WK-TBD-01-ffn.txt Last revised: 08/06/01 (v1)

This is a massive rewrite of my first WK fic, previously titled "Competing Realities".  Many thanks to all the encouragement and helpful comments about that fic.  Hopefully this will be a significant improvement over that draft.  ^_^;  

I'm still trying to get familiar with the WK fandom so any C&C greatly appreciated!   It's still just a rough draft, so please excuse the typos or other stupid mistakes.  sweatdrop

Also, please check out my new Weiß Kreuz page at:

   www.madamhydra.net/WK.html

SUMMARY:  What if Weiss were the bad guys and Schwartz were the... errr, the 'not-so-bad' guys?  

NOTE:  This is one seriously twisted AU fic, so be prepared to have everything you know about the series and the characters to be ruthlessly folded, spindled, mangled, or otherwise turned upside down and inside out.

Title: Der Schwarze Traum (The Black Dream)
Author: Madamhydra
Email: madamhydra@aol.com
Status:  WIP (work-in-progress)
Archive:  www.madamhydra.net/WK.html
Type: Alternate Universe, Romance (yaoi), Angst
Rating: R (for now)
Spoilers:  episodes 1-24
Pairings:  Schwartz x Weiss, Schuldig x Aya, Brad x Yohji, Farfarello x Ken, Nagi + Omi

********** WARNINGS ********* WARNINGS ********* WARNINGS **********

   Violence
   Obscene language
   Mature themes (references to torture and rape, etc.)
   YAOI (male/male relationships)
  LIME (implied sexual content)

********** WARNINGS ********* WARNINGS ********* WARNINGS **********

Disclaimer: (Full Disclaimers at the end) Weiß Kreuz is the copyright and property of its creator and legally associated parties.  Used without permission.  Not for profit.

Credit 1:  Much of the inspiration and ideas for this fic comes from Jean D's terrific AU Weiss Kreuz fic "Dysfunctional", which gave me a definite taste for Weiss x Schwartz fics.  ^_^  

Credit 2: Thanks to my friend Amy-chan's fault, who keeps egging me on, no matter how crazy, demented, and perverted my fic ideas get.  snigger  Also, many thanks to Sakka-chan, for all the encouragement.

   (...) represents mental and/or subconscious dialogue

======================================================================
   Der Schwarze Traum (The Black Dream)
       A Weiß Kreuz ALTERNATE-REALITY fic by Madamhydra
======================================================================
   Part 1
======================================================================

   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
   I got no means to show identification
   I got no papers show you what I am
   You'll have to take me just the way that you find me
   What's gone is gone and I do not give a damn
       
       *  *  *

   I don't remember, I don't recall
   I've got no memory of anything at all
   I don't remember, I don't recall
   I've got no memory of anything
   Anything at all

       -- "I Don't Remember" -- by Peter Gabriel
   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

======================================================================

   How do you define reality?  

       By the memories of an individual,
           or by the memories of many?

   How do you define identity?

       By what you know about yourself,
           or by what people know of you?

   Who do you believe?

       Yourself, or those around you?

   Who do you trust?

       Those around you, or yourself?

   Who are your friends?  

       Who are your enemies?

======================================================================

   He awoke in pain.  That wasn't too unusual, pain being an occupational hazard for a person in his line of work.  However, this pain was different.  It was a strange, pervasive, bone-deep ache all over his body.  Even his brain felt bruised and battered.  

   For several minutes he just lay there on the soft bed, staring blankly up at the ceiling.  It took that long for his sluggish mind to notice several disturbing facts.  

   First, he didn't recognize the ceiling at all.  Second, he wasn't alone in bed.  Third, this unknown bedmate was snuggled right up against him and even had an arm thrown over his waist in a decidedly possessive fashion.  Fourth, he was completely naked under the sheets.

   Even as he clawed his way back to alertness, the person beside him began to stir and he caught the faint scent of cigarette smoke.

   (Yohji?  What the hell does that idiot think he's doing...?)

   It took him two tries to lift his head a few inches off the pillow so he could get a look at his unwanted companion.  But to his utter shock, the person lying so close beside him didn't have the expected blond hair.

   It was red.  And he knew of only one person with that particular shade of orangish red hair.

   Even as a wave of fury, revulsion, and disbelief roared his mind, Schuldig opened his eyes.  For a frozen instant, he and the Schwartz telepath stared at each other, their noses almost touching.

   Schuldig opened his mouth to say something, but he moved first, flinging the other man's arm off his waist while simultaneously driving his elbow as hard as he could into the redhead's side. Amazingly, the maneuver caught the telepath off-guard, sending him toppling off the bed with a startled yelp.  On the way down, Schuldig's head hit the bedside table with a rather satisfying thud.  

   With a surge of effort, he dragged his body into a sitting position, then paid for the effort by nearly passing out as the room spun sickeningly.  Fighting down his nausea, he hauled himself to the edge of the bed and peered down at the semi-unconscious man on the floor.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the Schwartz bastard was only momentarily stunned.  He gritted his teeth and instinctively looked for something suitably lethal so he could finish the job.

   (I don't know what the hell's going on, but I'm in no shape to run, and I don't think I could fight off a sick kitten, much less Schuldig in my present condition....)

   He grabbed for the bedside lamp, and gasped as every muscle in his body protested at the sudden movement.  

   (What's wrong with me?  Come on, get moving, damn it!) he swore furiously at himself.

   But before he could force his reluctant limbs into motion, the bedroom door slammed open.

   "Going somewhere, Aya?" Crawford said, raising an eyebrow.

   (Shit.)

--------------------------------------------

   Instead of bashing Schuldig over the head with the lamp, Aya opted to fling it at Crawford's head.  To no one's surprise, it failed to hit its intended target.  

   "Nagi, hold him," the American ordered crisply as he stepped forward to check on Schuldig's condition.

   "Is he delirious?" the teenager said with a somewhat concerned frown as Aya began to struggle fiercely against his firm mental grip.

   "I don't think so.  I believe it's something worse.  Much worse," Crawford replied grimly as he examined the bloody corner of the bedstand and the corresponding wound on Schuldig's head.

   "....ugh...," the redhead muttered as he slowly sat up, clutching the back of his skull.  "....owwww...."

   "Let me go!" Aya demanded furiously.

   "What on earth's wrong with you?" Nagi demanded, taken aback by the searing look of anger and hostility on Aya's face.  "Calm down. We're only trying to help."

   Aya's only response to this expression of concern was a scorching string of obscenities.

   Crawford's frown deepened as he listened to the angry tirade.  Turning to the telepath, he started to say, "Can you tell what's wrong with...."  But his question came to an halt when he saw Schuldig's expression.

   Nagi had seen many emotions on the German's face, but the teenager had never seen Schuldig look so obviously upset.  At first, jade green eyes narrowed as the telepath tried to make sense of the chaos in Aya's mind, but as the seconds ticked by, the look of concentration was slowly replaced by slowly dawning fury and a sort of sick horror.

   After a moment, Crawford reached out to grasp Schuldig's shoulder, providing an anchor to keep the telepath from losing himself in Aya's thoughts.

   Aya glared back at the other redhead and hissed furiously, "Stay the hell out of my mind!"
   
   "Schuldig...."

   But the German ignored Crawford's voice.  Instead, he slowly lifted himself off the floor and onto the bed.  He sat down close to, but not touching Aya, who had to settle for a hostile glare because Nagi's telekinetic grip precluded any other movement.

   "Those fucking Kritiker mind-butchers...," Schuldig said in a chilling whisper.

   "What's wrong with him?" Nagi asked with an uncharacteristic tone of impatience.

   "What's wrong?  They've fucking screwed his brain to hell and back.  THAT's what's wrong," the telepath retorted tersely.

   "Care to be a bit more specific?" Crawford coolly demanded.

   Schuldig impatiently raked his hair away from his face and snapped, "As far as I can tell, they've majorly screwed up his memory."  He gritted his teeth.  "We didn't get him out of Kritiker's hands soon enough.   Shit!  I should've checked him out as soon as we got him back here."

   "Don't blame yourself.  You were absolutely exhausted and he was very heavily drugged at the time," Crawford said with a shrug.

   "You mean that he doesn't remember us?" Nagi said in dismay.

   The German burst into harsh laughter.  "Oh, he remembers us, all right.  He remembers that Schwartz and the Takatoris are his worst enemies!"

   "He what!?"  Nagi's eyes widened in disbelief.

   Aya's lips were set in a thin line as he subsided into a cold, hostile silence.

   "Oh, it gets even better.  He thinks that he's still working for Persia and Kritiker, and that THEY'RE the good guys!"

   "How did they manage that, considering what happened to his parents and his sister?" the teenager demanded.

   Schuldig gave the other Schwartz members a twisted grin.  

   "He knows that a Takatori was responsible for the death of his parents and his sister's coma, all right, the only problem being that he's blaming the wrong Takatori.  He's convinced that *Reiji* was the one who gave the orders, instead of his brother Shuiichi."

