals, feeding tubations, evacuations, blah blah medical blah.  But the last entry of the chart was a scheduled prep for something that would make any telepath with issues' blood run cold.

ETC. 

Electro Convulsive Therapy.

 Granted, these days it was a little less psychotic on the part of the doctors administering it, but for a telepath, it was the last solution, and to be avoided like—well, the plague.  Maybe the plague was a little more warm and cozy, given the high fever, everyone fussing over you and imminent death to look forward too; but yeah, he had to force himself not to give way to the fearful memory of being strapped down and shocked back from being lost in the thousands of minds around him.  As a child, ECT had forced him to learn to control himself better, until the mere mention of it had stopped him in his tracks.  A harsh style of mental potty training, one of his guardians had 'joked'. 

It was why he had no memories of his early childhood, no name other than the one he had somehow acquired. 

"Well, you won't feel it," he said aloud, and slapped the rail of the bed, then turned to walk out.  At the door he paused just long enough to wonder why the security had allowed him into the room.  Then gave up pushing his aching head any further for things that didn't matter, and went back to where he could get a nice pat on the head and curl up for a bit and just not listen to anything for a while. 

Chapter Text

"The past experiences this being has had with this world have been violent and its response is merciless. It's best everyone remain calm and non-threatening," Mephisto said coolly. "I will deal with it.  No one else is to interfere, no matter how agressive he appears. Every creature's first instinct is self preservation, that is not to be faulted; but don't instigate an attack on yourselves, and trust me to control him."

If Yuuji hadn't seen the odd man in action he would have had serious doubts. Mephisto's cameo-pretty looks belied the steele in his voice. Yuuji reined in his alpha male tendency to take charge, and forced himself to stay put and just spectate. Actually, the most annoying thing he was dealing with was the desire to smoke. Damn mad doctors!

Anyway, someone had to make sure Aya didn't take offense at a wrong look or something and whip out his sword.  Yuuji had noticed the antique the robot girl was holding. Why? Surely she wouldn't wield it.

Nagi got up, brushed off his slacks and offered a hand to Tot to help her to her feet. They moved well back, behind where Aya and Yuuji had taken their seats.  Where as a telekinetic, he had full view of the field. 'Kid's got his training down,' Yuuji thought.  'Funny how some things could make you nostalgic.'

Whatever was happening took quite some time. Yuuji was about to call it quits and go find something to punch—when a muddy hand reached out of the hole to claw for purchase on the surface.

He stared in blank curiousity as a man pulled himself up out of the hole, despite the slippery broken up sides of the shaft and the useless ex-access ladder. The guy was naked, pale skinned and very dirty. His physique was classically formed, the definition of prime health; his face in the almost mature stage between boy and man, with no sign of beard. His muddy, almost white hair was chest length. He blinked in the filtered sunlight light, in open mouthed awe of everything. Yuuji was a little surprised to see his eyes were yellow gold, and slightly reflective, like an animal's.  They also flicked and focused in like automatic laser sighting to anything that moved.  

Mephisto spoke quietly and the eree golden eyes bored into his. "Do you know who you are?"

The youth moved his mouth. Finally sound came out. "You--are?" It wasn't a question, but repeating what he'd heard.

"I am Mephisto," Mephisto touched two finger tips to his own chest, then lightly to the muddy chest. "You are?"

Its owner looked down. "Are?" he said.

"Do you remember anything?"

"Re---mem---ber."

"Yes, remember. A name, a past?"

"Past?" The young man was at a total loss, except that you could see he was trying to process things, not a brainless void between the ears.

"Back to square one," Mephisto said, a look of mild annoyance on his face. "Well, let's get you cleaned up and into some clothing."

"Cloth-ing," the youth stated, his confidence with making such noises growing.

"Doctor, what about this?" Doll asked from behind the creature, indicating the sword she still held.

Mephisto didn't look, his gaze still meeting that of the newly formed man. "Let's not bring that up just yet," his voice was very calm, a light purr to the ear. 

Doll promptly hid the sword behind herself. 

Yuuji smelt a rat. The way the creature focused on the Doctor was so intense it was predatory. Very--alien.  

Mephisto half turned and indicated the way back to the edge of the park with one hand while carefully and gently laying the other on a mud smeared shoulder. "It's alright; come along."

There was some difficulty in co-ordinating the whole walking thing after just learning to climb, but the young man-shaped being soon got it sorted with a little help keeping his balance.

Doll went along after them with a passing curtsy for the 'outsiders'. Yuuji uncrossed his long legs and stood up, then offered Aya a hand. Aya glared at him then took it, the contradictory monster.  

"Very wierd," Nagi beat them all to it. "Doll was telling us there'd been one of these before, so I tried the name in the hospital files," he held the phone for Yuuji to see.

Even cleaned up, he could see the close resemblance in the photo to the muddy creature. "The Hospital let you in to the files?"

Nagi shrugged. "I think it's an official Law of Nature now that putting anything in a computer is just asking for it to be hacked.  Soyougi Kazeyuki.  Some sort of sentient life form that attached itself to human spine bones and took on human form.  That it has assumed almost exactly the same form again must have something to do with the DNA of the creature."

"That's just not right," Yuuji stated.     

"There's something else about this guy you might be interested in," Nagi said smugly.

Yuuji frowned. 

Aya rubbed his side again absently.

"I checked the file logging. The Soyougi file was accessed this morning.  My guess is that it was to double check the data for this little experiment.  So I checked the other files opened at the same time from the same log on," he looked at Aya now. "Side bothering you?" he smirked.

Aya frowned, and pulled up his T-shirt. It was only a little pink where he'd been rubbing, but there was a strange feeling in there.

"No!" Yuuji said in disbelief. "Oh no, no he didn't!" he grabbed Aya by the sides, feeling the tightly muscled rib cage. Sure enough, one side was unevenly numbered—the side Aya had been fussing at. "Son of a bitch!"

"What!" Aya asked, not happy about the mauling. (Though, really, he liked it, which was why he wasn't happy about it.) He blushed accordingly.

"That was your rib that just walked by us!" Yuuji said angrily. "I knew that guy was shifty!"

*     *     *

"Go away," Schuldig complained, having been jerked from his nap on the bed's edge by Yuuji's storming into Brad's room with the other three behind him.  The Hospital's no weapons rule had almost cost them their brains.

"Mephisto just stole Aya's rib to use to make a—a golum of some kind!" Yuuji raged at Brad.

"Funny, he doesn't look Jewish," Schuldig drawled out the very old joke.

Brad shot his red head an exasperated look and sighed in annoyance. "Well, he's got his pound of flesh or something in payment for the sister. I suppose he could have asked first, but frankly I don't care, so don't come wailing to me about it."

"You'd care if he swiped a chunk off Shuu," Yuuji snapped. "God damn it, when am I going to stop wanting to smoke!" He'd begun to pace the floor and now dragged his fingers through his hair, pulling his forehead tight.

Schuldig was alarmed. "You wouldn't let him, would you?" he looked at Brad (meaning take bits off him, not giving a damn about Sarazawa's addiction.)

"Don't you start," Brad warned. "Anyway, what's a rib? Nothing more than an appendix. What sort of 'golum'."

"That—sewer thing," Yuuji was almost incoherent now. He flailed a hand at Nagi, then back to Brad. "Tell him!"

Nagi told him.

Brad sorted this out in his mind. "Not a clone, a--structural stepping off point?"

"Maybe he was missing that part of human DNA?" Tot said in her little girl voice. "Maybe what ever happened in the quake took bits out of sequence, but left the rest?  Poor thing!"

They all stared at her, except Nagi, who was too cool to goggle.  Besides that, he knew her a bit better now.  She was definitely not stupid. "Pretty valid theory," he said. "Given the freak show the 'demon quake' made of the science labs, which, I remind you, were DNA research facilities."

"I suppose being raised by a mad scientist does account for something after all," Brad said, peeling his eyes off the not-so-idiot-after-all. "Aside from all that," he glared at Yuuji,  "I repeat, what's a rib? The sister is being cared for at great expense."

Nagi personally thought being raised by megalomaniacal world dominating evil might account for something, too, but kept his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself.

"If it's DNA he was after, did part of the creepy thing go with the rib?" Schuldig asked suddenly. "I mean why not use little miss perfect's rib instead?  It's her bill."

Aya's temper went from simmer to rolling boil. Fortunately, they'd taken his sword at the front desk again, so he could only think graphically of disemboweling the German telepath.

"Find out," Brad said.

"No!" Schuldig refused, still remembering quite clearly the last time he'd gone too deep in Aya's mind.  He didn't like what he was picking up now, let alone go there again.

"Find. Out." Brad ordered through his clenched teeth.

"Don't bother, Shuu," Yuuji said in German, to avoid being killed over what he was going to say next. "Short of trying to push him down the elevator shaft and ending up tripping down it myself, let's just assume 'it' stayed with Aya."

"He outranks me," Schuldig pointed out to Brad, now that it was to his convienience. "Your argument; I'm just a poor soldier doing my best."  He checked the ends of his hair, frowning at the splits. "This place is killing me."

"If I weren't stuck in this damned hospital bed, I'd kill you all!" Brad threatened loudly.  "I'm wounded, I've been shackled with bed rest for a reason, in case anyone has noticed.  Leave me alone!

"Tem-per, Mr. Crawford," Nurse warned over the intercom. "Visiting hours are over. You have two minutes to clear the room before forcible removal."

"Now you've done it," Schuldig told Yuuji. "We're all going to lose more than a rib if we don't go." He leaned over to clasp Brad's hand on the thin blanket and looked into his eyes with an uncustomary seriouseness.  "What we talked about, yes?"

"I'll think about it," he answered testily. "Out!"  

*          *          *

Hunger had driven them to the Hospital cafe for a mid afternoon snack. With nothing to really do about anything, they were all at rather a loss.  After the initial schock, the most bizare things kept happening until the mind just gave up. Like watching an elegantly dressed woman with multiple snakes for a hat (or was it her hair?) walking a matched pair of two headed greyhounds on a leash through the window along one wall of the cafe.

Aya rubbed his side again. The deep tingly, itchy irritation was fading, but the idea that he'd been—rib jacked—after knowing what had happened to Tomoe-san—was disturbing. Physically, he felt fine. A rib, after all, was something people routinely had removed for purely cosmetic reasons; not like a kidney. He vaugely remembered signing papers regaurding Aya-chan's care. Had he really been so mentally exhausted, he'd simply agreed to just anything? "I don't care," he decided, just tired of it all. "You said you found out something about my sister?" he asked the German across the table.

"It speaks!" Schuldig grabbed at Nagi's arm and half hid behind him in mock horrer.

"Get off," Nagi elbowed him.

"Careful you don't break those," Schuldig sat back in his chair, rubbing his bruised side. "Assets, you know."

"Ass," Nagi said.

