Genre: slash, PG-13
Pairing: Schuldig/Crawford, Schuldig/Nagi
Summary: Working for Nagi’s organization presents challenges for Schuldig in his current condition.
Comments: A sequel to “House on Fire.” Spoilers for “Mission 22: Miteid -- Final Reconciliation.”
I saw the floor rising up to meet me-- no, I was falling toward it. Although everything seemed to move in slow motion I couldn’t command my legs or sense of balance to recover and couldn’t even tuck myself so I’d roll, at best I could do the instinctive thing of putting my hands out first so my face didn’t hit. I usually got these drop attacks maybe once every few months, but this one decided to hit while I was in a firefight with that last security guard.
With the speed I’d been running at factored in, I hit the floor so hard that I nearly bounced, the impact rang through my entire body, and my neck whiplashed somewhat. Pain in my hands, pain in my scraped knees, massive pain in my head and neck. My hand had let go of my gun, saving my fingers from worse damage, and I had to find it. I also had to get up and move because I currently presented a huge, inviting target to the guy trying to kill me. Where did my gun go?
B pointed at it for me. Not literally, not when he didn’t have hands or arms (or any body, heh) anymore, but I felt him directing my eyes in the right direction. I’d have to jump for it, have to move. I have to move, move....
I somehow pulled together enough strength in my legs to push myself in that direction to pounce onto my gun and dodge incoming bullets. That area didn’t provide much cover, but my initial flop had drawn the security guard out of his cover to shoot the massive target I had become, so now I shot him in the head.
I’d live to flop another day, unlike him. Despite all the ways my former organization had surgically fucked my brain and talent up, I still survived, and every day of it spat in their faces.
Though I missed how much more deaths had felt like at my original power level.
My telepathy didn’t detect anyone else left in the warehouse, and I still had to get up and out to blow the place up. The kid’s organization might not have asked for it to get exploded at an exact time, but they did want it done tonight.
I just had to get up off the floor and walk out. Get up. It felt like the power had been cut off from my body, especially my legs, and the fabric of my pants dragged painfully across the open scrapes on my knees. My body still rang with pain and shock from the impact.
Get up. Get up. C’mon! Nothing.
Get up, get up, get up, GET UP!
I pushed and pulled myself upright mostly with my arms, using a nearby shelving unit for help. Once I was on my feet again, I took a deep breath and tried to feel into the ground beneath my feet to “anchor” and connect myself. Got it.
I ran out of the building at a lower speed than I’d been using before in case my balance and legs failed again but made it out and to my car with no further trouble. Fortunately, I could drive easier than I could run. Once I’d gotten a block and a half away, I detonated my bomb. The boom was much bigger than I’d expected.
-Either you screwed up...-
...or the warehouse’s contents were much more flammable than I’d anticipated when I put my explosive together. B, it’s the second one. It’s not bigger enough to destroy anything important nearby. And I do love a big bang. Fire pretty.
At the next red light I called in: “It’s Chimera. The job is done.” It didn’t feel as natural using a cell phone, but I had to be mindful of the non-psychics in the organization. I wouldn’t have even done this job this way if not for them. The things I put up with for the sake of that kid. I’d send a more detailed report tomorrow, not over the phone.
I maintained enough energy to drive home, but that ended once my car halted in a spot at my building’s parking garage. With the threat to my life and my need to run finished, all my remaining strength whooshed out of me like helium leaving a deflating balloon, leaving me limp in my seat, lightheaded, and breathing hard, unable to open the door and leave the car. My head felt thick and heavy, and made me want to sleep. Momentum, adrenaline, and the will to survive and do the job had let me push myself forward for a while, but now my body knew I had nothing left to trick it with and nowhere I needed to go, my raw knees sticking to the fabric of my pants could wait, and no one would see me in my time of weakness here or know.
...except for Na-- the (former) kid, my boss, getting out of the elevator and walking to my car. It gave me a small jolt, enough to make me look less like a used dish rag, but I’d thrown myself too far and for too long tonight to get anything more.
-Good. His presence will save me from commanding you to get up. If I overuse that, it’ll lose its power.-
You’re all heart, B.
I made sure not to read the kid’s mind, not when he thought of himself, me, and our old organization by names that would literally give me pain if I heard them. If his experts really could deprogram that out of me someday, I’d be so thankful.
-I’d like to hear you address me by my name instead of a letter.-
Yeah, and I’d like to be able to use my own again, but it’s not like we can re-establish formality between us now that you’ve been living inside my brain for years. That ship has sailed.
When N stood next to my car, I put my window down and said, “I’m sure you don’t provide this kind of concierge service to all of your minions.”
“I know that if you report to one of those minions instead of me you’ll leave out some important details I want.”
