Thanks to Gemais and HopeofDawn for cheerleading and general help. Thanks to Gemais for beta reading.

Yohji inhaled deeply as he walked along the sidewalk. Mostly, he smelled car exhaust with occasional overtones of garbage from behind the restaurant on the corner, but the air still held the promise of spring's warmth. Things are growing even if they're not growing here.

He was about four blocks from the place where they'd most recently set up shop. The others had sent him off in search of good places for carryout. They expected to stay for a few days, and dinner would be easier if they knew the options. Yohji was grateful for the chance to explore, to stretch his legs and to get away from the others. Quarters were far too close these days, and they all had trouble remembering not to snap at each other.

He sensed someone coming up behind him and started to turn. Something small and hard pressed against his back. "Unless you want another bullet through the gut, keep walking," a masculine voice said in accented Japanese. "There's an alley ahead, turn down it."

Yohji could feel the other man close behind him. His hand went to his watch.

The small, hard something pressed harder. "Don't."

Yohji let his hand fall. He could see the alley coming up on the left. He swallowed hard. He could see no reason for the mysterious man not to kill him once they were off the street. Except that he could kill me now. There'd be witnesses, sure, but he'd probably get away clean. And at this range, he'd certainly kill me. I could drop and roll. That might help, but- He looked around at the civilians walking past. -someone else might die.

Yohji hesitated at the entrance to the alley. He looked down the alley. It was narrow, just a place for storing rubbish bins. Even if he could get some distance from the gun, the whole place was a kill zone, nowhere to run.

"Down past the bins, then face the wall."

Yohji closed his eyes for just a second then turned down the alley. He passed three bins. They were followed by a stretch of empty wall. Yohji turned toward it, hoping for a moment when the gun wasn't pressed tightly against his back. It didn't come. The pressure followed him so closely that it seemed as if the man behind him knew exactly how Yohji was going to move.

"Put your hands on the wall."

Yohji kept his hands low as he placed them lightly on the wall.


Yohji slid his hands up a little.

The gun pressed hard enough that Yohji suspected he'd have bruise. Assuming I live that long.


Yohji pushed his hands up as far as he could reach.

"I'm going to step back. Don't assume I won't still shoot."

The pressure vanished. Yohji found himself almost missing it. At least then i knew where he was. He turned his head, trying to get a glimpse of his captor.

"Eyes forward!"

Yohji turned his face to the wall again. He doesn't want to kill me. If he did, he'd have done it already. Why doesn't he want to kill me? What does he want? I just need a chance. He's got to slip up somehow, right? Taking a bullet might be better than whatever he's got planned. But bullets hurt, and if he shoots me, I probably won't be able to stop him from doing whatever he has planned anyway. He strained his ears, trying to catch some sort of hint as to what the man was doing behind him.

Then the gun was back, this time pressing against the base of his skull. "Don't move."

Yohji went rigid. A bullet in the back, he might survive, if he got lucky. A bullet to the head was a surer way to die. He felt a prick on the right side of his neck and couldn't help jerking sideways.

A body pressed against Yohji's back, flattening him against the wall. Yohji just managed not to smash his nose. The gun pressed harder. Yohji could still feel the needle in his neck.

He doesn't want to shoot. Why the hell not? Yohji pushed back against the body holding him down and twisted, trying to get free.

The gun moved from the back of Yohji's head but came back in a hard blow against the left side of his head. Temporarily stunned, Yohji sagged, held up almost entirely by the weight of the body pressed against his. By the time Yohji gathered his wits, the needle had withdrawn.

Knowing he was on borrowed time, Yohji twisted again. At least let me get a look at him!

The pressure holding him to the wall vanished, and Yohji staggered sideways. He slid down the wall but managed to catch himself before he ended up sprawled in the dirt. He looked up at his assailant. "Crawford." He barely mouthed the name. He could feel control of his body slipping away. At least it really is a gun. He blinked as his vision doubled. He tried to force himself to his feet but only succeeded in pushing himself partway up the wall before his legs gave way.

Crawford stood a few steps away and watched Yohji struggle. He didn't even bother to point his gun in Yohji's direction. After a moment, he tucked the gun into a pocket and folded his arms across his chest.

This time, Yohji did end up on the ground. He wanted to start cursing, but he doubted he could get the words out. Was it poison, or is he just knocking me out? I suppose I'll know if I wake up... He could hardly see. The last thing he heard was his own voice saying, "Fuck..."