Schuldig stuck his tongue out at him, then sipped his coffee and looked at Aya and Yuuji. "Our mad doctor plans to wake her up with electric shock. If that doesn't do it--well," he shrugged. "More important to get out of here."

"None of us would be here if you hadn't planted that bomb," Aya accused.

Yuuji sighed.

"I wouldn't be anywhere if I'd disobeyed orders," Schuldig countered. "And we all know who the explosives expert is here." He pointed at Yuuji. "If he hadn't had his little accident..."

The blond set his mug down with a bit more force than intended. "And when we do get out? How many years will have passed? What sort of nightmare do we face next?"

"We'll leave at the same time of day and place we came in here," Nagi said. "People have come out only a few days or months later that way.  I think Farfarello is going to stay," he added the last quietly with some reticence, eyes on his biscotti crumb scattered plate.

"If he wants to, why not?" Schuldig sat back, fiddling with the handle of his coffee mug. "We have to face the council, you know that," he looked at Yuuji. "Now that the old bastards are gone, I bet they'd reinstate you on Brad's word."

"I don't know," Yuuji said. "It would take a lot of fact twisting to explain how I was innocent in all that.  Considering he already blamed everything on Weiss."

"You were brain washed, obviously," Schuldig said simply.  "Listen, the only people Brad couldn't feed a load of hogwash to and have it stick were the Elders, and now they are gone. The Council will have to either tell him to go to hell, or kiss his boots.  And they wouldn't dare if they thought there was even a whisper of the truth coming out."

Yuuji frowned. "You—know?"

"I'm a telepath. People have leaky brains."

"Does he know?" Yuuji whispered with harsh urgency.

Schuldig drew a deep breath. "That's something I don't think you can just tell someone with out a lot of backup proof," he sat back, one arm resting on the table. " 'So-and-so knew, but they are dead'; 'such-and-such saw papers, but they disappeared'.  Things like that don't stack up without the Elders to say, 'oh yes, we knew all along'."    

"What are you guys talking about?" Nagi asked.  "What truth?"

Yuuji and Schuldig's eyes met.

"Just a stupid rumor," Yuuji said dismissively.

"The Elders always kept Brad's power smothered," Schuldig said.

"He probably saw the ritual had a strong chance of failing years ago." Yuuji added.

Schuldig nodded approval. "Jah."

"So why would the council kiss his boots?" Nagi persisted suspiciously.

"Because he would tell them all how they were going to die," Yuuji said. "And they wouldn't know if he were lying."

Nagi frowned. He knew bullshit when he heard it, and this was Category Six.  

"So, here we are, in a city somehow isolated to the bedrock by a bad case of imposible physics," Schuldig said. "And no one saw that coming.  Oh, fuck the world anyway," he made a face and finished his coffee. His poor head was pounding again with the unsteady beat of thousands of drums. "The Council probably has no idea of how to deal with anything on their own after decades of being told what to think by the Elders.  As for everyone else, the whole world is at war, but everyone pretends it's just isolated little political tiffs.  Where does Esset come in?" he rubbed his temple, trying to relieve the throbbing.  "Perhaps we should take in tourists as a quaint backwards sect, like the Amish?"

"I can't do 'global' right now," Yuuji grumbled, rubbing his eyes and dragging his hands down his face.  He picked up his mug, realized it was empty, then looked at Aya. "Want to head back to the hotel?"

"Yeah," Aya blinked out of his daze.  

*     *     *

Aya kissed a nipple and ran his hand down Yuuji's chest. Yuuji was half asleep, but Aya was wide awake now. Yuuji's hand absently played with a burgundy red lock, his eyes closed, pleasantly exhausted.

"Yohji," Aya said.

"No one by that name here," Yuuji reminded sleepily.

"What are we going to do when we go back?"

"I don't know," was the blond's lazy reply, along with the implication that he do not care.

Aya continued to stroke the tawny chest, his leg half across Yuuji's, his chin on his shoulder. "If you go back to Esset--?"

Yuuji slipped his arm down to hug him, still not opening his eyes. "If, if, if."

Aya lifted his head to look down at him. "Yuuji."

"What!" Yuuji half opened his eyes. "Jeesus, what are you, a woman? Sex, sleep; those are the rules."

A hand got hold of his scrotum, a very threatening hold. "Try that again," Aya said.

Yuuji caught him by the wrist, thumb possitioned to push on a nerve.  "Unhand the boys, or it's going to hurt you more than me."

"Do you have to be such a bastard? I just want answers. Stop avoiding the truth."

"Truth about what?" Yuuji asked, keeping his grasp on Aya's wrist.

"Are you going back to Esset?"

"I never left.  They fucked up, letting an agent get comprimised the way I was.  Maybe Brad can fix it," he was falling asleep again, his grip on Aya's wrist letting up just a little.

Aya had tried not being jealous. It didn't work. "You'll still be mine?"

Yuuji looked up at him, then let go of his wrist to caress his cheek. "I promised, didn't I?" He drew him down for a kiss. The hand on his balls relaxed, then let go, sliding down to grasp his inner thigh lightly.

"Go to sleep," Yuuji said, cuddling him closer.

Aya wondered why, despite his wanting more answers, and consequently, more angry make up sex, he felt so sleepy suddenly?

*     *     *

Schuldig lay on the bed in his single room, a bottle of sleeping pills on the bedside table, three of which were now in his system, along with a close to overdose of pain killers. He hated taking so many pills, but it was reaching the point where he was willing to chose kidney destruction over the pain in his skull.

There were things out there, whose minds were so inhuman, and yet, thought. Their thoughts were jumbles of sensation, almost words, frustrated cries for understanding; like a dream where one is reading a book, but the language is incomprehensible except for a few words that made one keep trying to read until the dream lets go.

Danger. Fear. Threat. Desire. Mother. Hunger. Pain. They were all projecting full blast. The real horror had come when he'd realised that some of the loudest were just animals in the outside world.  Something in here, something the quake had let lose, had changed their brains to very near human sentience.  He wanted to find them, to stop the terrible awareness. That would mean facing them, the small lives just as confused as he without the generations of human experience to handle it. The emotional horror of that alone kept him away.

He wanted Brad, but pride made him want to prove he could handle it, that he was tough enough. But could he?

Somewhere near, some very small things cried for Mother, as the warm, safe nest that was all they knew was raided; little lives silenced one by one in increasing terror and destroyed hope. The pain, the disbelief, the betrayal of being alive.

He sobbed, unable to fight it. Though it did nothing, he pulled the pillows to his ears and held them there tightly.

Chapter Text

 

"What's happened?" Mephisto strode into the ongoing chaos of the ER, his cloak rustling around him.  

"We raided another underground lab," Det. Kabane watched the hospital's bio-hazard team work on his men. Well, two men, one woman. "Something nasty got loose.  Real nasty." He had his cigarillo in his lips, but it was out.  He couldn't pace in the midst of the hurrying medical professionals, but he was putting out an aura of anger and frustration that caused an instinctive wide berth around him.

"Doctor," the chief stepped back from the injured woman, holding his gloved hands up out of the way, so Mephisto could have a clear view of the patient. "It's acidic and sticky, another cytotoxine from the look of it."  

"I want a sample of that in the lab now," Mephisto ordered, checking over the patient carefully. "Anaphylactoid reaction.  Whatever is in that venom is packing a double wallop."  

"Yes, Doctor," the chief said. "We're treating with adrenaline, steroids and oxygen, but the burns are going deeper faster than we can clean them."

There were a few small wounds on her face, she'd managed to shield herself from the worst of it with her arm.  It didn't look good.  Mephisto did what he could to pull the venom out of the wounds while the nurses got her on an IV and drugs to counter the intense allergic reaction.  

"This one's gone," a nurse announced, pulling the sheet over the other policeman. "It's eaten into his lung."

"God damn it!" Kabane swore angrily. "These assholes think they're going to get rich on designer drugs, and this is what they keep for a fucking pet?" he yanked the sheet back down to look at the splattered chemical burn wounds across the man's lower throat and collar bone, then threw it back in disgust. "This is what going in armed and shielded got us.  And now those things are loose in the city!"

"What did this?" Mephisto said. "Can you describe it?"

"Something in a god damned fish tank!  One of the bastards knocked it over before he ran. The things just—spilled out at us! They move so fast, my men aren't sure how many they saw.  We lost them. Down the toilet, out the vent, the door, who the hell knows!  They spat that crap on anyone in their way.  Whatever happened to just keeping piranha,  or regular snakes to scare the punters?  Fucking shit!" he kicked the gurney. Two orderlies caught it, adjusted the sheet over the body, and moved it out of the way.

Mephisto checked the other man, who had caught the toxic spray across his thigh and shins. The nurses who were working to rinse out the evil looking wounds with a mix of saline and pain killer moved back to let him take over. "Just focus on breathing deeply, we'll fix it," the Doctor assured him.

The sandy haired, still baby-faced young man looked up at him. "I know—you will, Doctor," he said weakly, and smiled under the oxygen mask, already sliding down on the medications.

Mephisto smiled back and kept working on the leg wounds. He remembered this one from a month ago. The 'new guy', who's name Kabane refused to learn.  "You've got body cam video?"

"I'll have the shop send you the files," Kabane said.  "Are they going to live?"

Mephisto tipped his chin down slightly.  "We'll know in a few hours.  The wounds are virulent, but the reactions seem to be very basic.  The least effect will be reconstruction scars and nerve damage, transplants, possibly prosthetics in his case."

Kabane nodded curtly, then got his ass out into the air where he could smoke again and kick a few more things without being sedated.  Those things were out there.  More victims would start to pile up.  And he was responsible.

 

*     *     *

 

The blinds were pulled open with the cheerful borderline violence that only a hospital nurse could manage.  Especially these nurses. 

"Ungh," Brad managed, pulling his face out of the pillow and subsequently, the stabbing rays of sunshine.

"Good morning, Mr. Crawford," Nurse said brightly, whipping the blanket and sheets off him, exposing his backside, bared from the hospital gown being rucked up in his sleep.  He flipped over, pulling the gown down, still trying to throw off the deep sleep he'd been in.  Was this some kind of nightmare?  

"Doctor says you're doing wonderfully and you're to be let out today on complex discharge.  This means you will stay at the hotel for a week, and return for daily checkups.  We want to make sure you don't do anything silly," she ignored his outrage at being exposed.  "Doctor has an emergency to attend, and will be up as soon as possible to check you over.  Then you can have a nice shower and go down to breakfast."  She pulled the hospital gown right back up again and proceeded to put a stone cold stethoscope on him and prod his healing side with equally chill fingers.  He winced, closing his eyes and trying to remember the whole inhale, exhale, muscle coordination combined with thinking thing. 

Out came the catheter.

Brad thought his eyes were going to come out for a moment as well.  "You might—do that—a little less brusquely, Nurse," he rasped, catching his breath and pulled the stupid gown back down again. 