   "Now wait a moment.  He knows that it was really Persia who was responsible.  That's one of the main reasons why he turned against Kritiker," Nagi protested.   

   "Well, he doesn't know it NOW," Schuldig said pointedly, looking like he wanted to hurt someone very badly.  

   "That's SO twisted," the teenager said with a sigh.

   "Ah, but that's the sheer beauty of it." Schuldig said, a bitter grin on his face. "Alter a few facts just the right way, and voila, the bad guys are now the good guys, and vice versa.  And in this case, it would have been almost ridiculously easy.  After all, only six months ago, Aya was absolutely convinced that Reiji Takatori was his mortal enemy."

   "Terrific.  Are we back to THAT again?" Nagi said.

   "That's right.  And since we work for Takatori, that makes Schwartz nothing more than evil, lying, murderous scum that needs to be exterminated."  

   Not that Nagi needed Schuldig to explain how Aya felt about them.  The ex-Weiss assassin was practically glowing with frustration and anger.  The teenager glanced back at the telepath, wondering how to make the suggestion.

   (Schu... isn't there any way you can reach him?  Remind him of what's happened over the last several months?)
   
  (Jeez, how naive can you be?  How would YOU react if you woke up in a strange place, surrounded by your worst enemies, and they tried to convince you that you've been playing snugglebunnies with one of them for nearly half a year, huh!?)

   (Oh.)

   (Glad you see the problem!) Schuldig snarled back. (Get it through your head, Nagi.  This Aya hates our guts and has no reason to trust us.  Do you seriously think he's going to believe a damn thing we try to tell him?)

   One look at Aya made it clear that Schuldig had not been exaggerating.  His burning violet stare promised serious mayhem the instant he got free.  But Nagi abruptly realized that there was something very wrong with this entire picture.  A furious, *captive* Aya...?

   (Wait a moment.  Schu, if he thinks we're the enemy, why hasn't he....)

   (....teleported the hell out of here?  Because he doesn't remember that he can.)

   "He doesn't remember THAT?" the startled teenager blurted aloud.  "But...!"

   (When Kritiker tampered with his memory, they apparently blocked out any knowledge of being able to do that.  He remembers nothing about being able to teleport.  Zip.  Zilch.  Not a trace.)

   (But why would they do something like that?)

   (Hell if I know what those Kritiker bastards are up to,) Schuldig retorted impatiently.

   (Then we'd better not give Aya any ideas,) Crawford said calmly, slipped into the mental conversation.  He then glanced over at Nagi.  (Have you decoded any of that data we brought back from the lab?)

   (Not yet.  I'm still working on it.)

   (Get back to it as soon as you can.  It might give us a better idea what we're up against.)

   (That data could be totally unrelated to what they did to Aya.)

   (I'm quite aware of that.  However, we won't know one way or another until you decode it.)

   Nagi nodded in acknowledgement.

   Crawford turned his attention back to their unhappy prisoner.  "But in the meantime, we still have to take care of you, Aya."

--------------------------------------------

   Aya watched warily as the three members of Schwartz focused their attention back on him.  He knew what the extended silence and exchanges of glances between them meant -- they'd been having a protracted telepathic discussion about him.
   
   But before anyone could speak, a gut-wrenching stomach cramp doubled him over and the dull throbbing headache became a blazing spear of agony in his skull.  Sweat poured down his body, and yet he felt cold, so cold that it burned.
   
   "Wha... what are you... doing to... me!" he managed to choke out between the waves of searing pain consuming him.

   "Hurts... it hurts...!"

---------------------

   As Schuldig froze, Nagi flicked an alarmed glance at Crawford.  If the pain was bad enough to force a near whimper out of Aya, of all people....

   In a grim voice, the American answered the teenager's unspoken question.

   "I was afraid of this.  He's going into withdrawal from all the drugs they used to break down his resistance for the brainwashing procedure."

   "Isn't there anything we can do?" Nagi said, wincing slightly as another muffled groan escaped Aya's throat.  At this point, the ex-Weiss assassin had wrapped his arms around himself and was rocking back and forth, clearly in too much pain to pay any attention to what they were saying.  He also didn't see Crawford quickly grab Schuldig's wrist as the telepath started to reach out toward him.  

   "Can't we do something about the pain?  Perhaps knock him out?" (Schuldig?)

   (I can't risk it doing it directly, Nagi, not with his mind in this fucked up state.  I could really hurt him if I'm not careful,) the telepath replied, concern evident in both his expression and his thoughts.

   (We can't risk giving him any drugs, either.  Not until we have a better idea what's already floating around in his system,) Crawford added.

   (I know.  I know!) the telepath snapped at them.

   "Having... fun... you... bastards...?" Aya gasped hoarsely. "I won't... won't... give you... the... satisfaction... of hearing... me... scream...."  

   Watching his lover bite his lip and draw blood in a futile attempt to stifle another moan was the last straw for Schuldig.  Ignoring the pain pouring from Aya's mind, he wrapped his arms around the feebly struggling redhead.  Pressing his forehead against the back of Aya's neck, Schuldig plunged recklessly into the other's mind.

   (Dammit, Aya!  We're only trying to help you!)

   (Get the fuck out of my mind, Schuldig!  No matter what you do to me, I won't let you turn me against my friends!  I won't betray Weiss!)

   (Fuck it!  I'm not asking you to betray Yohji, Bombay, or Siberian!  Don't you get it!?  Schwartz isn't your enemy!  *I'M* not your enemy!  Kritiker and Persia have been manipulating and using you for years!  You fought your way free of their lies once before.  You can do it again!)

   (You're the one who's lying!  YOU!!!) Aya retorted wildly.

   (No, THIS is the truth!)

   Aya's eyes went wide and glassy as Schuldig threw the memories of the past six months at him....

   ....the discovery of who was truly responsible for the tragic fate of Aya's family... fighting to overcome years of conditioning and indoctrination by Kritiker... the struggle to find a way to free Yohji and the other members of Weiss from Persia's control... and the discovery of something totally unexpected, but infinitely precious....

   (... no... no... NO!!!!)

   Schuldig wanted to push harder, but was afraid that any more mental pressure could shatter his lover's already traumatized mind.  In the end, all he could to was back off and hope that his thoughts could somehow reach through the haze of lies Kritiker had implanted in Aya's brain.

   (Please, try to remember... Ran.)

   Aya's mind froze for an instant as Schuldig's softly voiced plea touched something deep inside him.  The words seemed to resonate within his innermost soul, stirring emotions that refused to be denied and memories that could not be silenced.

   Aya shuddered, not from physical pain, but from a wild mixture of shock, disbelief, and disgust.

   "Stop it!  It's not true!  It can't be true!  It CAN'T!!!"

   Unable to deal with the conflicting emotions and the physical pain, Aya took the only escape he had and fled into oblivion.

--------------------------------------------

   The other members of Schwartz watched as Schuldig cradled Aya's unconscious body against his chest.  However, Crawford's eyes narrowed dangerously as he observed the disturbing little smile on the telepath's lips.

   Eyebrows twitching slightly, the American stepped forward and briskly slapped Schuldig across the face twice.  The other man gasped, momentarily loosening his grip on Aya.  Crawford promptly yanked the disoriented telepath off the bed and thrust him in Nagi's direction.

   "Get him out of here," he snapped as he leaned over to check Aya's pulse.

   When the still dazed Schuldig mumbled an incoherent protest, Crawford responded with uncharacteristic sharpness.

   "Aya's not going anywhere.  I'm putting him in restraints and the medical staff will be monitoring his condition.  At least none of them are telepaths.  It's bad enough that Aya's suffering through all this misery.  You're not doing him any good by hovering over him and getting all tied up in his pain."

   When Schuldig opened his mouth again, Crawford said flatly, "You're leaving."  Glancing over at Nagi, Crawford added, "Take him to my office and keep an eye on him until I arrive."

   "Come on, Schuldig," Nagi said, who ended up having to use both his hands and his telekinesis to keep the other man from falling flat on his face.  

------------------------------------------------------ 
   
   The office was typically Crawford, decorated in very elegant and very expensive taste.

   As Nagi silently watched him, Schuldig slouched on the oversized leather sofa and scowled at the tumbler of liquor the teenager had shoved into his hand.  Brad had been right, as usual.  Now that he had put some distance between Aya and himself, he was finally thinking straight instead of just reacting.  He could still sense Aya's suffering -- no amount of distance could stop that -- but at least he had no problems distinguishing his thoughts from Aya's.

   He didn't have to look up to know that Nagi was concerned about him.  It was evident in the teenager's thoughts.

   "Quit worrying.  I'm okay now."

   (Actually, I'm better than just okay.)

   Just before Aya had passed out, the only things Schuldig had managed to pick out from the mental cacophony in his lover's head were the overriding emotions -- first the anger and hatred, then confusion and bewilderment, followed by outright fear, denial, and near-terror.  