“You know why, so can you really blame me?”
“No, though it seems to be worse than I expected.” He gave me an expectant look.
Right, he wanted me to get out of the car so he could debrief me inside my apartment. Fuck. That small jolt would have to do. I got out and stood on legs that felt like overcooked pasta, though the pain in my knees did make me feel a bit more grounded. As usual, I put up my best front. Unfortunately, the super sharp kid had to notice the sway and waver in my walk since he’d already picked up on several subtle tells of my condition that even some neurologists had missed, but he said nothing about it for now.
Though he did say, “You have a hole in the right knee of your pants. Looks messy in there too.”
“If our work was easy, everyone could do it.” I leaned against a wall in the elevator all the way up. Most people would mistake it for casual lounging, but the look in N’s eyes told me he knew better. Damn it.
Inside my apartment, I said, “Make yourself at home. Do you want to debrief me before or after I give my knees some first aid? Though if you do it before, I’ll be distracted.”
“Always have been.”
“You can clean up your knees first.”
“Thank you, my lord and master.”
N answered that with an obscene hand gesture I pretended not to see as I walked to the bathroom. He’d picked some things up from me over the years.
Shit. The fabric was stuck in some of the scrapes. I pulled it free quickly and swallowed down the yelp that nearly came out of my mouth. Some people thought chronic pain would make it easier for the sufferer to handle other additional pain, but it sure as hell didn’t work that way for me. Sometimes it seemed to make me more sensitive.
Great. I had fabric fibers stuck in the scrapes. I gritted my teeth as I ran cool water over them to flush them out. Still, I could’ve banged myself up much worse than this, so I decided to count myself lucky. I hadn’t even skinned my hands.
-Mellowing in your old age?-
After I bandaged my knees--which always sucked from how the bendiness made it difficult to keep bandages on--and taking a painkiller, I put on a pair of shorts so I wouldn’t have fabric putting pressure on them or offend N’s delicate sensibilities. I found him seated at my kitchen table having a glass of iced tea, which gave me a memory echo--younger N in one of his schoolboy uniforms having a drink at a kitchen table--that sent a streak of pain across my head. In many ways it had been easier for me to stay away from people and places I’d known.
Also, it felt so weird to be back in Tokyo but with diminished telepathy: I couldn’t speak, understand, or read Japanese as quickly or easily this way, which frustrated me.
“Sit down. You look like you’re going to fall over.” N managed to sound annoyed at my stupidity and concerned at the same time. “I poured a drink for you too.”
I sat then drank slowly, making the minutes stretch. I wouldn’t prompt him to start interrogating me. I’d learned some patience over the years.
Finally he broke the silence with a “Seriously?”
“It’s up to you. I’d be fine with having a quiet, contemplative, mutual sit-down.”
“We all grow up sometime. Look at you in your tailored business suits.”
He’d been a pretty but still gawky teen. These days, fully grown, he was a very pretty adult and dressed well and expensively to complement it, with everything bespoke.
“Speaking of business, you didn’t have to take tonight’s job. I promised I’d help you without it.”
“I know, but most of your people don’t like or trust me. The ones who did great work and/or brown-nosed their way into getting close to you are annoyed that I cut in line ahead of them with no effort. The ones who want to take your position from you--always a danger when one heads up an organization made of thieves, saboteurs, and killers--are looking to see if I’m a weak spot of yours that they can manipulate, either against you personally or by using me to make others see you as weak. Your loyalists are also looking at me as a potential weak spot, partly because of the above and partly because they want to make sure I won’t manipulate their precious leader. I’m a major disruption of the pecking order.”
“People are idiots.”
“I’m not disputing that. So I’m doing work to show that I’m useful and a team player, so I won’t undercut your position or cause problems for you. Besides, I have no idea how my body will react while your doctors are experimenting with new medications for me, so it’s better I get jobs done now when my condition is semi-predictable.” I didn’t look forward to new meds. Too many medications had to be taken steadily for a few months before they started to work, if they worked for me. In the meantime I might be experiencing side effects like pins and needles, depression, massive anxiety, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, etc., which, unlike potential benefits, always started immediately for me. “And if I do start feeling suicidal, I’ll call you.”
“I thought you mostly avoided reading my mind these days.”
“I didn’t have to read your mind on that one when I could just read your face.”
N looked sad and sounded wry and somewhat gruff as he asked, “So you’re doing all this for me?”
“I get that, but if you got yourself killed trying to impress my minions ‘for my sake’ I’d be pissed off.”
Like he could do anything to me after I died. Still, “I have no intention of dying.”
“You’ve always been reckless. Cr-- Our former leader may have been fine with sending you out in bad condition and nearly getting yourself killed because of it--”
-Hey, now! Circumstances were different. Our own organization would’ve killed us otherwise.-
Maybe he was still bitter about the whole Tot thing. You did slap him and get his girl murdered.