She gave him a look, then pressed a few buttons on the monitor.  "You'd be surprised how resilient the human penis is, Mr. Crawford." She unhooked the tube from the bed frame and gathered up the bag. 

He frowned at her.  "Can I at least shower while I wait for the doctor?"

"Not being certain of when he would be able to come, and how short his time can be on busy days, no," she said  "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

"Yes," he said, pushing his hair back.  He needed a trim, it was getting too long.  "Thank you," he remembered his manners,  since she was holding a bag of pee. 

 

*     *     *

 

Nagi sighed heavily and knocked on the hotel room door again.  Still no answer.

"Maybe he's in the bathroom," Tot offered.

Nagi frowned. "Brad said he didn't answer the phone, and that was 20 minutes ago.  He would have told me if he was going anywhere." He put his hand on the lock and felt for the tumblers, bypassing the key card code altogether.

The door opened.

The red head sprawled over the bed, still half dressed, a medicine bottle on the floor with a few remaining pills scattered over the carpet.

"Shit," Nagi stated.

 

*     *     *

 

"Hi," Schuldig said weakly, feeling rather like a dead fish floating to the surface. Running water rushed in his ears.  No, the hiss of static he got from the precog's mind overlapping his, washing every other mind away.  Bliss.

"What the HELL were you doing!" Brad demanded.

"Trying to sleep," Schuldig managed. "Are you a hallucination in my finally cracked mind?  Or am I dead and this is hell, because I know you wouldn't be wearing that unless you were dead."

Brad was standing by the ER bed in the white kimono jacket and pants the hospital provided ambulatory patients, glaring down at the moron who was supposed to have been available to find and bring him a suit. "You idiot! You know better!"

Schuldig closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see the anger on Brad's face. "I can't handle it anymore," he said quietly.  "I was afraid I'd blow my brains out to stop it." His hand tightened on Brad's. "I didn't take that many.  But it didn't stop.  I could still hear them.  So I took some more.  And then, I think I took more." 

"Idiot," Brad repeated. "How am I supposed to replace you?" his voice almost cracked.  "The Council would never trust me with anything above level 3 again!"  

Schuldig opened his eyes again to look up at him, everything still swimmy with the drugs.  His mouth twitched in a messy smile, then he squeezed Brad's hand again, and closed his eyes with a sigh. "Love you, too, jerk."

 

*     *     *

 

Mephisto's fingers disappeared into his side with an odd chill.  Brad willed himself not to freak out over this utter creepiness.  There was something to be said for being unconscious during any surgery. 

"I told you to turn your head," the doctor said calmly, probing about in there. 

Brad swallowed hard and tried not to think about the incredibly uncomfortable feelings this was giving him.  Then the ghostly fingers were finally gone. 

Mephisto went to the sink to wash his hands.  " I want to make certain everything is working under normal conditions for about nine days.  Come back every three days for a checkup.  Nurse will set you up with sample cups.  Do follow instructions, or I'll have to keep you around longer," his smile said the threat was serious. "Other than that, you'll be easily tired out for a month or so, and much hungrier, so watch your diet if you value your figure." 

"You've done something to make me heal faster," Brad stated.

"Yes," Mephisto turned to look at him, drying his hands and tossing the paper towels in the bin.

"This psychic surgery thing, it's usually a massive fraud."

"There are none of your kind who have this 'talent'?" Mephisto crossed his arms and leaned back on the sink.

"None on record who can heal others, so I think not," Brad admitted.  "You have no memory of before the quake?"

"None."

Brad looked at him, though it was difficult to focus, taking stock of the man's physical form; tall for a native Japanese, the long thick black hair, creamy perfect skin, not a flaw or even a tiny mole visible.  The very black eyes that seemed to reflect an oddly ethereal light from most angles, the just over into the masculine side of androgynously beautiful looks.  "Where were you when you came to after the quake?  I know about the being caught under something collapsed, but where, exactly?"

"Is this really important to you?" Mephisto was as usual, amused. 

"Call it pay back for fiddling around in my guts," Brad stated. 

Mephisto's laugh was low and melodious; seductive, charming the listener into wanting more.  "Very well, how much do you know of the area?

"Quite a lot, before the quake."

"I was trapped under the rubble of a concrete block wall, over by Kansenen Koen, on Nishiwaseda.  I had no injuries that I could discover, no swelling or bruising on my head, but no memory.  I had no identification, someone might have stollen it. I was wearing a plain pair of slacks, a shirt, undershirt, and shorts, socks and shoes."

"The park on Nishiwaseda, that's—near the Mizu-Inari Shrine?" Brad said a few moments later after rummaging in his mind for the area. 

"After they moved it there from the Waseda campus construction, yes," Mephisto said.  "But I have no idea of why I was there, so it's a dead end for this interrogation."

"Is it?" Brad said. "Was your hair this long then?"

"Hmm, about half," Mephisto studied him more carefully. "I've felt no pressing urge to cut it." 

"The spring there is famous.  The shrine is just an extra. I wonder. I can't see you quite as clearly as normals must, even with my glasses on. Something about you defies my talent, so you appear slightly blurred unless you stand very still, as you are now."

"I'm accustomed to being stared at. Though you appear imune to my usual effect."

"And that is?"

"Where is this going, Crawford-san?"

"You're not human. You never were.  You're a kami," Brad stated. "And this hospital has become your shrine."

"Amusing idea," Mephisto smiled ruefully and stood away from the sink. "But in the end, of no consequence.  I am here now.  A nurse will bring your paperwork and the other things you will need, along with the belongings that survived the ER.  Good day, Crawford-san. "

"Thank you, Doctor," Brad said, thoroughly disgruntled.   

 

*     *     *

 

Yuuji slung the bagged up suit on its hanger on to the bed and another bag with new underclothing in it next to it just as Brad came out of the bathroom.  "That's an improvement," he said with a languid smile.

"I've scrubbed myself raw. Sponge baths are good for nothing," Brad toweled his hair again briskly.  "You've seen Schuldig?"

"He's being kept overnight for observation.  Aya's moping at his sister's bedside again. His rib is wondering around here somewhere," he said the last glumly. "The kids are off sight seeing with a new friend, and Naoe's convinced your hunter's gone native."

"I didn't have to be a precog to see that coming," Brad slung the towel around his white bath robed shoulders and frowned in the mirror, then ran the comb from the patient room kit through his hair. " It's just a rib.  How is the creature acting otherwise?" He tossed the comb on the back of the sink and turned to look at Yuuji, unconsciously mimicking Mephisto's pose from earlier; leaned back on the sink, arms crossed.  It was good to be on his feet again, but he still felt a bit wobbly, the muscles in his thighs giving him grief. The healing process had pulled reserves from his body.

"Dazed and confused, but no sign of tentacles.  Pretty as a picture, too," Yuuji sat down on the edge of the bed.  "Do we want to pursue that?" The question was trailed by the implication he certainly did. 

"No." Brad said coldly. "I've reached my conclusions.  If Schuldig and I are any indication, Shinjuku is dangerous to Esset's most powerful talents; most of whom are in command positions in the organization. There is a compact subsistance economy, genetic mutations creating a major hazaard, this time locked dome preventing total recovery, no great use for the place in world politics, and recruiting is out of the question. We're done here."

"Speaking of, I hear the latest is some Alien-like creature lose from a drug lord's fish tank. Moves like lightening, spits sticky acid. They're warning people to stay off the streets and be alert.  The electric shop and video sign boards are replaying the police body cam vids as a public service.  Not a happy visual."

"And Nagi is out in this?" Brad looked at him sharply.

Yuuju shrugged. "Kid's willful and doesn't let anyone get close to him. Imagine that."

Brad's lips parted in an annoyed huff. "Give me the clothes," he held out a hand.

"No," Yuuji said.  "Come and get them."

Brad pushed his glasses up, though they hadn't slipped. "If someone walks in—,"

"I locked the door."

"I happen to be recovering from a life threatening wound and some very peculiar surgery," Brad reminded him, staying right where he was.

"I'll be gentle," Yuuji's green eyes gleamed wickedly.

"Well, you could kiss a few things and make them better," Brad slid the towel off his shoulders and dropped it over the linen hamper to dry, but the robe's belt remained tied.

"It's the stuff they put on the catheter to slide it in and hold it in place," Yuuji chuckled, his suspicions correct.  He held out his hands. "Now come here and let me show you how glad I am you're still alive, Sweetheart."

"Putting aside the fact that Schuldig nearly killed himself, and your timing is atrocious, you forgot something," Brad pointed up.

"Oh, shit," Yuuji said, dropping his hands, blushing a bit. "Damn."

"Clothes," Brad said with an evil smile. "Or I'll tell Nurse."

 

*     *     * 

 

"Det. Kabane," Brad said as they stepped out into the front of the hospital. "My condolances." He'd been told when he signed out that the man was waiting for him.  He'd seen the vids.  It made him feel a lot better to have his guns back under his arm and on his ankle.  

Kabane turned to scrutinize him, then dropped his cigarillo butt and stepped on it. "They told me you were getting out."

Brad raised an eyebrow slightly. "Come to escourt us out of town?"

"The Mayor would have my left nut," Kabane said. "I have a favour to ask. Trouble is, Doc's still got his hooks in you, and that means if I break you, he's going to fix me," he pulled a piece of paper out of an inside pocket on his fancy coat. "That's what got loose this morning. Lab says it's like a cobra crossed with some sort of centipede. It moves so fast you can barely focus on it. It spits a spray of corosive venom that causes an extreme alergic reaction. Think recluse spider meets killer bee is what they told us.  If the acid doesn't get you right away in a vital spot, the reaction to it will nail you while the acid works."

Brad looked at the side by side photo and line drawing print out of the thing. He frowned. If these things bred and got out of the bubble, the World was screwed. "There's no bug spray, or something a lab could come up with?" he handed the print out to Yuuji.

"How fast and how to test it?" Kabane stated. "If we can catch one alive. You really want to catch one alive?"

"Point made," Brad said. "But despite the whole mutant human spider thing, we're not monster hunters."

"My men are," Kabane said. "That leaves you telling me where these little bastards are going to turn up next."

"Normally I would say hunt down the mad boy who made them, but this being Shinjuku, they could be just another serendipitous mutation. How do you plan to destroy them when you find them?"

"Flame throwers," Kabane said. 

"Did you catch any of the people you were after in this raid?"

"No," Kabane said bitterly, pulling out his cigarillo case. "The things did their job.  We were stopped in our tracks."

"But you knew where to go in the first place. That's where we'll start.  My telepath is indisposed, and you already know his talent is haywire.  Mine isn't working to well either. I'm experiencing temporal vertigo, which is why I want to be as close to the situation's truth as possible before even attempting to look for a valid future occurrence in the timeline.  And I have an expert interrogator," he indicated Yuuji with a hand. 

"First of all, what you said just went 'whiz', but I think I get the gist of it.  As for interrogation, we have no laws against torture in Shinjuku," Kabane lit what had to be his hundredth smoke of the day.  "Doc can always fix 'em right up—if they're innocent."