   But even as he had started to lose any hope of getting through to Aya, he had picked up the faintest whisper of a thought, one that made all the difference in the world to him.

   (.... help me... Schu....)

   He had called to his lover and Ran had answered him.

------------------------------------------------------ 

   Crawford walked into the office a short time later and said in milder, but still obviously annoyed tones, "As for that last stunt, what the hell did you think you were doing, throwing yourself into his mind like that?  I thought you knew better than that.  What if Persia had planted some sort of psychic boobytrap in Aya's mind just for you?  It's the sort of charming souvenir Kritiker enjoys leaving behind."

   "I almost wish it had been," Schuldig muttered, taking a deep swig from his drink, then he added in a soft snarl, "He hates me.  They actually made him hate me."  

   "There's nothing new about that.  Six months ago, Aya despised you with a passion."

   "Me and everyone else even remotely connected to the Takatori family.  Now that's obsession for you.  But...."

   But this time the hatred hurt, and Brad knew it.  Six months ago, Abyssinian's loathing hadn't bothered him in the slightest because he hadn't expected anything different from a member of Weiss.  Abyssinian had been just another one of Kritiker's puppets, programmed to hate and kill, and nothing more.  But *Aya's* hatred was something else entirely.

   (Well, that's what I get for getting emotionally involved,) the telepath thought irritably.  (It makes a guy so fucking vulnerable!)

   Aloud, Schuldig added, "And to complicate matters even more, they made sure that Aya remembers just enough about me to distrust every damn thing I say, do, or think at him.  Bitten in the ass by my own bloody reputation."   

   He abruptly shook off the sour mood and threw his legs up onto the sofa with his usual insolent flair.  For once Crawford didn't yell at him about scuffing the expensive leather.

   "So, was it worth the risk?" the American asked.

   Schuldig smirked up at him and said, "Oh yeah.  It was *definitely* worth it."  His mood abruptly darkened and he said in a harsh voice, "I heard him, Brad.  I heard him calling my name.  Somewhere, deep inside that twisted mess inside his head is the real Aya.  He's still in there.  I just have to figure out how to find him again.  Somehow."

   The telepath laughed sharply and flung out his arms.  "I've spent most of my life screwing up people's minds.  Who ever expected that I'd get stuck with the job of trying to straighten them out?  What the fuck do I know about that?"

   "You've been doing a fairly good job so far, especially with Aya," Crawford replied coolly.  "You gave us the leverage we needed against Balinese.  And the Takatoris consider you their best chance of saving their little lost Mamoru."  He smiled with a touch of malice.  "Who knows, if you try hard enough, you just might be able to return Siberian to some semblance of sanity."

   "Jeez, ask for a few more miracles, why don't you?" the telepath retorted.

   The American's glasses glinted in the moonlight, obscuring any view of his eyes.  

   "You know what the consequences of failure are.  We either break Weiss free of Kritiker's control or kill them.  It's that simple."  He looked at the telepath.  "I know you don't want to do that.  The Takatoris and I don't want to do that.  But we may not have a choice.  With their special abilities, Weiss is too dangerous a tool to leave in Kritiker's hands."

   Schuldig rolled his eyes and said, "Don't you think I know that?"  He took a deep breath.  "Now what?"

   "I'm going to discuss Aya's condition with Masafumi Takatori.  Besides, I'm sure he and his family will be interested in knowing about Bombay."

--------------------------------------------

   As he watched Crawford pick up the phone to call the scientist, Schuldig finished up his drink and lit up a cigarette.  

   (Of course I know what's at stake here.  Like *I* need to be reminded how dangerous Weiss can be?)

   Aya's ability to teleport, combined with his fighting skills, made him an incredibly deadly opponent.  Virtually no one stood a chance against an opponent who could silently appear out of nowhere, attack, then disappear, only to reappear from some other direction and do it all over again.  

   Aside from himself, only Crawford, with his ability to read the future, had survived an extended encounter with the feared Abyssinian.  And even then, some of their battles had been very close.  Brad's precog abilities were damn good, but they certainly weren't 100% accurate, unlike Aya's teleportation.

   True, Aya's power was fairly limited, at least with respect to range and carrying ability.  Unfortunately, those limits weren't enough to prevent him from penetrating most security perimeters with a lethal payload -- namely, himself -- with contemptuous ease.  With Aya working for them, no place on earth would be safe from Kritiker's reach.

   The other members of Weiss were equally dangerous.  Take the destructive potential of Nagi's telekinesis, combine that with Farfarello-style lunacy, and you ended up with a pretty good estimate of how much damage Siberian could do on a bad day.

   (Frankly, I'll take being telekinetically pulverized over being burnt to a crisp any day.)

   And then there was the little matter of the... well, he didn't know exactly *what* to call it... between the Weiss psycho and their own resident madman.  Because from the first moment when Siberian and Farfarello met, the two madmen had... clicked... in some bizarre way that was probably incomprehensible to any sane person.

   (Farfarello hates God and from what Aya told me, Siberian's got some whacked out obsession about truth.)  Which was rather ironic considering that Siberian worked for Persia, the grandmaster of lies, of all people.  

   (I mean, what the hell's going on between those two, besides the fact that they're both sadistic, homicidal lunatics with a fetish for sharp objects and blood?  One second they're trying to slash each other to pieces and the next they're trying to rip each other's clothes off.  I suppose that they can understand each other just fine.  It's just that no one *else* can!)

   Schuldig casually glanced over in Nagi's direction and his thoughts shifted to the teenager's counterpart in Weiss.  Compared to the other members, one might think that Mamoru Takatori was the relatively harmless one.  However, just as in Nagi's case, appearances were deceptive.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Forget his combat skills, which were actually pretty good.  If knowledge was power, that made Bombay, with his combination of computer skills and divination talents, the most powerful member of Weiss.  

   (No secret's safe with that kid around.)

   Kritiker had already made good use of Bombay's abilities on many occasions.  Bombay had led Kritiker directly to Aya, despite Schoen's best efforts to conceal his location.

   Nobody in Schwartz had a clue where the whip-wielding member of Schreient has picked up her funky magical skills, but there was no denying that her mumbo-jumbo worked.  Usually, that is.  Unfortunately, whatever spells she had cooked up to hide Aya's location hadn't been good enough to block Bombay's powers.  It seemed that despite Aya's desertion, Bombay truly cared about his former teammate.  That emotional connection had apparently provided the extra bit of motivation needed to penetrate Schoen's cloaking wards.

   (I know he thought he was doing the right thing in 'rescuing' Aya from our foul clutches, but I still want to strangle that meddling brat.  I wonder if anyone's ever told him that the road to hell was paved with good intentions?  And if Aya doesn't recover fully from this mess he created, I really WILL strangle him, lost Takatori or not!)

   His gaze drifted over to Crawford, who was still talking to Masafumi in his usual calm, unruffled voice.

   (And last, but certainly not least, there's Balinese.  Dear old Balinese, Kritiker's up-and-coming specialist at coercion and torture.  What a sweetheart.)

   People might fear Abyssinian, but the mere threat of a visit from Balinese could make the bravest people quake in their shoes.  His ability to control the pain and pleasure receptors in virtually any living creature ensured that anyone who had the misfortune to attract Balinese's attention never forgot him.

   HE certainly couldn't.  Not that he had any intention of telling anyone how Yohji Kudou haunted his dreams... or more precisely, his nightmares.

   He smiled unpleasantly at the last few drops of liquor swirling around in the bottom of his glass.  It was bloody difficult to surprise a telepath, but not impossible.  And there was no denying that Balinese was a very good hunter when he wanted to be.  The Weiss assassin had used the mental noise of a large, excited crowd to hide his approach, taking advantage of the resulting distraction to strike first.   What had happened afterward....

   (.... physical rape would've been easier to handle.)

   People might call him crazy or perverted, but he was no masochist like Farfarello.  Getting caught up in Balinese's mind and being forced to experience the other's pleasure at *his* own suffering was definitely not Schuldig's idea of a good time.  It hadn't helped matters that Balinese's thoughts were like quicksilver -- fluid and unpredictable to the extreme.  He never knew whether the next touch would bring indescribable pleasure or agonizing pain.  

   But strangely enough, Schuldig hadn't been the complete loser in that encounter.  Because during that very long night, he had uncovered a very interesting fact about Balinese, although he only realized it after spending several hours ranting, raving, and swearing bloody revenge.

   What he had found was a potentially critical flaw in Persia's pet torturer.  Very simply, Yohji Kudou was a sadist by programming, not by natural inclination.  And deep inside, Kudou didn't like what he was doing or what he had become.  Not one bit.

   Whoever had worked on Balinese had done an outstanding job, constructing layers upon layers of personas -- the flirtatious womanizer, the gallant gentleman, the playful teaser, and the sadist, to name only a few.  

   (I never suspected the truth, not until I was buried *so* damn deep inside Balinese's head....)

   And that's exactly why Kudou had attacked him in the first place.