-For his own good!-
“--but I’m not. It’s not necessary.”
“B just strongly protested that, of course.”
N got that look on his face that he always did when I mentioned B, and I was pretty sure that it’s because he wants to believe that B was just a copy my telepathy made as B died, not the actual B. N had just enough of a Christian upbringing to give him weird thoughts about souls and the afterlife. I couldn’t be sure because I didn’t dare read him these days, but I knew him.
I also knew that sometimes he wondered if I just deluded myself: poor telepath who couldn’t handle the violent death and absence of his most long-term mindlink and companion who then pretended to himself that he still had a piece of that companion with him. I couldn’t even blame him for thinking that.
-I’d prefer to have my own body.-
I’d prefer that too.
“Just give me your report on your job tonight, and don’t leave anything out. I’ll know if you do.”
“Does this mean I still have to submit a report tomorrow?”
“You won’t have to.”
“Good.” Get it over with.
“So, you put your explosive together yourself.”
“Considering how many people in your organization hate or distrust me, I’d have to be suicidal to let one of them do it for me.”
“From what I heard, it caused a little more bang than we asked for.”
“Nobody could tell me for sure everything that warehouse had stored in it. I suspect that something in there gave me a bigger boom.”
“Gotcha. Number of people you retired?”
“Five: Yamagata, two of his gang members, and two security guards. Oh, right. I have three zip drives in the inside pocket of my coat for you. Yamagata thought they held some really important data, so I took them. Maybe there’s something on them you can use. If there are any viruses or Trojans or whatever on them, I’m sure you can defang them.”
“Of course. Did your physical problems manifest during the mission?”
Shit, but I knew this would come. “Manifest?”
“You know exactly what I mean, and tell me the truth. Besides, your neurologist needs to know.”
“You and my neurologist have long, deep, heart to heart talks about me? What about doctor-patient privilege?”
“My doctor, my privilege. Also, I need to help protect you if you won’t protect yourself. I know it hurts your pride but suck it up.”
Like it didn’t already hurt when I saw pity in his eyes. (I’d prefer him to be angry on my behalf.) But I knew he’d hound me on this, so I might as well spare
myself the trouble. “A bit of dizziness, a bit of fatigue.”
“Why does there have to be an ‘and’?”
“Because I can tell. And your knees are a mess.”
“Fine. I had one drop attack and hit the floor. That only happens once every few months. Last time was five months ago. I didn’t even scrape my hands this time. My fall actually made the last security guard confident enough to get out into the open where I could shoot him easier.”
“You’ve told my doctors that stress makes your condition worse.”
So much for doctor-patient privilege. “I’ll have to be more careful about what I share with my doctors. And I’m not that much of a delicate flower. I can work. I have been working.” I’m still useful.
-He’s not saying you aren’t.-
“I don’t want you to stop confiding in the doctors! And you did work but on your own schedule and self-analysis, not at the whim of people in my organization who don’t like you. You were playing it smart when you were working on your own. Keep playing it smart now that you’re with me.”
“I get suspicious when you compliment me, kid.”
“Dummkopf.” But he sounded somewhat fond.
“When you say it like that, it sounds like ‘I love you.’”
Obviously a bit uncomfortable, he answered, “Your flirting might mean more to me if I didn’t know you flirt with half of my people in psi R&D too. They like you.”
N had picked up enough psychic operatives over the years that he’d created a division to look into ways of improving those operatives’ powers and lives. Sensible of him, and completely unlike our former organization.
“Only the ones with attractive minds.”
“I gotta be me. But I probably won’t actually sleep with any of them because I’m certain they’d enter anything they found out during it into my file and if I slept with more than one of them they’d compare notes. That’s just too weird.”
“That’s too weird?”
“I have to have standards!”
After N set his empty glass in my sink, he walked over to me and gently set his right hand against the left side of my face, N who avoided touching people as much as possible. His hand felt warm and soft, and that contact focused me completely on him.
“More seriously, I just got you back, so you better take good care of yourself. You don’t have to impress anyone but me. Anyone who messes with you can go straight to hell, and you’re welcome to tell them I said so. Don’t worry about what people will think of me; they should worry about what I think of them over this.” Then he took his hand away, since he still had to be N.
Damn, he was hot.
Stop pouting, B.
-He’s using his concern for you as a weapon to manipulate you.-
To manipulate me into taking care of myself, and you were the one who pressed me to take his offer and come to Tokyo with him!
-Still. Be aware.-
Of course. And in doing this he just proves that he takes after both of us.
I could live with it. Besides, I was living for two these days. “I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks.”