"I don't do torture, Detective," Yuuji said smoothly. 

"Not outside a karaoke booth, at any rate," Brad said under his breath, giving him a side glance.

"Shut up, you," Yuuji said.  "Case files, Detective?"

 

*     *     *

 

Aya sat by the bed and held his little sister's hand.  How many times had he done this over the past years?  Each time he was certain he was doing the right thing, he came and sat beside her and the doubts began again.

The door opened.  Doctor Mephisto came in—then to Aya's surprise—the silvery grey haired young man from the sewer hole also entered.  He was now clean and dressed in the same ubiquitous hospital white cotton jacket and pants.  Aya stood up, not certain how to react.  Of all the bizarre things he'd seen in recent years, his mind struggled with yet another one. 

"I thought you might like to meet Soyougi Kazeyuki, now that his linguistic skills have reached a certain level," Mephisto said mildly as if it were nothing unusual. 

"So fast?" Aya said, warily eyeing the strange creature.

"I thank you," Soyougi said sincerely, his right hand on his lower chest.

"He's quite intelligent," Mephisto said, picking up the girl's chart and opening it. "He's just having a little difficulty with the 'human' part."

"Why—did you take my rib, Doctor?" Aya asked.  

Mephisto put the chart back and moved to take the girl's wrist in his fingers, checking her pulse the old fashioned way.  "The first time Soyougi-kun was changed, it was through a spine that had found its way down there.  A spinal column from a martyred god, supposedly.  I thought perhaps the bone of a 'perfect' human being would garner the same reaction," he looked at Aya.  "I had planned to perform the first ECT on your sister this morning, but then we had an emergency that required my full attention.  I'm taking her down to the unit now." He began unhooking the monitor wires from the bed.

Aya looked down at her.  "I hope it works," he said.  Too many emotions were hitting him at once.  He shut them all down. 

"Hope." Soyougi stated, puzzled.  "How is hope?"

"Belief in something unproven until it is disproven," Mephisto said as if lecturing a student.  He unplugged the IV from the girl's arm carefully and laid her arm on the bed pulling the blanket up over it.  "You're welcome to observe," he informed Aya.  "The plan is to bring her around slowly, by stimulating her brain into activity.  If there is no reaction what so ever by the third treatment…." He let it end there.  Aya understood. 

"At any rate, if it does work, she won't just get up and start traipsing about.  Gravity has had a grip on her far too long," Mephisto continued.  "She'll need physical therapy to get her muscles used to supporting her body again.  And there may be some side effects; heart issues, blood pressure, adjusting to solid food again."

Aya nodded.  He'd have to just deal with it, bit by bit.  The problem was all of his neatly compartmentalized little worlds were about to collide.  Big brother Ran was now a trained killer; who was not only on reasonable terms with the people who had murdered their parents, but who was insanely in love with a man whom he suspected had been sidelined from the original hit job by his newly discovered talent for not getting killed.  How the hell was he going to explain it all to her? 

And then it hit him. 

Aya couldn't possibly know that their parents were dead.  The news would hit her as if it had been yesterday. 