   (He wanted me to see what was really going inside his mind.  Because he knew that I was the only person capable of going that deep and coming back out.)
   
   Kudou's plan had been both crazy and risky, but the man's willingness to take those risks hinted at the strength of his desperation.  

   (He was damn lucky that I never got a chance to pull myself together and scramble his brains permanently!  Not to mention that the whole experience could've easily killed me or driven me hopelessly insane.)

   That had probably been Kudou's backup plan, to provoke Crawford and the other members of Schwartz into retaliation

   (Kudou wanted someone to know the truth.  He wanted someone to help him, or at least put him out of his misery.  But what a sick, screwed-up way to go about it!)

   He noticed his fingers tightening around his glass and made a conscious effort to relax.

   But in the end, no matter how crazy Kudou's plan sounded, it had worked.  Schuldig had eventually told Brad about his discovery -- although he never revealed exactly *how* he got the information -- and the other man had taken matters from there.  What followed was a unnerving duel between the leader of Schwartz and Balinese that involved mind, body, and perhaps even more.

   As for himself, he had crossed paths with Kudou on several occasions after that particular meeting, but had chosen not to go after him.  Not yet, anyway.  Schuldig certainly hadn't forgiven Balinese, not by a long shot, and he wasn't holding back out because he felt sorry for the bastard, either.  

   The real reason he hadn't gone looking for revenge was because he was having too much fun watching the intricate waltz of danger, desire, and seduction going on between Brad and Kudou.  Except in this particular dance, it was nearly impossible to tell who was leading and who was following.  However, it was clear to him that concessions were being made on both sides.  Crawford was emotionally involved, no doubt about that.  As for Kudou....

   (As far as I know, Balinese has never used anything close to his full power on Brad.  Which could indicate that Brad means a lot more to Balinese than just a challenging fuck.)

   He didn't know what Crawford was really up to or hoped to achieve, but the American was one of the most strong-willed persons he knew.  If there was anyone capable of bringing Balinese to heel, it was Brad.  

   (I suppose that's why he gets to be the leader, hm?)

   Under the present circumstances, Schuldig might have found Brad's air of apparent detachment infuriating, except he knew that it was just the American's way of dealing with difficult situations.  

   (Play it cool and never let the other guy see you sweat.)

   They both knew how to play that game, but there was no question who was better at it.  Although Brad had said almost nothing about Kudou, he had to be worried sick about the other's mental condition, considering what Kritiker had done to Aya.  

   That brought back to Schuldig's mind the constantly nagging question of why Crawford was willing to go through so much trouble with Balinese, to the point of putting his own *feelings* on the line.

   (Why?  When it would've been a lot easier to just kill him...,) the telepath mused.

--------------------------------------------

   Masafumi Takatori took the phone from Schoen and said, "Yes?  Crawford?"  He listened carefully for several moments.  

   Schoen jumped when Masafumi suddenly rose from his chair and exclaimed, "What!?" into the phone.

   "Sir?"

   Ignoring the blonde's question, Masafumi listened for an extended period, then said in a tired voice, "It's just as we feared, then.  All right, I'm sending Tot to draw some blood samples from all of them.  The sooner, the better.  Yes, she knows what to do.  Once we have an idea of what drugs they used on him, we might be able to formulate something that will ease Abyssinian's... I mean Fujimiya's withdrawal symptoms.  I'll take care of things on this end."  

   Hanging up the phone, he turned and stared down through the large observation into the room below.  Finally he addressed the three members of Schreient standing behind him.

   "Schwartz has recovered Abyssinian.  And as an unexpected bonus, they've also managed to capture the other members of Weiss."

   "You mean they have Bombay, Masafumi?" Hell said eagerly.

   "Yes.  My brother Mamoru.  We have all of them."  He paused a second, then said, "Including Siberian.  And Balinese."

   Schoen gasped and involuntarily put her hand over the left side of her face.  But the others was startled to hear her surprise echoed by the usually silent Neu.

   "....Yohji?"

   Glancing at Neu, Masafumi nodded grimly, then said, "Asuka...."

   "Asuka Murase is dead," she replied, her voice cold and flat.

   "All right... Neu."

   He glanced back at Schoen, who was still clutching at her face.  Her other hand held her whip in a quivering, white-knuckled grip.

   "Siberian...," the blonde whispered, her eyes wide with both dread and anger.

   Masafumi stood up and walked over to Schoen.  He reached out and gently pulled both her fingers and the amazingly lifelike mask that lay beneath them away from her face.

   "Don't... please don't look at me, Masafumi," she whispered, turning her head away and letting her long blond hair hide the terrible scars that marred the left side of an once perfect face.

   He reached out and with his fingertips slowly turned her chin back toward him.

   "You can never be ugly in my eyes, Schoen.  After all, you received those wounds saving my life."

   Hell bit her lip.  She could still remember the night of the attack too clearly.  Weiss had broken into one of Korin's labs to kill several important scientists.  It had been sheer bad luck that Masafumi had been there as well.  All alone, Schoen had confronted the Weiss assassins, buying precious time for Masafumi and the others to escape.  But she had paid dearly for her bravery.  To punish Schoen for her interference, Siberian had viciously sliced the left side of her face nearly to ribbons, then burned her with his pyrokinesis.  Masafumi had managed to save the vision in Schoen's left eye, but the terrible facial wounds she received had been beyond repair.

   Scowling angrily, Hell said, "I can understand the point of capturing Bombay alive, but why the others?  Why didn't Schwartz just kill them, especially Siberian!?  He deserved it after what he did to Schoen!  How dare they call themselves 'hunters of light'!?  Weiss is nothing more than Kritiker's dogs, a disgusting, psychotic pack of killers and sadists, even the youngest of them!"  

   The Schreient leader abruptly halted her tirade.  "I'm sorry, Masafumi.  I didn't mean to speak that way about your brother...."

   He gave her a rueful smile.  "But unfortunately, you're quite correct, Hell.  Thanks to Persia, Mamoru is a cold-blooded murderer who harbors a fanatical hatred of his own family.  How many times has he plotted our deaths?  And then there's poor Ouka.  Mamoru killed her with his own hands when he learned she was a Takatori."  He sighed, then shook his head.  "But I don't blame him for that.  He's been under Kritiker's influence over twelve years.  They've had ample time to poison his mind."

   "Then you must realize that... he might be beyond saving," Hell said softly.

   "I know that's a distinct possibility, but we have to at least make the attempt, for our own sakes.  Hirofumi has never forgiven himself for not keeping Mamoru safe."

   Hell tried to shift the conversation to a less painful topic.  "But what sort of game is Crawford up to, allowing Siberian and Balinese to live...?"

   Masafumi interrupted her by holding up his hand and saying, "I can understand your anger, but things have become unexpectedly... complicated.  We don't want make any rash and irrevocable decisions."  He paused, then said, "I need to talk to my father and Hirofumi.  Call me when Tot gets back here with those blood samples."

   The leader of Schreient sighed and said, "Yes, Masafumi."

   After his departure, the room fell silent as the three members of Schreient became absorbed in their own thoughts.  Surprisingly, it was Neu who broke the silence.

   "....Yohji."

   It took a few seconds for Hell and Schoen to connect the name to the more familiar codename.

   "Oh, you mean Balinese.  You sound...," Schoen hesitated, then continued, "like you know him well."

   After a longish pause, Neu said, "I knew him.  I knew the man... he was."

   The cryptic statement made the other two women stare at her with avid curiosity.  Neu rarely spoke at all and had never discussed her past with them.

   "The man he was?" the blonde prompted.

   "Before he became Weiss.  Before he killed me."  

   "Killed you?" Hell said, raising her eyebrows.

   "Or the woman I once had been.  Asuka Murase."  Neu turned her head toward them, her tinted eye visor obscuring any attempt to read her expression.  "What are you staring at?"

   "It's just that you sound so... strange when you talk about him.  Balinese, I mean," Schoen said hastily, backing up a step.

   ".... like I care about him?" Neu said in a cool, distant voice.

   "...."

   "I loved him.  I think I still do, a little."  Neu pulled off her oversized sunglasses.  In the same seemingly indifferent tone, she added, "But I also can't forget that Yohji Kudou betrayed me to Riot, tortured and raped me, then left me to die in the gutter."  

   Neu turned to gaze downward through the room's observation window at the fragile teenage girl sleeping in the bed below, before continuing to speak.

   "I know it wasn't really his fault.  By that time, he was already under Kritiker's influence.  But despite that knowledge, I don't know if I can ever forgive him for what he did to me.  And for what he did to all his other victims.  Especially the women."

   "Neu...," Hell whispered, unable to hide her surprise at all these unexpected revelations.

   The other woman continued to stare at the occupant of the bed, who lay surrounded by the best life support and monitoring equipment that money could buy.

   "He was...."  Neu abruptly fell silent, then shook her head.  "I don't know why Kritiker targeted him for recruitment, but they started poisoning his mind with their drugs and their lies.  They were destroying his sanity right under my nose and I didn't notice a thing.  If I'd been more alert back then, perhaps I could have done something.  Stopped them somehow."

   She slowly put her hand on the window glass, which held a faint reflection of her face.

   "But that didn't happen.  I only survived his assault thanks to the Takatori family, and especially Masafumi.  But even they couldn't save Asuka.  And so Neu was born."  

   Turning abruptly toward the startled Hell and Schoen, Neu said in a voice tight with barely suppressed fury, "And in the meantime, Kritiker took Yohji and turned him into one of their pet assassins.  They turned the man I loved into a sadistic monster, then gave him the power to bestow both unspeakable pain and will-destroying pleasure on his victims.  As I became Neu of Schreient, he became Balinese of Weiss."

   Neu lifted her hand and squeezed her right shoulder as if to rub away a persistent ache, then said thoughtfully, "Crawford might be able to handle the pain, but is even the Oracle strong enough to resist the type of pleasure Yohji is capable of inflicting?"

   Schoen stiffened and said, "What are you saying, Neu!?"

   The other woman gave her a cool stare.  "I know why Crawford didn't kill Balinese."

   "Are you saying that Balinese somehow *got* to Crawford...!?" Schoen said in shocked tones.

   "I don't know who's using whom, but there's definitely something going on between them.  Something personal.  Something... intimate."
   
   "Are you jealous, Neu?" Hell asked cautiously.

   The other woman shook her head. "Hardly.  If I feel anything, it's pity for anyone who's the recipient of Balinese's...," she smiled grimly, "... brand of 'affection'."

   And with those words, Neu slipped her visor back on, and with it, her usual cold, silent demeanor.

   Apparently this member of Schreient had nothing more to say.

--------------------------------------------

   After he hung up the phone, Crawford glanced at Schuldig, who was giving him a shrewd, thoughtful stare.  He raised an inquiring eyebrow and only got a nonchalant shrug in reply.  Since Schuldig didn't seem inclined to talk, he turned his attention to Nagi.

   "Tot is coming by to get some blood samples from Aya and the others.  I want to accompany her and lend her any necessary assistance."

   Schuldig snorted and said, "Tot?  That girl's an idiot and she talks to a stuffed bunny rabbit.  No way I'm letting her near Aya with a needle!"

   "Masafumi assures me that she's perfectly capable of handling the job.  Don't worry about it.  Nagi will be there to keep an eye on her."

   The teenager uttered a somewhat put-upon sigh, then said, "I thought you wanted me to work at that data we recovered."

   "I want this done first.  We can't do anything to help Aya with the drug withdrawal until we have some idea what Kritiker used on him."

    "All right.  But how do you want me to handle it if they wake up?"

   The American smiled faintly.  "Use your best judgment, but let's try not to antagonize them more than we must, for the moment.  Be diplomatic.  Bombay shouldn't give you or Tot significant trouble.  Neither of you are a Takatori."

   "All right."  But as he turned to leave, Nagi paused in the doorway and said, "Tot's frightened of Siberian and Balinese.  And she hates Siberian for what he did to Schoen."

   Crawford smirked slightly.  "That's why you're going to be there.  To protect her, hold her hand if need be, and make sure she doesn't damage any of them.  Besides, those two are already in full restraints.  I trust that you can subdue them if you have to."

   "And what will you be doing?"

   "I'll be busy," the American said in that familiar, utterly unhelpful tone of his.

   Nagi snorted and muttered something under his breath as he headed out the door.

--------------------------------------------

   "And what's bothering you?" Crawford said, turning back to Schuldig.

   "I've been thinking...."

   "About what?"

   Schuldig leaned back and drawled, "About why are you going through so much trouble to avoid killing Balinese.  Or the other members of Weiss, for that matter."

   "I told you why."

   "And I don't buy it.  If the only important thing is to neutralize Weiss, killing them would be the most efficient method.  So why is it so important to not only remove Weiss from Persia's control, but to get at least some of them over to our side?"

   Crawford shrugged and said, "They could be useful...."

   "Oh, cut the bullshit, Brad."

   "Now you're getting insubordinate."

   Schuldig leaned forward and said emphatically, "There's something much bigger going on here than just accumulating some more assets.  Something so important that you're willing to put not just your life, but your damn *heart* on the line in order to succeed!"

   Crawford raised a mocking eyebrow.  "My heart?  Now you're waxing poetic, Schu."    

   "Remember who you're talking to, Brad.  You're not just playacting.  You really care about Kudou.  I know it.  And he knows it.  That's why you're winning."

   "Winning?"

   "Yeah, winning this little game you two are playing.  You're dangling genuine emotion under his nose as an irresistable bait that keeps him coming back for more.  Very slick, Brad.  And very risky."  Schuldig pinned the American with a hard jade stare.  "So what is it about Balinese that makes it worth taking all that risk, hm?"

   "Don't you know?"

   "I'm doing you the courtesy of asking instead of taking, Brad."

   Crawford sighed, then said, "When you put it that way....  It's a basic cost-benefit analysis."

   "Brad...," the telepath said in ominous tones.

   "To put it simply, the benefit of having Yohji working with us significantly outweighs any cost to me."

   Schuldig sighed heavily and looked away.  "That's what I was afraid you were going to say."

   The American shrugged.  "You wanted a honest answer from me.  You have it."

   Schuldig knew that Crawford's ability to read the future was usually limited to the near future -- a matter of minutes, really.  But the telepath also knew that on very rare occasions, the American caught glimpses of a more distant future.  And when that happened, it always involved something very big and very bad.  

   'Potentially catastrophic' would be a pretty good description.

   Brad had obviously analyzed the situation with his usual care and had come up with some sort of plan.  But now, depending on what Kritiker had done to Kudou -- if anything -- all of Brad's carefully calculated schemes may have gone right down the drain.

   "You know, I first thought that Kritiker had just erased the last six months of Aya's memory," Schuldig said, abruptly shifting topics.  

   "But?"  
   
   "But the tampering goes much deeper than just erasing some memories."  The telepath gave no hint that he had picked up the flash of relief that escaped Crawford's usual self-control, but Schuldig definitely took note of it.

   "Meaning?"

   "Meaning that he's definitely not our Aya, but he's also not exactly the old Aya, either.  If that makes any sense."

   "He certainly sounds like the old Aya," Crawford said drily.

   "I know," Schuldig retorted with a sour grin.  "He's the same... and yet he's different, and not in the way you might think.  He doesn't have quite the same sharp, hard edges the old Aya had.  I don't know how else to describe it.  It's like he's... more normal.  Less repressed...."

   "Repressed?" Crawford said, raising an eyebrow.

   Schuldig snorted.  "Like you didn't know.  He might look like a walking wet dream, but when we first ran into each other, Aya had the sex drive of an ice cube.  It's like Kritiker channeled every bit of emotional energy he had into hating Takatori and completing his assigned missions.  Everything else was considered non-essential.  That included sex.  I'm talking about serious denial here.  Oh, the emotional suppression wasn't perfect -- Aya managed to develop some feelings for his teammates, but that's about it.  When you think about it, the old Aya was really only half a person, only half-alive."

   "Well, it looks like you managed to thaw him out nicely," Crawford commented with a sly smile.

   Schuldig flashed him a quick smirk that disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.  

   "Only partially, and it sure as hell wasn't easy.  Trying to get Aya to loosen up was like force open a door that's constantly trying to slam itself shut.  Sure you can make progress, but you can never relax, either."

   "But the struggle was obviously worth it."

   "Oh yeah."  Schuldig's usual mocking grin softened and warmed for just an instant.

   Crawford chuckled quietly, then returned to the main point of discussion.

   "So you're saying that the Aya we rescued is somehow different from the Aya we knew.  The question is whether that difference makes him easier or harder to handle."

   "Difficult to say at this point.  I only got a quick glimpse inside his head.  I can't be more precise about the difference until I get deeper into his mind."  

   Crawford said crisply, "And you won't be doing any deep probes, at least not right away.  Not to Aya or the others."

   "Oh really?" the telepath retorted, raising a challenging eyebrow.

   "Boobytraps," the American said succinctly.

   "I know, I know.  You don't need to go all mother-hen on me.  But I'm going to have to get inside their heads soon or later, otherwise we won't be able to accurately determine the extent of the possible damage."

   "I'm aware of the necessity, but we need to be cautious, as well.  We can ill afford to have you knocked out of commission."  

   The words 'perhaps permanently' went unsaid but Schuldig picked up the thought quite clearly from Crawford's mind.  The man was *broadcasting*.

   "Fine.  You want us to go slow, so we go slow.  Now, all we have to do is figure out a way to keep them under control in the interim.  Because I will tell you that Aya's first instinct is to escape and regroup.  And we can't have him go running back to Persia and Kritiker, can we?"

   "And what sort of leash should we put on this particular cat?" Crawford asked with a decidedly malicious grin.