Suddenly, skipping out on her seemed like the better idea after all. 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Didn't anyone ever tell you not to make important decisions while on meds?" Yuuji asked as they walked over to the hotel's grand entrance. "What did you just get us into?"
"After the little interview I had with that detective the other day, why not remind him whose side he'd be better off having me on?" Brad found it very strange to be outside after so many days in bed in one room. The world was like a single pane kaleidoscope, somehow changed in perspective. And he did feel the drag of it.
Thankfully, Yuuji kept his usual strolling pace--unlike Schuldig's impatient cantering around and often walking backwards two meters ahead. "Why don't we sit down before going up," Yuuji suggested in the lobby.
Brad chose a leather clad arm chair with some relief. "I can't remember the last time I felt this drained. No--wait--I can. Come to think of it, that was your fault, too."
"How is this my fault?" Yuuji sat down in a chair turned at an angle to his.
Brad looked at him, crossing a leg and making himself comfortable. Just sat and looked at him.
Yuuji took his sunglasses off and hooked them in the neck of his t-shirt. "Don't you dare."
Brad remained pleasantly silent on the matter.
"I have an idea," Yuuji said finally.
"And there it is; the inevitable subject change," Brad said smugly.
"It is not a subject change, it's a line of thought come to fruition," Yuuji countered, crossing his own leg, while adding a slouch down in the chair and lacing his fingers across his abdomen. "Stop trying to confuse things."
"Don't even start your bullshit," Brad growled mildly.
"If I had a throw pillow, I'd throw it at you. Now listen. Shuu's having talent issues, you're having talent issues, but your being in physical contact with him calms him down, right?"
"Depends on what I'm touching, usually," Brad smirked.
"Stop that. He can still use his talent on others when you're touching him, right? It doesn't blank him out completely if he wants to read someone else's mind?"
Brad sighed deeply and frowned, speaking quietly. "Let's just say if we ever have the misfortune to get tied up together, he's out of the game."
"Damn."
"Yes," Brad agreed.
"Alright, not to despair; it's still half a plan," Yuuji collected his limbs and sat leaning forward, green eyes meeting brown seriously. "But he can still read your mind and anyone else touching him when he's in physical contact with you, that I know. Can he help you stop this vertigo effect you were talking about?"
Brad's eyebrows went up a bit. "It's worth a try. I can't see why it wouldn't work. He took the block off my talent, he knows it well enough by now," he frowned even more. "Damn it, I should have thought of that myself."
"You can pay me back later," Yuuji grinned.
"Pay you back?" Brad objected. "Come up with five more good ideas this week, and you're out of debt with me."
"Merciless," Yuuji retorted.
* * *
Mephisto watched the brain wave monitor's indicators flickering, then settling down into faint pulses that were a good amount stronger than before.
"It's working, isn't it!" Aya said, everything in his heart in his voice.
"It would seem to be," the Doctor started to remove some of the electrodes, leaving the ones for the monitor on. "It will take a little while for her system to settle down before we’ll have a reading of her long term improvement. Nurse will let me know if there are any changes."
"But it's working," Aya said again. "There is a chance, isn't there?"
"There is," Mephisto said. "Once her mind is engaged again, I can make further repairs. But she has to be mentally present."
“But this proves she is still in there, right?” Aya demanded.
“There is a good chance she will recover. The brain is active enough to keep her body alive all this time and the centers lighting up do indicate there is no disruption in the ability to think.”
Aya's hands gripping the rail of the gurney, knuckles turning white. "I don't think she knows—about our parents. I don’t know how much she realized of what happened during the explosion."
"And if you're not here to tell her?" Mephisto said, looking at him gravely.
"I—have to think about it," Aya said. "Just—please—don't let anyone tell her until I decide what to do?" He looked at the doctor.
Mephisto nodded. "As you wish."
* * *
There was something about the sight of him that always made Aya feel equally like he wanted to embrace him and kick his ass at the same time. "Yuuji,” he called down the hallway.
The tall blonde was just about to follow Crawford into the hotel room and turned to look at him. "There you are. How did it go?"
"Dr. Mephisto made it clear it was a good start," he said, the good news mixed with suspicion. "What are you doing?"
"We have a mission," Yuuji said with a winsome smile, then reached out a hand. "Come on, it will take your mind off worrying about your sister."
Aya still wanted to kick his ass, but it could wait. He walked over, suddenly coming down shy again and slipped his hand into the waiting one.
He was pulled into the room half staggering and spun around to be held close.
"Got you," Yuuji chuckled, squeezing him, all warmth and maleness; then he let him go and ruffled his bangs. "You're such a freak. Want tea?"
"I've had enough tea for a year," he said, reluctantly finding Crawford's coldly amused golden brown eyes on his blushing cheeks as he finger combed his hair out of his face. He wanted to be held longer, to just sink into Yuuji's arms until all the day's tension drained out, but this was not the place for that. He decided to just go sit down in the suite's little social area; the standard Japanese arrangement of two leather sofas and a mirror polished wood coffee table. He might as well make himself at home in the tiger cage at the zoo.
Yuuji pulled a piece of paper out of his back pocket and unfolded it, handing it down to him. "I don't know if you've seen the news."
"I caught some of it, the hospital staff was talking about it," Aya looked at the things depicted. A blurry still from a vid cam and a line drawing. Something like snake scaled deep sea worms, with little stubby caterpillar feet down their sides and horror movie fangs in their floreate jawed mouths. "How big are they?"
"About three to four feet long," Crawford said. "And preternaturally fast. Strange that with the fangs they spit rather than bite. Perhaps they were too startled by the over turn to think of anything but defense.”
Aya set the print out on the table where it rocked slightly on its folds. "So we're supposed to find them?" he said in dismay. What more could go wrong in this place?
"Yes, well," Yuuji had helped himself to the small refrigerator and was gulping down bottled water. "Someone volunteered to assist the police in their enquiries."
Crawford's eyes slid to the blonde. "If only it were that innocent sounding." His eyes then focused on the door a moment before it opened.
Naoe came in with Tot and the doll girl. "Cool, you've escaped," he said, looking at Crawford.
"Uncle Brad, you're all well again!" Tot went into attack mode with a squeal of delight.
The telekinetic froze her in mid step, a ruffled Goddess Nike about to take flight. "Totto, no glomping!"
"Mou!" she complained, then slumped her shoulders with a pout and settled on her heels as Nagi let her go. Rabbi-chan suffered the fury of her frustrated hugging impulse.
Brad re-holstered his gun and smoothed his suit jacket. "We're going to have to discuss those boundary issues again later," he growled. "And who is this?" he looked at the little blonde moppet.
"Crawford, this is Doll," Nagi said. "She's a sort of magical android. She's agreed to act as our guide."
"I've been commandeered by Det. Kabane," Doll said with a curtsey. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Crawford-san. Thank you for destroying the Spider clan."
Crawford gave Tot a look, then the Doll, then Tot again. ( Aya who found most little girls who weren't his sister horrifying after two years on the flowershop cross, sympathized with the devil.) "Such lovely manners. Perhaps we can make a trade.”
"No," Naoe said firmly, annoyed.
This surprised Aya, who hadn't thought the boy would dare, Crawford was so over powering. Even more surprising was the sardonic smile Crawford gave the boy; more like an older brother amused than a leader angry at an in-subordinate.
"While your interest is flattering, I don't think I would be able to exist outside the barrier," Doll said diplomatically.
"Aya-kun," Tot turned to address him. "How is your sister?"
He blinked. He wasn't sure how to deal with her strange combination of dimwit and capability. "She's--still asleep, but there is a little more brain activity."
"Oh good!" she smiled. "Dr. Mephisto seems very smart, and very pretty. Tot likes him."
Aya had often thought someone should hit Omi over the head, but he managed to stifle his instinct to cringe away from this radioactive enthusiasm.
"It may be best to leave your sister here after all," Crawford said, sitting down on the other sofa, settling an arm along the back. “I’ve heard that people who recover from long comas often die of other causes with in a year.”
Yuuji put a hand on Aya's shoulder, leaning over from behind him. "I thought we'd already decided that."
Aya sighed silently. "It's still not easy to do," he murmured. "These creatures--it's not very safe here."
"It's not safe out there, either," Crawford said. "Unlike Tot, the girl's incapable of defending herself. The difference is that in here, no one has a reason to kill her.”
Aya felt a cold chill sink into his body. “Why would anyone want to harm my sister?”
“That depends on what you plan to do with your life. In here, if she’s to ever fully recover, no one will be out to kill her or use her as a hostage simply because you’re her brother.”
“Oh stop,” Yuuji said, walking around the sofa to sit down next to Aya and lay a hand on his thigh. “Don’t let him terrorize you, every cell in his body is trademarked ‘evil inside’. Unless you plan on making a public fool of yourself on YouTube or something, no one will ever make the connection or have a reason to.”
“Guys,” Naoe warned.
They all looked at Doll.
“Oh, I’m used to it,” she said. “And I’ve blocked Madam Neuvenberg from spying. Det. Kabane’s orders.”
“I was wondering about that,” Crawford said. “If this Neuvenberg person is the town ‘official witch’, in what capacity does she act? Why not just magic away these genetic horrors?”
“She inherited the position from her older sister, my creator,” Doll said, a faint momentary something in her voice. “For a practitioner her age, she’s still more flash than cash, as the locals put it. Madam Galeen—was not approving of her younger sister. But now I’ve embarrassed everyone with too much information,” she smiled politely.
Crawford went very still, a hand slipping into his jacket for the gun again as he looked sharply at the door to the suite once more. A quick glance at Naoe had him back to the wall beside it, another look had Yuuji on his feet to answer it as a tapping knock came.
Yuuji counted to five, then opened the door. “Hello,” the bastard purred at the short skirted woman standing there.
“Hello, yourself,” she flirted back, all flashing eyes and teeth. Aya felt his hackles rise. “You wanted these?” she held a stack of folders about ten inches thick.
Yuuji moved to take them. “Does that inviting you in thing really work, or is this a hit and run?”
“Your boyfriend wants to kill me,” she informed him with a delighted laughter in her voice. “Hi,” she gave Aya a little wave, baring her fangs. “Thank you, no, I can’t stop for a ‘drink’, I’m on duty. Busy, busy, as always,” she dropped the flirt for reality. “The whole town’s on sundown lockdown, but this being Shinjuku, that means diddly-squat to some idiots. It’s like herding cats. I bid you good evening,” she switched to a phony ‘Transylvanian’ accent and smiled, then turned to walk away.
Yuuji stood there far too long watching her walk away, then shut and locked the door again. Everyone relaxed but Aya, who wanted to kill Yuuji at this point, and Doll who had no worries about her vital fluids.
It didn’t help that Crawford found this whole thing laughable and did.
Aya felt bullied, and sulked.
* * *
They spent the evening going over the files with a meal from room service. Doll was invaluable for her knowledge of the city’s dark spaces and deadly spots.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if something else just ate the things?” Nagi frowned over the now messy pile of folders on the coffee table.
“I can’t think of anything that might try it and survive,” Doll said.
Brad was now in his shirt sleeves, tie off. He took his glasses off and rubbed his face with a sigh. “If someone would just spot one of them somewhere.”
Yuuji picked up the list of people the police had tracked to the dealer. “We need Shuu. This will take weeks.”
“It may well take weeks with him,” Brad slouched back on the sofa. “We’re missing something. We aren’t hunting the drugs, we’re hunting the mad scientist who made these things. None of this is going to help us one bit,” he tossed his hands at the clutter on the coffee table.
“You’re tired,” Yuuji said. “Maybe we should all give it a break for the night. No offense, Kiddo, but we mere mortals have had a long day.”
“I will go to the police station and tell Det. Kabane what we have found out, which is very little, but true. If we can’t trace where the creatures came from, interrogating the drug addicts will be useless.” Doll stood up and collected her ruffled bonnet and parasol.
“More so than usual,” Nagi said.
Tot set her now empty desert plate down with the fork across it and licked a bit of frosting off her upper lip. “Rabbi-chan says they were in a tank,” she said simply, nodding at the hard used toy rabbit flopped on the arm of the sofa beside her. He had deflated a bit with his hospital laundering. “Papa had to have the tanks made special for the lab. Rabbi-chan and I were responsible for checking the deliveries orders. Rabbi-chan knows the names of some of the companies.”
Brad looked at Yuuji. “Get Kabane on the phone,” he ordered.
* * *
“The fish tank?” Kabane said, trying to hear over a suspect puking his guts up in the admissions lobby. “I’ll see what forensics did with the pieces. All I saw was a big rectangular glass thing. Except the top lid was solid glass, too, and locked down, with a nice shiny padlock—IF HE WANTS TO DIE, SHOOT HIM!” he yelled over the miserable wails of a arrestee; a suicidal stalker ex-boyfriend trying to beat his head on the concrete block wall while two officers held him back by his cuffed wrists and arms. “This is a police station; we catch criminals, we don’t do psych evaluations! Sorry about that, I can’t hear a thing with the curfew bringing out the crazies. Telling people you have to stay inside for your own safety seems to make some of the more looney decide to go for a stroll.”
“We need to find out if that tank was made specially for the creatures,” Crawford told him. “There’s a chance who ever provided that tank may other customers.”
“Damn,” Kabane said.
“Just the advantage of a different perspective on the matter,” Crawford said, picking up on his dismay.
* * *
Brad set the hotel room wireless phone down and pushed his hair back over the top of his head, strands falling down from his widow’s peak again. “If they do their job correctly, they will have collected the pieces of that tank,” he said. “Tot, that was a very good clue Rabbi-chan had.”
She grinned happily.
Nagi looked insufferably proud, despite having no valid reason to.
“Alright, everyone out,” Brad stated. “I’m sure Dr. Mephisto will have some way of finding out I’ve pushed my luck against orders to take things easy. We’ll pick this up in the morning,” he stood up to chase everyone out the door.
Yuuji hung back, half closing the door rather than going out it. He leaned closer to Brad. “Lot of conflict going on here,” he murmured in German.
“Don’t be too surprised if you lose your ‘sex toy`,” Brad said.
Yuuji pursed his lips, then sighed, annoyed. “You know what? I give up. You win. You were right all along. Love sucks.”
“Doesn’t it?” Brad shoved him out and shut the door.
* * *
In their own suite, Aya put his arms around him and pressed close, and Yuuji wondered again at how everything fit just so. “Hey, what’s this?” he held him, rocking him slightly. “Are you okay?” ‘I think I liked you better when you were just an insane killing machine’, he thought disloyally.
“My sister is going to wake up and our parents are dead, and I don’t think I can handle mourning for them all over again, but some one is going to have to tell her. Maybe they should tell her I’m dead, too.”
Yuuji let this sink in, thinking fast, throwing out all the options that were purely selfish, trying hard not to give into his manipulative instincts for once. Finally, sanity won out.
“Write her a letter,” he took the bony, muscular shoulders in his hands. “Don’t let her think she’s alone in the world, but tell her what happened. Tell her how you feel, and leave it for her to be given. It’s not like she can’t choose to leave Shinjuku when she’s fully recovered. But you have to tell her the truth. It might make it easier for her to settle things in her own mind. To know you killed the man who did this to your parents; the one who set your father up, ruined his business, his reputation and then demanded he be killed. That way you can explain everything; Kritiker, Esset, everything. She’s your sister, Aya, tell her the truth.”
“Except maybe the crazy part about her being used to summon a demon?” Aya wiped at his nose with the back of his hand. His eyes were terribly wet. “And all the supernatural stuff.”
“Yeah, well, that part you could probably skip as being irrelevant--don’t do that!” he pulled Aya’s t-shirt front hem out of his hands and gave him his own handkerchief. “Mop up, savage.”
“I’m not even going to bring up you eye fucking that vampire,” Aya said, blowing his nose.
“Is that what you call eye fucking?” Yuuji countered. “Funny. I call it trying not to show how terrified I am of having my throat ripped out by a vicious predator who’s probably ten times stronger than me and looks at me like I’m prime steak.”
“Maybe you’d better worry more about the guy with the katana you share a bed with,” Aya took Yuuji’s hand and stuffed the now soaked handkerchief into it. Then he let him go and went to take a shower.
Yuuji made a face at the slimy fabric and held it up by one corner. Then he laughed as he realized Brad would call it a form of Karma. “If being mad at me for no good reason takes your mind off your problems, bring it on, Gorgeous,” he challenged, moving to follow him.
Aya shut the bathroom door in his face. The lock clicked.
“Oh, come on, you know I can pick locks!”
* * *
Schuldig opened his eyes to see another one of the inhuman nurses had come into the room. He sighed and let his head flop back onto the pillow. At least he couldn’t hear her mind.
“You have a phone call. No screaming.” She took the gag off his mouth.
She picked up the phone and pressed a button. “Here he is, Mr. Crawford.” She set the receiver down on the pillow next to Schuldig’s ear, held a warning finger up over his face, then stalked back out again.
“Get me out of here!” he demanded as loudly as he dared, which wasn’t very.
“You can hold out another nine hours,” Brad said. “No need to ask how you’re doing.”
“They have me strapped down again. I’ve never been tied up and gagged so many times in my entire life until you dragged me in here!”
“I assume you’re not counting fun and games,” Brad laughed softly.
“It’s not fair,” Schuldig complained.
“No, it’s not,” Brad agreed. “However, tomorrow, I have a job for you.” He explained what they had come up with.
“It might work,” Schuldig, mollified, agreed. “I’m sick to death of being in the same world with you and not being able to be with you.”
“Enough with the melodrama,” Brad said softly. “Try to get some sleep, or gods forbid, watch TV until. We’ll come get you in the morning.”
“We? Can’t you come alone? You and that blond skank are getting far to close again for my liking.”
“I sent him back to his own bad tempered red head for the night, so don’t lecture me.”
“I’m not bad tempered and you know it. I am sweet and loving, and you take far too much advantage of it, you miserable bastard.”
“Said the guy who wants to destroy the world.”
“That’s me, PETA for people.”
Brad laughed, “I can’t even count the ways that makes sense and yet doesn’t. I miss you too, Babe.”

Chapter Text

“Soyougi-kun,” Mephisto was sitting on the edge of the desk in his cavernous office, watching the young man explore the environment. He’d decided to keep a better eye on him this time. Last time was sheer distraction, and the concept that intelligence (plus katana) takes care of itself. If anything, he had learned, intelligence shows a stronger predilection for trouble. “I would like to try something. In your—shall we call it liquid form—you were able to affect the mutant that came your way in the tunnels. I’m wondering if you can help a patient of mine.” If the past was any indication, the creature was fundamentally gentle until attacked.
“I would like to help,” his tone (even his voice was the same as the first time) was somehow disturbing until one got used to it. He spoke with the wide eyed sincerity of the insane, but with a razor sharp mind behind it. Like an AI, he only needed to be fed data.
“I thought as much. Your nature seems to be fairly stable, despite your tendency to see things in black and white.”
“I can see colors,” Soyougu asserted and began naming thing off, green plants, gold brass, etc.
“No, no,” Mephisto laughed. “Seeing things in black and white means no grey overlapping data to confuse a decision. It’s a ‘saying’, a linguistic code reference to a way of thinking everyone in a societal group knows. It means you see good and evil and respond in kind; good for good, evil for evil.”
“But to respond to evil with evil is good,” the silver haired creature. “To respond to good with evil is evil.”
“That is exactly what the saying means,” Mephisto assured him. “It is the language that complicates things. Soyougi-kun, do you think you can enter that girl’s body the way you entered the giant fish, without harming her?”
“She has…?” Soyougi motioned at his jawline.
“No, no gills,” Mephisto supplied. “Do you know what sort of interface you would need?”
“In-ter-face?”
“Pass through, like gills.”
“You will give me knowledge,” Soyougi told him with certainty.
Mephisto raised an eyebrow, then stood up to walk around his desk and pressed the button pad to raise the hologram computer screen. He indicated his chair. “Help yourself. Computer, set for voice command. Basic permission, Soyougi Kazayuki. Say your name,” he instructed.
The youth did so.
“Imprinted. Basic permission: Soyougi Kazayuki,” the computer voice said.
Soyougi looked all around the screen, then put his hand through it.
“Touch command not understood,” the computer stated.
“Just sit down and talk to it for now,” Mephisto said. “Something tells me this is going to be an all-nighter. Nurse, coffee, please.”
“You drink far too much coffee, Doctor,” Nurse responded primly from the intercom.
“Yes, I know, but having been informed by pretty much everyone lately that I am not human, I doubt the rules apply. Bring us coffee and find someone else to bully about their health.”
“Yes, Doctor,” she said brightly.
He gave the general view of the ceiling a dark look, then went to stand before the wall of windows, looking out at the city lights.
“Show me the human part that is like gills,” Soyougi sat down in the chair.
Mephisto had a sudden idea. “Try the ears,” he suggested, half turning. “Closer to the brain, and the Eustachian tube.” Perhaps he shouldn’t tell Fujimiya-san about this particular treatment.
* * *
Next morning, Schuldig woke to the feel of a hand on his forehead. It wasn’t the cool silent creepiness of the pale nurses, but the one he had been longing for. “Tell me they didn’t shave my head while I was out. They shaved someone’s head, but whose?”
“Not yours,” tender fingers traced down his temple and cheek bone to his jaw, then slid under the back of his neck to lift him for a kiss.
He closed his eyes and sighed into it. If there was anything Brad Crawford could do better than summarily shoot someone right between the eyes, he thought, it was kiss. Or maybe like a starving man found the most simple food delicious, he was desperate. And horny. “Undo the straps.”
“I’ll think about it,” Brad said, sitting down beside the bed, keeping his hand in contact with Schuldig’s shoulder. “First you see if you can act as co-pilot to my talent.”
“Why must you always be selfish just to prove a point? Take these things off me,” the German growled.
“No, behave and do as I say. That is the point.”
“Then we will be here all day because you want to play silly games!”
Brad laughed. “The look on your face.” He pinched a bit of two day beard and pulled. “And you need a shave.”
“Ow, stop that,” he winced. “Let me go and I’ll behave, I promise.” He emphasized this by batting his eyelashes.
“Schuldig, you never manage to make that innocent, honest business come out right.”
“Oh, but you forget, I know you think it’s cute,” he smiled like the bad boy he was.
Brad gave up and started unbuckling the straps with his free hand. “You’re not leaving this room until that bristle is off your chin, piglet.”
Schuldig’s now free hand caught Brad’s wrist and put his hand on his hard on. “Un-umm, not leaving this room until you show me how much you missed me, pig bristles and all.”
“Watch it. Nurse will have this for—good lord, I have no idea what—but you can wait until we’re actually alone.” He pulled his hand free and started on the next buckle. “And you need a shower. Now look, I can’t go around holding your hand. Are you going to be able to pull yourself together long enough to be discrete?”
“I will show you what it is like and you decided for yourself,” Schuldig said, grabbing his wrist again, and threw the memories at him.
Brad shielded his mind a bit too late, just after the wave of terror and pain struck him. He braced himself, and stuck with self defense, used his talent to step out of the timeline mentally. The attack was gone, but he was right at the edge of the proverbial cliff. He felt his heart pounding in his ears, insanity before him, the almost gravitational pull of it about to reach out and whisk him away.
/Step back,/ Schuldig’s voice said firmly. /Just like that; imagine you are stepping back. You are seeing, not going anywhere. One step--now another--one more. You’re safe./
The images of time before him blurred and blended, became a shimmering surface, resolving as a water fall to his mind’s interpretation. He felt arms around his torso, holding him, warmth at his back.
/There,/ Schuldig said with some relief. /We make a good match, no?/
/Now how do I use this?/ Brad asked, simply staring at the falls.
/You’re the precog, not me./
/Slow it down,/ Brad said firmly. /Slow me down./
/This might be dangerous, I don’t like the way your system is reacting./
/Do it!/
There was a resistance, then something started to change a little. His breathing, his heart—for a moment he felt like he was going to black out—then he recovered again. Things downgraded more slowly now, until the time between his heart beats was just enough to keep the blood moving in his brain, and inhaling seemed to take forever. The falls slowed, images began to flicker like dropped photographs. Then they sped up again.
/It’s no use,/ Schuldig said flatly. /I can’t slow Time down and I can’t slow down your talent without killing you./
/But you’re able to hold me back,/ the words were quiet even in his own mind.
/Fair is fair, mein Mann,/ he felt warm breath on his ear. /We keep each other, Jah?/ invisible arms tightened on him.
When Brad opened his eyes it was to another prickly kiss, Schuldig having freed his other hand on his own. Tiffany blue eyes opened inches from his, awaiting the answer. “We keep each other,” he agreed. “Now hurry up and get that shower and shave. We’ll have to go with the back up plan.”
“There’s a back up plan?” Schuldig sat up and started on the straps on his leg. “Tell me it’s just pack up and go. Strategic retreat is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“No,”Brad helped with the other side. “Beat the crap out of anyone who deals in glass pet tanks in this fucked up hell hole. There can’t be that many of them. We should be done in a few weeks. Probably less if we were to make an example of someone, but I think the police might frown on that.”
“Ooo, fun!” Schuldig said, tossing his tangled hair back. “Ask that crazy doctor where he got the ginormous tanks in his office. There’s something scary in them, I just know it.”
* * *
”What took you so long? Nagi asked suspiciously as Brad and Schuldig walked out of the elevator into the hospital lobby.
“Keep your dirty little mind in neutral, Emo boy” Schuldig warned. “I had to make myself pretty.” He fluffed his freshly washed hair.
“Thank goodness you finally gave up, it’s nearly noon.” Nagi held up a piece of paper. “The list of glass tank makers, and guess what.”
“Down, Schuldig,” Brad said. “One of them is the company that provided Masafume’s lab equipment?” He shot the still snickering Yuuji a warning look.
Nagi nodded. “When the quake cut everything off, there were a lot of ruined buildings. Suddenly there was land for the asking again in Tokyo. As soon as things settled down, they cleared out a manufacturing district and got to work again.”
* * *
“You know you’ve been in Shinjuku too long when two headed dogs start to look perfectly normal,” Yuuji said as a guard dog hit the chain link fence of the narrow alley they were walking down. Both heads were barking themselves silly. Aya’s sword clacked back into its sheath. They were all jumpy nerved despite the sunny normalness of the day.
“At least these aren’t intelligent,” Schuldig grumbled. “I hope the asshole who gave those mice human genes died a horrible death.”
“Shush,” Brad said, not happy about having to walk arm and arm out in public. “Neither one of us needs to be reminded.”
Schuldig frowned in agreement.
Nagi said, indicating a concrete block built box of a building with a refitted roll down delivery door and a wooden door beside it. Both doors were open to show an over head suspension rig pouring bright orange molten glass out into a shallow tray on a large work space. The workers wore makeshift protective suiting of leather and welder’s masks. There wasn’t room for the big rollers of a modern sheet glass process, but the tendency to flaws was being avoided by machines under the tray that vibrated it as the molten glass was poured, and a bank of coals to keep it hot until the pouring was finished.
“Stay out here, watch the alley way,” Brad told Aya, Nagi and Tot.
The foreman spared them a look as they stood there in the hellish heat and stench of cooking minerals. “Wait,” he called over the noise, holding up a hand, his voice muffled by a welder’s mask, then returned to supervising.
Wait they did. When the huge kettle was tipped horizontal again and moved away on heavy chains to sit on a furnace, the foreman flipped his face shield up and stripped off his asbestos and leather mittens.
“Let me handle this,” Yuuji told Brad and Schuldig. “We’re the good guys, remember?”
“I didn’t say a word; didn’t even reach for my gun,” Brad showed him both hands.
“If you think I’m going to pay you bastards one yen to protect my shop…” the stocky foreman began, taking his cue from their suits and the odd ball hair colors.
“Have you been having that trouble?” Yuuji asked. “Kudoh Yohji, P.I., and my associates,” he held out his hand. Brad handed him the baggie from the police with a sizable chunk of broken glass in it, the edges wrapped in duct tape to keep them from cutting. “We’re looking for who ever made this. Dr. Mephisto said Uchida-san was the glass expert in Shinjuku. Are those—the vibrators from hotel beds?” he pointed to the machines.
The glass maker grinned. “Not like anybody was going to be missing them.” He took the time to roll up his right sleeve and showed the join in the skin. “Got this from the last guy who tried to shake me down.” He flexed the arm and fingers. “Two years without, nothing but scar tissue and callous on the stump. Doc popped it right on and had me working again in two weeks. Took it off the bastard that broke my jaw and busted up my first shop. I’ll take a look at your glass. Come into the office.”
An hour later, they had a name, a beautiful blown glass vase boxed up secure enough to bounce off the back of a truck and survive, and Yuuji had another friend for life.
“I hate it when you do that,” Brad said outside.
“Jealous, Bitch?” Yuuji retorted. “Nice guy, but I never want to see another flower vase again. Here, wedding present, when ever that is,” he handed Tot the package.
“Bullets are always cheaper than whores,” Brad countered sotto-voce.
“Kerb your inner angry barbarian, this is Japan,” Yuuji said. “We showed up out of the blue, didn’t even offer a path smoother and he welcomed us like lost brothers. You can kiss my ass later.”
There was a ‘shink’ sound, and sudden blunt instrument poked him in the left kidney, with an extra little shove for emphasis. “You what?” Aya said in his deep, dangerous voice.
“Joking, joking!” Yuuji chuckled, holding his hands up in surrender.
Tot was in some sort of shock. She held the box in both arms, Rabbi-chan dangling by one paw in her hand, umbrella in the other. She blinked at Nagi.
He smiled. “Would you like me to carry it for you?”
“Thank you, Sarazawa-san,” Tot said awkwardly, the sudden shyness and quiet persona more like a reclusive school girl than the over the top anime caricature she normally personified. She let Nagi take the package, and smiled at him. He blushed and smiled back.
“Now look what you’ve broken,” Brad murmured to the obnoxious blond.
* * *
“Do you understand what I’m asking you to do?” Mephisto asked, holding the youth’s wrist, palm up. Fujimiya Aya was prepped as if for normal surgery on the table, and MRI brain scan cap on her head.
Soyougi nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I am to try to bring her to consciousness. To do this, I will extend my control over this body into hers. If there is a chance that any harm may come of this, I am to retreat and report as clearly as I can what went wrong.”
Mephisto adjusted the hand in his grasp and lightly nicked the end of Soyougi’s index finger with a scalpel. The result was reddish black, as when he had in his first appearance been injured.
As he watched a thin tendril formed, and wavered above the finger. Less red and more black flowed up it until Soyougi turned and basically, stuck it in the prone girl’s ear.
Mephisto watched the MRI images come up on the computer screen, rather than trust his own magic. He wasn’t certain it would interfere or not with Soyougi’s, and he wanted a record of the procedure.
Having decided he was ‘something like’ a doctor over ten years ago, he had thrown his free time into studying medicine as intently as any neurosurgeon, and then had moved on to bio-chemistry and genetics. While these days there were less spontaneous mutations, and a lot fewer violence related injuries and deaths, some of the plants were getting particularly inventive
Illegal genetic manipulation was the single most profitable criminal activity left in Shinjuku. So much so that Det. Kabane was head of the department created to take charge of keeping it under control. The resulting homicides and preventing the results from getting out of Shinjuku; either as the relatively harmless two headed dogs or feathered anacondas sold as exotic pets, or the more horrific ‘ante up’ drugs that could turn a human into a were-animal or deal the taker a painfully deformed death.
“Mephisto,” Soyougi said, his voice quiet with concentration. “I have connected with her will.”
Mephisto brought the resolution up more. “Can you feel her response?” he switched to the brain activity mapping program. While most of her brain showed the cool colors of a barely alive organ, that area was beginning to light up.
“I am identified as not belonging,” Soyougi said. “This I have felt before. There is an area that resists. Merging with the other, there is me and not me. Not me resists even as I control it. Forcing the other to become me—results in death,” there was regret in his voice now.
Mephsito looked up at him. Soyougi was bent over the operating table, his elbows on the edge, his eyes closed. “Do you remember making the mutant catfish come here, to the hospital?
“I have—been here before, yes.” Soyougi said, opening his eyes. “But I do not remember the time everyone speaks of before, even when I see the recordings. I think—it is because that part of me did not return to the dark below.”
“That would seem so,” Mephisto said. “Is there any more of you below?”
“No,” he said. “Unless—I am not the me I think I am. If there is more of me, it is no longer me. This female, there are things inside her that grow, that are her now and will not be her in the future. They will join with another to become not her. In that case, there may be more of me down there? Am I—a species?”
Mephisto rounded himself up. “I’m sorry, I’ve led us astray from the task, haven’t I? We will have to find out later. To me, you seem to be a unique organism, capable of merging with the human form to create a complete body. And yet, you were not able to form on any other type of bone or scrap that might have ended up down there. Say, a rat?”
“I have—encompassed those things—but nothing has caused me to form any shape other than the human bones. It takes the flesh of many rats to make a human form.”
Mephisto struggled with and had to smack down his own curiosity for now. “Shall we continue with the young lady?”
Soyougi closed his eyes and the MRI showed an increasing set of colors in the area of the girl’s brain, spreading out from the area of her ear.
“This is with resistance?”
“Yes,” Soyougi said. “There has been an earlier event?”
“The electro convulsive therapy, yes.”
“There is—something—I have no words for it.”
“Let’s work on conflicting her sense of self, that might stir her up a bit. Can you make her limbs move?”
Aya-chan arched from head to toe, as if the electric shock was applied again in far to high a voltage. Her body slumped to the table again.
“Too much,” Soyougi said. “I will try again.”
Her body began to move, her left arm, fingers, leg, toes, then up the right side, and back again, twitching, flexing, the movements growing until she moved as easily as Soyougi moved his own body. “She is resisting more now,” he reported. “This is perceived as not her, and wrong.”
Mephisto got up from the rolling stool in front of the computer and leaned over to check the girl’s eyes. “Soyougi-kun, can you see me through her eyes?”
“We see you,” the youth said. “I sense confusion. Resistance against seeing. Speak again.”
“Fujimiya Aya, do you hear me?” Mephisto asked.
“We hear you,” Soyougi said. “Resistance.”
“Fujimiya Aya-san, listen to me. You have had a terrible accident, and you were hurt. Your body shut down to avoid the injury, but you have long since healed. It is time for you to wake up. Your brother is desperate to have you wake up.”
He glanced at the monitor, the colors were fading again to black and blues. “Soyougi-kun, give this stubborn miss a good shake.”
It was perhaps mal-practice but the creature did as instructed, putting the girl in the grip of what appeared to be a grand mal event. The brain activity went up again, higher this time. “Resistance, refusal.” Soyougi reported.
“Fujimiya Aya! Wake up or I will be forced to tell your brother I can not cure you of your unwillingness to live. Frankly I think it would be a relief for him to be rid of you after nearly three years. After all, who needs a little sister who does nothing but lay around all day playing at sleeping beauty!”
A whine raised from the girl’s throat. Soyougi’s eyes snapped open and he looked up. “Make her angrier.”
“Aya-chan,” Mephisto leaned closer to her other ear. “Your brother has worked hard for years to keep you in a nice comfortable hospital bed. Are you really that selfish? Or do you like the idea of keeping him tied to you, miserable and crying by your bedside, pitied by those who know of him? Why don’t you come out of that little room in your head and stand on your own two feet. Is this what you want for your brother!”
“I hold her much longer, she will break,” Soyougi warned. “Physical movement is her own now. She’s struggling on her own.”
“Pull yourself together, you spiteful female child!” Mephisto was having a bit too much fun, but after all, it was for the good of the patient.
She screamed, struggling on her own now.
Soyougi let her go, slithering out of her brain as swiftly as he could, back tracking along his own form, leaving nothing but a drop of crimson on his fingertip.
Aya-chan screamed and finally opened her eyes, reddened and full of fear and anger.
“Hello,” Mephisto said with perfect calm now, checking her pulse. Her heart rate was elevated but nothing she couldn’t handle. “Finally decided to rejoin the living, did you?”
“Where—where am I?” Aya-chan asked, her voice rusty from lack of use. “Where is Ran? My brother—where are my parents?”
“You were in an accident,” Mephisto informed her.
She looked at him. “What kind of doctor are you?” she was genuinely puzzled by his appearance.
“An ingenious one,” he answered. “Nurse, your patient.”
“Right away, Doctor,” came the voice from the intercom. “Shall I contact Fujimiya-san?
“No, let the poor fellow have his day,” Mephisto gave Aya-chan a peculiarly judgmental look. “We’ll contact him later when she’s settled into down and post-op care is determined. And Nurse, I want a full psych evaluation on this girl. I would love to know what makes a selfish child stay in a coma for nearly three years.”
“Three years!” Aya-chan croaked. “This is a joke, isn’t it! I was just walking with my brother a—a—little while—ago,” her thoughts slowed down as the nightmarish effect wore off and she saw that she was indeed in a hospital operating room, all bright lights and chill with machines beeping.
Nurse came in with a metal clip board and two others of her kind behind her, one with a simple hospital wheel chair. “There, there, Miss Fujimiya, let’s get you back to your room and settled in. You’ll have to stay in a wheel chair until physical therapy has evaluated you, but the faster we can get you walking again, the better.”
“Um….” Aya-chan was scooped up like a rag doll and plunked into the chair, the two look-alike nurses bundling blankets fresh from the laundry room dryer around her thin hospital gown clad form. Aya-chan wasn’t so sure the nightmare was over, now.
Nurse gave her a distracted smile as the other two Nurses wheeled her out, and opened her clip board, pen ready.
Mephisto moved to place a hand on Soyougi’s shoulder. “Excellent work, Soyougi-kun. After you have had a break from all this, I’d like to run some tests.”