   Schuldig matched his friend's expression.  "Why, his dear sister, of course.  Was there any doubt?  He won't do a thing to endanger poor little Aya-chan's life.  At the moment, he's already convinced that we're the bad guys, so he'd have no problem believing that we'd do terrible things to his helpless, comatose sister if he doesn't behave himself.  As far as he knows, she's been kidnapped, most likely by Schwartz, and is now conveniently missing."

   Both men knew that in actuality, Aya-chan was safely in the custody of Masafumi Takatori.  Anyone intent on harming the girl would have to go through both him and Schreient.  

   "He'll hate you even more for that threat, you know."

   Schuldig's grin developed a grim edge.  "If it keeps him safe and out of Persia's hands, I'd gladly make the same threat and really *mean* it."

   "Well, that takes care of Aya.  Now we only have to worry about keeping Yohji and the other two in line long enough to evaluate and do something about their mental condition."

   "Oh, what fun," Schuldig said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

   The American folded his arms and said thoughtfully, "One would assume that Kritiker's primary interest would be to get one of their best assassins back.  So why didn't they just revert Aya back to his old self?  Why did they go through all this extra effort to create new memories and a new Aya?  There must be some advantage for them.  And that advantage isn't limited just to Aya."  He glanced over at Schuldig.  "Haven't you been wondering what the other members of Weiss -- Yohji, Bombay, and Siberian -- were doing there in the lab, unconscious and completely vulnerable?"

   "Yeah, it *did* occur to me that the whole thing could be a setup and that maybe Kritiker *wanted* us to grab the others.  However, I got sidetracked by more important things, like rescuing Aya."

   "Aya probably wasn't the only person who had his memories modified," the American casually noted.

   "Okay, I understand why they might want to do something like this to Kudou, but why Bombay and Siberian?  They haven't shown any overt signs of disloyalty."

   "That's irrelevant."  Crawford's eyes narrowed as he added, "What is Persia's and Kritiker's primary motivation for doing anything?  Control.  Everything they do is directed to increasing or at least enhancing their control over everything and everyone."

   "So.  Do you think it's a trap?"  The telepath's lips curled mockingly.  "Are we harboring treacherous serpents -- or in this case, treacherous cats -- in our bosoms?"

   Crawford paused, then said in serious tones, "A trap?  No.  I don't think so."

   Schuldig's eyes narrowed suddenly as something finally clicked in his mind.

   "Shit, that explains the timing.  You knew, didn't you?  You knew that we'd find them all there, helpless and practically unguarded.  That's why you pushed back our timetable at the very last minute.  You fucking knew!  And what *else* haven't you been telling us?"

   The telepath swore at himself for being so completely distracted with Aya's abduction, subsequent rescue, and the problems ensuing from Kritiker's handiwork.  He should've put things together a long time ago.  And now that he thought about it, Brad had deliberately kept him running around, too busy to ask awkward questions....

   "Damn it!  You 'saw' this whole thing coming, didn't you?  Aya being kidnapped, the brainwashing... you don't need me to check on Yohji and the others, do you?  You already *know* that Kritiker's tampered with their memories, too!"

   Crawford's silence was more telling than any words.

   Schuldig abruptly rose from the sofa and headed for the door.

   "Schu, I...."  The American's voice had an unfamiliar, diffident tone that bordered on an outright apology.

   The telepath stopped in the doorway, but didn't turn around.  Finally, he sighed and said, "I know, Brad.  I know that you care about Aya, too.  I know you didn't want him to get hurt.  Kudou... Yohji, either."  He sighed again.  "But I wish you could've at least warned me about the possibility."

   "And what would you have done about it?"

   "I don't know.  Maybe something.  Maybe nothing."

   "I thought about it.  About telling you," Crawford said pensively.
   
   "But what?"

   "But I'm not sure what good it would've accomplished.  And it could have done a great deal of harm."

   Schuldig turned around and said somberly, "Sometimes I don't know how the hell you stay sane, Brad.  All the what-ifs and maybes bouncing around in your brain."

   Crawford said nothing, but his thoughts were clear.

   (Sometimes I don't know.)

   "I'm going to check on Aya."  Picking up the flicker of concern from Crawford's mind, Schuldig said, "I'm not going to do anything stupid or go poking too deeply inside his head.  I just want to see how he's doing."

--------------------------------------------

   Crawford watched the door close behind Schuldig.  The decision not to warn his best friend about Aya's impending abduction had been extremely difficult, one of his hardest.  But in the greater scheme of things, what had happened to Aya and the others was necessary, just as it had been necessary to allow Balinese to capture and torture Schuldig.

   The American sighed quietly.  (I needed to know Yohji's weak point.  I needed to know how to reach him.  And the only person who could discover that information was you, Schu.)

   Crawford shook his head, then shoved those thoughts and the associated regrets away in the deepest, most hidden corner of his mind.

--------------------------------------------

   Farfarello watched impassively as a decidedly miffed Tot flounced out of Siberian's room.  As she gesticulated wildly and shouted at him, Nagi listened patiently, but with a slightly harassed expression.

   Once they had disappeared around the corner, Farfarello headed directly for Siberian's room.   A few taps on the security keypad and he was inside.  He smiled slowly as he stared at the unconscious dark-haired young man strapped securely to the bed, covered to the waist by a sheet.

   Walking over to the bed, Farfarello yanked the sheet off the bed and tossed it carelessly into a corner.  Now Siberian was fully exposed to view.  He stared down at the completely naked Weiss assassin and licked his lips hungrily as he ran his scarred hand down the outside of Siberian's thigh.  He rarely got to see so much of the other's flesh, especially given Siberian's penchant for wearing skintight black leather bodysuits.  The only obvious flaw on Siberian's body were the little cluster of bruised needle marks on the inside of his elbow, as if someone had been searching for a vein and missed rather badly.

   "Are you cold?  Should I warm you up?"

   Farfarello grinned, his yellow eye glittering, and shook out the white fabric slung over his shoulder.  He then started undoing the straps holding the unconscious Siberian to the bed.  

   Several minutes later, the Irishman stood back and admired his handiwork.  Still oblivious to his surroundings, Ken Hidaka now wore a stark white straitjacket and nothing else.  Kneeling down on the bed, he leaned over Siberian and whispered, "Time to come out and play, pretty cat in a bag."
   
   Farfarello pulled out one of his favorite knives and slowly ran his tongue along the length of the blade.

   "I like feeling your claws.  Don't you want to feel mine?"

--------------------------------------------

   Schuldig sat down on the bed beside Aya and brushed the sweat-darkened strands of hair away from his lover's strained, unconscious face.  With a wry grin, he thought, (Most people look like crap when they're sick, sweaty, and hurting, but not you, baby.  You still look fucking gorgeous, don't you, Ran?)

   In response to a particularly intense spasm, Aya gasped sharply and threw his head back against the pillow, exposing the elegant line of his neck.

   Doing his best to ignore the sensations of intense physical misery from his lover, Schuldig ran the tips of his fingers over the taut throat, up the line of jaw, stopping only when they reached Aya's mouth.

   "C'mon, baby.  Open for me," he whispered.

   Although unconscious, Aya gasped softly, his lips parting.

   Schuldig brushed his thumb along Aya's lips, then moved his hand to stroke the other's cheek.  He smiled smugly as Aya followed the movement, turning his head fretfully, as if seeking some sort of comfort or reassurance.

   (Oh, that's right, Aya.  Your conscious mind might not remember what we mean to each other, but your body certainly does, doesn't it?)

   Schuldig controlled his urge to sink more deeply into Aya's mind.  Just like with his hands, the telepath kept his mental touch light, skimming over Aya's mind like a seabird skimming over a turbulent ocean.  Given the other's confused mental condition, he could easily do more damage than good if he pushed Aya too hard and in the wrong way.

   He watched helplessly as Aya suddenly thrashed his head, moaning softly.  Stroking his hand through his poor lover's fine red hair, he thought, (Don't worry.  We'll get you through this, no matter what it takes.  Remember what I said that night?  I won't leave you alone.  I won't abandon you to the silence.)
   
   Most people assumed that his and Aya's relationship was mostly based on sex, but it was so much more than that.  Oh, sex with Aya was fucking amazing, all right, but it was nothing compared to the sensation of being inside his head.  If other people's emotions were like honey, Ran's emotions could only be considered... ambrosial.  
   
   (Shit!  How stupidly sappy can I get?) Schuldig thought with a mixture of amusement and chagrin.  But then his lips quirked up in a rueful smile as he continued to delicately stroke Aya's face.  (See what you do to me, baby?  The next thing you know, I'll be spouting poetry about your eyes.)

   (No one else sees what I see in you, Aya.  They only see Abyssinian, a cold, obsessive, bad-tempered bastard who would sooner kill a person than talk to him.  But you're more.  So much more....)

   From their first encounter, the Weiss assassin had piqued the telepath's interest.  Abyssinian's mind had a disturbing sense of incompleteness.  Unlike the full spectrum of emotions that most people had, Schuldig had detected precious little else in the other man's psyche aside from the obsessive hatred of anything Takatori-related and a seething rage kept barely in check.  True, he had encountered other people with similarly limited emotions -- Farfarello, for one -- but Schuldig had somehow known that there had to be much more to Aya Fujimiya.

   So during the weeks following their first meeting, he'd amused himself by playing with Abyssinian's mind at every opportunity.  It was almost pathetically easy to get a rise out of the other man.  

   (Just like waving something under a bull's nose.  No challenge at all.)

   With another victim, he probably would have quickly become bored with the whole game, but uncovering Abyssinian's hidden self had turned into a minor obsession.  Okay, make that a major obsession.  And so the encounters and fleeting battles continued as he constantly probed for Abyssinian's weaknesses and guilty secrets.  The constant danger had only added spice to the whole venture.  But what started out as nothing more than a mildly intriguing puzzle had ended up as a soul-shaking experience.

   It had all happened in an instant, purely by accident.  To think that an ordinary schoolgirl had given him the clue to Abyssinian's soul.  She had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but instead of killing her, Abyssinian had frozen at the sight of that girl.  The memories and emotions which then erupted in the Weiss assassin's mind had been so unlike the usual dull mental roar of hatred, Schuldig couldn't resist the opportunity to pounce and start digging deep into the other's brain.  

   He had been expecting a secret sin, a hidden shame, a buried guilt... something he could use against Abyssinian.  But instead he'd found something that made the legendary El Dorado, Aladdin's cave, and the lost treasure of the Pharaohs look like the cheapest, most worthless sort of junk.

   Behind all the mental and emotional barriers Kritiker had built up in Aya's mind, he had found... Ran.

   (There you were, just like some bloody fairy tale prince, chained up all alone inside an enchanted fortress.)   A silly, romantic image, perhaps, but it certainly fit.

   But unlike the usual, blissfully snoozing princess in the stories, Ran's imprisonment hadn't been nearly so kind.  Instead of peaceful oblivion, Ran had been aware of his isolation and unbearably lonely.  And like a cruelly caged bird of prey who was no longer able to fly, Ran Fujimiya was a fiercely passionate soul who had lost the ability to express his true feelings, no matter how much he wanted to.

   Schuldig smiled mirthlessly to himself.  He had certainly disliked Persia and Kritiker before, but from that moment, when he realized just how badly they had crippled Ran, things became very, very personal.

   (How long did we stand there, just staring at each other like total idiots?  All I could do was gape in amazement, and you... instead of your usual cold, hostile stare, I saw the fear and pain in those amethyst eyes of yours -- fear as you felt a long lost part of your soul stirring and pain as you realized what you were missing.  So instead of killing me, you ran away.)  

   (But it was too late for both of us.  Almost makes one believe in destiny and fate, hm?)

   It had literally taken him days to come off the emotional high from that first contact.  He snickered softly at his memories of both Brad and Nagi going quietly frantic, convinced that he'd gotten totally loaded on some new drug.  In a way, they were right.  

   (I'm hooked, all right.  Hooked on you, Ran.)

   While he'd been walking around with a mildly blissed out grin, scaring the crap out of his friends, Aya had reacted very differently.  Spurred by reawakened memories and emotions, Aya had started his own search for the truth.  Unfortunately for Kritiker, he eventually found it.

   (God, I could remember the rage and hatred pouring off you the next time we met.  You knew the truth, but couldn't do a damn thing about it.  Not while Kritiker still had your sister.  And that's when we made our deal -- you sold yourself to Schwartz and Takatori in exchange for your sister's safety.)

   He leaning forward to murmur in Aya's ear, "I know you thought it was quite the devil's bargain at the time, but it didn't turn out to be such a bad deal after all, hm?"

   He chuckled nastily.  All the effort that went into locating, then extracting Ran's little sister Aya-chan from Kritiker's grasp had been well worth it.  Abyssinian's defection had sent Kritiker into a near-panic as Persia and most of the upper echelon fled into hiding.  It was the only effective protection the bastards had against Aya's power.

   (And while the rest of Kritiker huddled in fear, Persia sent his remaining hunters after us, the beasts of darkness, just to get his precious Abyssinian back.)

   Schuldig gently tapped the end of Aya's nose.

   (That's right, baby.  Everybody wants you -- Persia and Kritiker, even your own teammates.  But I want you most of all.  I want everything you are.  I found you, and I'm not about to let you go.)

   (You're the prince that everyone wants to possess, Ran.  But if you're the prince, I wonder what that makes me?  I'm sure as hell not the knight in shining armor.  That's the damn problem with fairy tales.  The assassin never gets the girl... or the guy, in this case,) he thought with sarcastic amusement.

   Schuldig knew quite well what people thought of him -- 'lech', 'slut', and 'vicious bastard' were among the more kindly things.  

   (No one's ever thought of me as a savior before, Ran.  No one's ever welcomed me inside their mind with open arms like you did.  Now I understand why some people get addicted to playing the hero.  It can be a hell of a rush.)

   But it wasn't just the gratitude that turned him on, it was Ran himself.  The physical body was gorgeous, but the mind inside... well, Ran's mind was just *so* fucking beautiful!  Sometimes he wanted to curl up inside it and stay there forever....

   But he couldn't.  It took a great deal of his power and concentration to reach through all the barriers surrounding Ran.  The physical intimacy of sex helped, but Schuldig simply couldn't maintain such intense link for extended periods of time, no matter how hard he tried.

   It would probably shock most people who knew him, but he wasn't trying so hard just for his own personal gratification, either.  He was doing it for Ran.  Because when his mind linked with Ran's, his lover could escape from his prison.  For a few glorious moments, Ran/Aya could be whole, free to interact with the world around him and express himself in ways that Aya would not or could not.  

   But that freedom only lasted as long as the link did.  When the connention between them ended, Ran returned to being a helpless observer inside his own head, relegated to nothing more than a barely noticeable murmur in Aya's mind.  

   Over the last several months, reaching Ran and maintaining the link between them had gradually become less difficult as Schuldig carefully disassembled the barriers that separated Ran from himself.  But it never became easy.  And now thanks to Kritiker's tampering, he was back to square one, if not worse.  The barriers in Aya's psyche were back in full force, but now they had a new, puzzling form.   

   (I don't give a fuck what Kritiker and Persia did.  Whatever it takes, I'll find my way back to you again, Ran.  Count on it.)

   Straightening up, Schuldig smiled dangerously and said, "You're so sly, Persia.  But then, so am I.  Ran's mine and I want him BACK."

   He leaned over to check Aya's restraints, making sure they were snug but not overly tight.  But as he touched the cuff around Aya's right wrist, Aya's hand grabbed his and clung fiercely, the deceptively slender fingers entwining with his own like they had done so many times before.  

   Aya's beautiful orchid eyes, glazed and clouded, opened just a sliver.  And in that hazy stare, Schuldig both felt and saw an incoherent tangle of pleading, anger, confusion, and other emotions too numerous to count.  But the brief flash of awareness quickly faded, and Aya slid back into the darkness that was his only refuge from his painwracked body.

   "Ran...," Schuldig whispered, bending forward to caress his lover's face.

   However, the intimacy of the moment was abruptly broken by a scream -- not an audible sound, given the amount of soundproofing in the area, but rather a mental scream/shout/bellow of outrage that made him wince.  
   
   Apparently Siberian had just woken up to a thoroughly nasty surprise.

--------------------------------------------

   Nagi watched as Tot drew several samples of blood from the unconscious Bombay.  Impressed by her brisk confidence, he said, "You're very good at that."

   She smiled brightly at him and said, "Papa Masafumi taught me how to do it.  He says that I'm very good with needles."

   Her efficiency with Bombay made Tot's dislike of Siberian even more evident.  Without question, the girl had deliberately botched the procedure with Siberian just so she could poke him a few times with a very large needle.
   
   Tot finished labeling the vials and as she tucked them into a small pouch, she said, "I have to go.  Papa told me to hurry.  He said it was very important."

   He nodded soberly.  "Yes it is, especially for Aya."

   Tot's eyes darkened a bit in distress.  "Papa told me Aya's very sick."  She tipped her head slightly.  "Do you think I should tell Aya-chan about her brother?"

   Nagi hesitated, then shook his head slightly.  "Maybe you shouldn't.  You don't want to upset her, do you?"  

   She shook her head vigorously.  "Oh no.  I would never do that.  I have to run!  Papa's waiting for me.  Bye!"

   He watched as she ran out the door, then sighed.  From the moment Aya's little sister had been put in Masafumi Takatori's care, Tot had become remarkably attached to the comatose girl.  When she wasn't in her Papa's lab, she was usually at Aya-chan's side, happily chattering about all sorts of nonsense.

   He turned to follow her when he heard Bombay stirring on the bed.  He waited patiently as the other boy slowly rubbed his eyes and looked up with a bewildered expression on his face.