Chapter Text

Brad fisted the front of the stained, shabby lab coat and lifted the guy up on his toes before slamming him into the wall, giving the back of his head a good knock. Still gripping him with one hand, he jammed his gun to the guy’s stomach.  “I just had my side ripped out by some giant spider thing a week ago,” he hissed through his teeth.  “It hurt. So I know what it feels like to have someone take a chunk out of your guts.  You, being a scientist might be aware of how that works chemically, but have you any idea of how painful it really feels?”

“I j-just make animals!” Hasagawa, as nervous as a lab rat, stammered as he protested.  “F-fancy pets, that’s all!”

We heard you make dangerous creatures that can get loose and kill people,” Yuuji said, calmly,  flicking the back of his fingers on a sheet of glass. “This is cool,” he said as the long pointy creature inside angled up to paw at his fingers through the glass, little nose twitching.  The color of its long furry body went from the mottled fake forest of its cage to snowy white from the roots out, then shaded in the plum of Yuuji’s jacket sleeve. “What is it?” 

“C-chameleon f-ferret,” Hasegawa winced as Brad shoved the gun in deeper.  “Very popular with the ladies.  Matches their outfit. Problem is it goes grey when it’s dead.  Makes for lousy fur trim.” His stammer momentarily disappeared when he was giving his sales spiel.

“Lucky for you,” Yuuji told it.    

“What. The.  Fuck.  Are these?” Nagi asked quietly, staring at a cage full of birds one would assume at passing glance were chickens.  On closer inspection, they had oddly broad bodies, looking like feathered cushions—on four legs.

“Those are nothing.  Been around forever.  American patent,” the geneticist disparaged.  “S-see, just animals, eye catching pets f-for the di-discriminating customer.”     

“You don’t happen to know about any mice with human genes, do you?” Schuldig asked, his voice a dangerous snarl, adding his gun barrel to Hasegawa’s temple.   

His eyes flicked back and forth between the two to close foreigners.  “N-no, that would be immoral.  And gross. Look, I just—I j-just make them, see.  You know, like in that movie? Except not so messy. No parts in vats. That shit’s old school.  We do it all in the womb now, strictly organic and natural. ”

“Show him the picture,” Brad stated.