   After Aya's awakening, he had no idea how Bombay would react.  He stood, relaxed yet ready, as the blond-haired boy finally noticed his presence and recognized him.

   "You!"

   "So you're finally awake, Bombay."

--------------------------------------------
   
   As Omi's eyes flitted around the room, he fought down a surge of panic as he wondered how he had ended up in an unfamiliar room with a member of Schwartz.

   "Naoe?  Where am I?"

   "You're in a secure location," Nagi calmly replied, giving nothing away.

   The other teenager stiffened, then said sharply, "You mean I'm basically your prisoner."

   "You're not free to leave, so I suppose that's a fairly accurate assessment."  He paused a moment, then said, "What's the last thing you remember, Bombay?"

   (I remember... going to sleep in my bedroom at the Koneko.  So how did I end up here?)

--------------------------------------------
   
   Nagi was about to ask another question when a loud mental shout made him flinch.

   (Nagi!  Get over to Siberian's room right now!)

   (What...?)

   (Just do it!)

   Responding to the urgency in Schuldig's thoughts, he turned and ran out the door, leaving behind a very confused Omi.  The teenager arrived just as Schuldig keyed open the lock and flung open the door.

   "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!?  GET THE HELL OFF OF ME, YOU PSYCHOTIC FREAK!!!" someone shrieked at the top of his lungs.

   Nagi and Schuldig came to a screeching halt just inside the doorway.  The teenager's eyes widened as he took in the sight of Farfarello straddling an absolutely enraged Siberian, who was thrashing around on the bed, apparently dressed in one of Farfarello's straitjackets and nothing else.

   As for Farf, he looked almost deliriously happy at that moment.

   Schuldig stared at the whole scene as Siberian began to display an impressive repertoire of obscenities.  The name calling only seemed to excite Farfarello even more.

   Finally, with an exasperated sigh, the telepath snapped, "Nagi, get Farf off the poor guy!"

   "Excuse me, but when did you start feeling sorry for *Siberian*, of all people?" Nagi commented with a raised eyebrow, as he used his telekinesis to yank a very annoyed Farfarello off the dark-haired Weiss assassin.

   Schuldig rubbed his bridge of his nose as if he was trying to fend off a growing headache.

   "Nagi, I know this is going to be hard to believe, but as far as I can tell, the guy's actually *sane*!"

   "Him?  Siberian, sane?" the teenager said in blatant disbelief.

   "Although he's as angry as hell at the moment.  Which is perfectly understandable.  I mean, how would *you* like to wake up nearly naked with Farf sitting on your stomach and doing that knife thing with his tongue?"

   Nagi shuddered and gave the redhead an appalled look that expressed his feelings quite well, then turned his attention to Siberian, who was now glaring furiously at them.  With a faint sigh, the teenager said, "Well, so much for about being diplomatic and not antagonizing Weiss more than necessary."

   "Yeah, I think it's a little late for that." Schuldig said to the Irishman, "I don't think Siberian's in the mood to play games with you, Farf."

   The madman sent the telepath a nasty look, then turned his attention back to the furious young man on the bed.  He stared at Siberian for a long moment before giving all of them an eerily smug grin.  

   "Maybe not now, but he will be.  It's only a matter of time.  He can't help himself.  Cats must play.  It's the nature of the beast."  And with that cryptic statement, Farfarello leaned back and pinned Siberian with an intent, anticipatory stare.
   
   Schuldig looked as if his headache just got worse.  "Terrific.  Fucking terrific."

   (Schu?  Would you mind telling me what we're supposed to do with a sane, but very angry Siberian?)

   (I'm thinking, Nagi.  I'm thinking!)
   
-------------------------------------------------

   Yohji slowly crawled out of a deep sleep, then fervently wished that he hadn't.  He hurt all over and the simple act of breathing made his brain ache.  He tried to curl up and pull the pillow over his head, but failed miserably.  It took him a moment or two to realize that the reason he couldn't move was because he had been firmly strapped down to the bed.

   (What the...?)

   He had known several women with decidedly kinky tastes, but this is the first time that HE had been the one tied down to the bed.

   (Great.  Now the hell do I get out of this mess?  The guys will never let me hear the end of it.)

   With no other options available to him, Yohji finally opened his eyes, only to find the leader of Schwartz standing at the foot of his bed.

   (This is bad.  Really bad.)

   Crawford stared at him in silence, his expression utterly devoid of triumph, satisfaction, or malice.   After a minute or so, he spoke.

   "I see you're finally awake, Yohji."

   He raised an eyebrow and retorted mildly, "I don't recall ever being on a first name basis with you, Crawford."

   The American uttered a soft sigh and pushed up his glasses.

   "No.  I suppose you don't."

   (Okay, what the hell did he mean by that?) Yohji wondered uneasily, discretely testing the restraints holding him down.

   He tensed slightly as Crawford moved forward and sat down on the edge of the bed, not touching him, but too close for comfort.

   "Then why don't you tell me what you do recall?"

   "You really expect me to do that?  I don't think so, Crawford."

   "Why not be cooperative?  I'm going to find out one way or another."

   Yohji snorted and said, "There's just a small problem with being cooperative.  *You* happen to be the enemy."

   Crawford gave him a long, steady look.  "I will admit to being Persia's and Kritiker's enemy.  But I'm not yours, Yohji."

   (My first name again.  What is Crawford playing at?) the blonde wondered.  Aloud, he said, "Well, aren't we being civilized today?"

   Even as he said that, he felt a slight soreness along the inside of his right elbow.  With a quick glance, he saw the unmistakable signs of a recent needle mark.  His eyes flashed back up to meet Crawford's.

   "We took a blood sample.  That's all," the American said.

   "A blood sample?  What for?" he demanded sharply.

   "To find out what drugs are already in your system."  Crawford abruptly reached out and took a firm hold of Yohji's chin.  "Because in a few minutes, you're going to be feeling like absolute shit.  Cold sweats, muscle cramps, headache, maybe even hallucinations, just to name a few symptoms.  In short, you're going to be suffer serious drug withdrawal very soon.  And no, Schwartz didn't have anything to do with getting you into this mess in the first place."

   "You expect me to believe that?" he snapped as his head started to throb unpleasantly, almost on cue.  

   "Not really.  But it doesn't alter the fact that I'm telling you the truth, Yohji."

   "Damn it, why do you keep using my first name!?"

   With a soft chuckle, Crawford said, "Because I can."

   A painful stomach twinge left Yohji gasping for breath.  "And if you aren't responsible for getting me hooked in the first place, how the hell do you know so much about what's going to happen?"

   "Because at this moment, Aya's suffering from the same problem.  And I can't do anything about it until we get the results of the blood tests back."

   He forced his head up and shot a narrow-eyed glare at the American.  "Aya!?  What have you done...."

   "....to him?  Nothing.  Don't worry.  No one in Schwartz is going to harm a hair on his pretty red head.  We didn't cause the problem, but we're trying our best to fix it."

   "Oh, cut the bullshit!  I don't want... any of your help... Crawford."  He groaned and tried to curl up into a little ball as a particularly savage stomach cramp hit him, but failed thanks to the restraints that held him down to the bed.

   "That's too bad, because you're going to get our help, whether you want it or not."

   ".... typical," he mumbled under his breath, his mind starting to blur from the increasing discomfort in his body.

   But Yohji was alert enough to pick up the rather odd note in Crawford's voice when the man replied, "Yes, rather typical of me, isn't it?"

   He wanted to say more, but a surge of uncontrollable nausea made him choke.  As his stomach began to heave, he was vaguely aware of someone unfastening his restraints and pulling him up into a sitting position.  That same person put a arm around his shoulders and held something under his face as he started to retch.  And afterward, there was a glass of water to rinse the taste from his mouth, a smoothing murmur, and something cool for his burning forehead.

   As he sank into a daze of sweating, aching misery, Yohji had the silly impression that this kindly person had been Crawford.  But that was ridiculous, of course.  Crawford would never play nurse for him.

   After all, Crawford of Schwartz was his worst enemy.

   Wasn't he?

-------------------------------------------------

(end Part 1)
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Keeper of Duo's Dark Side ~~~ Duo no Seishi
Co-Keeper of Duo's Scythe & Bat Wings (w/ Death)
Co-Keeper of Little Grim Reaper Duo (w/ Kitsune)
Saitoh no Koibito ~~~ Corruptor Extraordinaire
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madamhydra@aol.com              /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/:E
http://www.madamhydra.net/
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The Full Disclaimer
   All names, likenesses, and rights of Weiß Kreuz are trademarks, copyright, and property of Kyoko Tsuchiya, Koyasu Takehito, Project Weiß and legally associated parties.  The characters and associated materials of these works are used WITHOUT permission for the purpose of entertainment only.  This work of fiction is not meant for sale or profit.
   Original portion of the fiction included here is considered to be the sole property and copyrighted to the author.
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