“Could you back off, please?  Just a little?  Kinda hard to breath,” Hasegawa begged.

Brad did not move. Yuuji walked over, taking out the now rather battered piece of paper, and showed him.  “We know you made these,” he said, turning on the un-natural charm full blast.  “Tell us about them.”

“Ah, those…” the guy said, turning pale. “That was um—I can explain….”

“Explain,” Yuuji said, patting Hasegawa’s cheek slowly, each pat leaving his palm in contact with vulnerable skin just long enough.   

“He’s lying,” Schuldig said ever so sweetly, that insane grin on his face, inches from Hasegawa’s peripheral vision.  (And his foot on top of Brad’s.)

“I haven’t said anything yet!” Hasegawa protested, alarmed at the cage he was now in. 

“Tell me, Hasagawa-san,” Brad said, twisting the gun and making the man wince again at the bruising pain.  “Why would anyone be able to force you to make such an animal?”

Hasegawa paled. “I-I just….”  He failed further speech.  Something inside just gave up. 

“Oh, that’s nasty,” Schuldig murmured in his ear, a little too intimately.  “Someone should fix that.” 

“No,” Brad said, backing off the gun now.  “We’re the good guys, remember,” he said with a flash of sarcasm.  “He’ll be needed for the trial.” 

“But I wanted to feed his brains to the fish,” Schuldig pouted. 

“Poor fish!” Yuuji said. “You got someone to care for these animals while you’re in jail?” he asked Hasegawa coldly.

“I-I c-could call my sister.  S-she doesn’t know about this,” a pleading tone entered his voice now.  “She’s nothing to do with this. Please, I’ll tell you anything, just…I just had no choice.”

“Shut up,” Schuldig ordered.  “And save it for the police.”  

“I’m never eating KFC again,” Nagi stated, still staring at the chickens.

 

An hour or so later, they watched as police officers put Hasegawa in the back of a police car, his grim faced older sister standing there with her arms crossed, watching him go as if she’d been expecting this day. 

“So how does this work?” Yuuji asked the police detective.  “Can a telepath’s word stand up in court?”

“No need.  After he comes up with a way to exterminate the little bastards, we’ll have a trial and he’ll be executed,”  Kabane sucked the flame into the tip of his cigarillo and put his lighter away, exhaling a cloud of fragrant smoke. 

Brad snorted a little, looking at him.  “That’s a bit perfunctory.”

Kabane’s one dark brown eye regarded him.  “It works for here.  Shinjuku is a microcosm, like one of those ridiculous biosphere projects you hear about.  We don’t have the supplies or inclination to support people who are more problem than solution.”

“What I don’t understand is why everyone doesn’t just pack up and walk out?” Yuuji asked in curiosity. 

“Why should we?” Kabane asked, bluntly.  “People who stay here have reasons to.  This is a city like any other out there, maybe a little more libertarian, and granted a little more negligent of physics,  but you can’t get too much more ‘interesting’.”

“Interesting,” Brad said, looking around.  The place looked so normal.  A street on any back side of a main street.  So deceptively normal.   “Which reminds me.  I want a word with you about one of my people.”

  *     *     *

Brad had insisted on leaving Aya (too crazy with the sword) and Tot (wanted every fluffy animal she saw) at the hotel, so Yuuji had expected Aya to be there when he got back.  Instead he found a scrawled note on the small dresser.  Aya had, as usual, gone to see his sister. He freshened up with a splash of water and a towel wipe to his face and went to ruin other people’s ‘alone time’. 

Nagi opened the door.  “Bad penny,” he announced, then turned and walked away with all the unconcern of someone who know he could squash an attacker with a flick of his mind.

“You know, I outrank you,” Yuuji said, just for the sake of argument.

“Too bad all your orders are posthumous,” the kid went back to his late lunch or early supper.   

“What do you want?” Schuldig grouched, holding a take out container a little more possessively close to his chin. 

Yuuji plunked his skinny butt down on the sofa beside Brad, making himself at home. “Aya’s off to the sister again,” he sighed.  “I thought I’d socialize with my own kind after such a god awful week.  Can you manage to keep us out of trouble for the rest of the week?” he asked Brad.  “Clever, the foot thing,” he noticed that under the coffee table, one of Brad’s stocking feet covered the German’s. 

“It works,” Brad said, pinching up another mouthful of saucy noodles from his own container with the take out chopsticks.  “Real food,” he commented over it, licking his lips. “How I missed it.” 

 Yuuji noticed a set of unopened cartons, paper wrapped chop sticks across the top of them. “You used your talent?” he reached for one.

“I strongly suspected.  Plus, Tot said your bum boy took off rather than play Uno with her and Rabbi-chan.  I don’t know whether that was a mark of sanity on his part, or not. Brain dead sister vrs mad tea party. Difficult to determine.” He frowned slightly, then stuffed another piece of sukiyaki beef into his mouth.

“Will you stop calling the poor guy mean names?” Yuuji asked sincerely. 

“Yes, because I just love seeing how jealous you are on a daily basis,” Schuldig added sarcastically. 

Brad grinned at him and wiggled his foot on top of the equally jealous red head’s.   

“Gross,” Nagi commented.  “I vote we hide out here and don’t go anywhere until the doctor says Brad is okay to go.”

“Seconded,” Schuldig said intent on inhaling his fried rice.  “We have done our part, Karma adjusted, time to get back to being evil.”

“Speaking of,” Yuuji tasted his orange chicken and approved of it, trying not to think about what sort of chicken it might have been. 

Brad slouched and stuck his chop sticks into his noodles, taking a break from eating.  “What do we do?  The Three are gone, the Council has probably killed off half of itself by now, and I have no idea of what to do about anything until we walk out of this freak bubble.”

“Too young to retire,” Yuuji said. 

“I don’t want to retire,” Nagi said just short of protest. “I want to kick ass and take names.  I have my whole young adulthood in front of me! I want action and adventure, I want ill gotten off shore bank accounts, I want politicians shitting themselves in fear of my phone call,” he paused to dip an eggroll in some ridiculously red sauce and bit in to it and continued after a few chews.  “I want something to bitch and moan about when I’m you guys’ age.  I don’t want to be just another ex-child-prodigy’ with a receding hairline and pot belly by the time I’m twenty five, and I don’t want my life’s bench mark to be based on how many morons use a social media platform I stole from college room mates or some crap like that.  What the hell have I been training for if you take that away from me?”

“My guess is being the next Dali Lama is also out of the question,” Yuuji commented. 

Nagi chewed thoughtfully, eyes focused on the distance.  “Pope maybe.  Imagine all the stuff they have in that basement.  I want to break into the Vatican and strip it.”

“Wait a year or two and you can go to the yard sale,” Brad said.

Schuldig laughed, a hand over his mouth to stop food escaping, then kicked him under the table. 

“Stop it,” Brad warned, kicking back. “The catholic church will be lucky if the World Court lets them keep anything they have left after they pay off the lawsuits.”

“Yeah, if that’s going to happen, I’d have be elevated or what ever by next Tuesday.  I know!” Nagi turned to look at Brad in complete seriousness. “Lets invade Antarctica.  Take it over, melt it down, flood the world and piss everybody off by turning it into a paradise or something.”

“And winter would come and you’d be right back where you started.  Hot water pipes under the streets are not going to work down there like they do in Hokkaido,” Brad said crushingly.

“Well, just remember, only millionaires can go to ski resorts now,” Nagi said sullenly.  “And I’ll blow up that caldera under the competition so they’ll be out of business permanently.  I’ll be disgustingly rich by the time the glaciers start flowing again.  Nice and cozy in my Secret Antarctican Base, TM.”  He narrowed his eyes in mock evil.

“You hate snow, remember?” Schuldig said.  

“That’s what glass domes and hot tubs are for, asshole; don’t shit on my dream,” Nagi said primly.   

“Mouth, Naoe,” Brad warned.  “And how can it be secret if you’ve been pimping it as an elite ski destination?” he grabbed a bottle of green tea off the table and poured himself another paper cup full. 

Nagi shrugged and stirred his noodles to get the sauce back up on them from the bottom of the carton.  “People have skiing accidents all the time.  They’ll be paying in advance, no problem. Anyway, they won’t remember a thing after my elite brain washing labs reprogram them to serve my evil agenda.”

Brad kicked Schuldig again. “I told you, no more Austin Powers movies!”

“Why are you blaming me!” Schuldig protested.   

“That I can say honestly has been done before,” Yuuji stated.  “One ski accident, boom, she’s out of orbit,” he added in a mutter.

“I thought she cracked her pelvis, not her skull,” Schuldig said. “Go figure.” 

Brad made a face.  “Politics.  Maybe Nagi’s right.  Maybe we should aim for the insane.”

“World domination” Yuuji perked up.

“Down, Himmler,” Brad eyed him coldly.  “I don’t know.  Something,” he sighed, tucking into his food again. 

“You would think after plotting all this time, you would have had something planned for afterward,” Yuuji said.

“I promised you Japan,” Brad remembered. “Here it is.” He waved his plastic cup around in a circle.

“You always were a cheap date,” Yuuji groused.

“Break it up,” Schuldig warned, seeing the too warm and cozy look they gave each other.  “You never promised me a country, what do I get for all my hard work?”

“Your homeland is broke, trust me, you don’t want it any more,” Yuuji told him. 

“Shut up, you.  Well?” he asked Brad.

“You don’t need anything more than to be by my side,” Brad said calmly. 

Hyurk!” Nagi mimed sticking a finger down his throat. 

Yuuji couldn’t help laughing and nearly lost his take out carton on the floor.  Schuldig started pounding Nagi with a sofa cushion, while Tot who had been quiet and lady like up until now, armed herself in her man’s honor with another sofa cushion. Nagi’s laughter was innocently genuine as he did not use his talent, being too busy protecting his food. 

Yuuji had to call for armistice when he realized with surprise that his phone was ringing.  He stood up, fished it out of his back pocket and looked at it, then opened it.  “Aya, what’s up?”

“My sister—she’s awake,” Aya said. 

Yuuji felt a chill go up his back.  “Is she—okay?”

“Seems to be,” Aya didn’t exactly sound thrilled.  “They’re running head tests on her now.  I—um—can you come over here?”

“Sure,” Yuuji heard himself say.  “I’ll be right there.  Where are you?”

“I’m in the lobby. I—don’t want to step outside,” Aya hesitated.  “I’m afraid—I won’t be able to come back in.”

“Stay put, then,” Yuuji thought he knew what the guy meant.  He shut the call off and put the phone back.  “The girl’s awake,” he told them. 

“Your bed, you made it,” was Brad’s comment.

“Yes,” Yuuji said. “Thanks for the meal.”  A lot of him didn’t want to go.  But he’d made a promise.  There was a lot of Aya that didn’t make sense, but something about the guy made him think he’d found a decent enough partner.  Once the sister thing was out of the way.  “I’ll check back later.”

 

This ends this arc.