Yohji's head ached, and his mouth was so dry that his tongue felt hard and leathery. He lay on his left side. Under his head, he felt something vaguely cold. Whatever I'm lying on is too soft to be the floor or the ground. His arms were pulled back, and a small tug proved to him that they were bound. He wondered if there was any value in pretending still to be unconscious. What's the point with Crawford and Schuldig around? Yohji opened his eyes.

Schuldig sat on a chair approximately a meter away. He was looking at the ceiling. "I wondered when you were going to wake up." He sounded aggrieved. "Watching you sleep is boring."

Yohji coughed and wondered if he could speak. Questions chased through his thoughts. Why am I alive? What do they want with me? Where are we? Where's Crawford? What does he want? How long has it been? Have the others missed me yet? His throat tightened in a way that had nothing to do with thirst. What are they going to do with me? I don't know anything, and I'm no good as a hostage.

He could only see a portion of the room in which he lay. He could tell that he was up off the floor, so he suspected a western style bed or a couch. He could see walls and a closed door. One of the walls had a print of a painting of a mountain.

"Print? I'll have you know that's an original," Schuldig said with a disapproving sniff. "As if."

Schuldig's chair was the only piece of furniture Yohji could see. The room looked naked, too large to be so empty. Did they clear out the furniture just to put me in here? That argues that they plan to keep me a while. Yohji swallowed, trying to coax some moisture into his mouth.

"If you're polite, I'll get you some water. And something for that headache." /The dry mouth is from the drug. The headache is mostly from Crawford hitting you. He says you're not concussed./

Yohji suspected there was something wrong with the offer. It came too easily. But he couldn't think of a reason to say no. He did need water, desperately. He nodded, feeling his cheek rub against whatever it was his head was lying on. That'll get him out of here for a few minutes. That might help. But he might drug me again. He could do that anyway. I can't even sit up. What sort of game is he playing?

Schuldig stood and stretched. He looked down at Yohji. "Better get you sitting up first." He walked over and tugged Yohji's feet toward the edge of whatever he was lying on.

Yohji couldn't help a flinch as Schuldig touched him.

Schuldig grinned. Then he lifted Yohji by the shoulders. /You're in luck. Crawford told me to play nice./

Yohji found himself sitting on the edge of a bed. Where his head had been, he saw a gel pack, the kind people put in the freezer and pull out to deal with bumps and bruises. What the hell? Why do they care about my bruises? His eyes flew to Schuldig's face. He thought about trying to say something, but it didn't seem worth the effort. He's a telepath. He's a telepath. How am I going to escape?

/Yeah. Crawford gave you a cold pack. From him, that's practically an I love you. He must really like you./ Schuldig stepped back. "You're not going to fall over, are you?"

Yohji was by no means sure, but he shook his head. He really wanted Schuldig to leave.

"Good enough." /I'm going to lock the door behind me. That's more to keep Farfarello out than to keep you in. The lock won't stop Nagi if he decides to kill you as a gift for Tot, but he's out right now and shouldn't be back today./

Yohji felt a sudden chill. He tested his bonds again.

Schuldig grinned. He watched Yohji for a few seconds then turned and walked out of the room. True to his word, the sound of the door shutting was followed by a clicking of the lock.

They're a little loose. Maybe I can- And do what? He twisted around to see the rest of the room. I don't feel my watch, and I can't surprise Schuldig when he's watching for it, and he's not stupid. Vicious, yes. Remember Ouka. And Sakura.

There was a window in the wall behind him. He couldn't see much through it, not at the angle he had, just blue sky and sunshine.

I wonder if I can stand? One way to find out. Yohji slide forward to put weight on his feet. I wonder what they did with my shoes? He swayed as he got to his feet, but he didn't fall over. He walked cautiously to the window.

He was up high, at least third floor. There were trees out there that didn't reach the window. The building he was in seemed to be a large house. It had a small, walled garden. Yohji could see other houses nearby. They've got money. Why doesn't that surprise me? I can't get out the window, not safely. That leaves going through the house. Okay. I can do that. He resolutely didn't think about the human roadblocks to his plan.

The door handle rattled once, twice, then stilled.

Yohji spun to face the door. He tugged at the cords that bound his wrists. I should have- No. Don't second guess. He crouched a little, ready to rush at whoever came through that door. Assuming anyone does. Schuldig said the lock would stop Farfarello. He strained to reach the knots on his bonds and waiting to see what would happen next.

Nothing further happened. Yohji relaxed a little and walked back to the bed. He sat down once more and continued to work to free himself. The cords were relatively loose in as much as they weren't going to make his hands go numb, but they weren't loose enough to make reaching them easy. His fingers couldn't quite get to anything useful, but he persisted.

Crawford came looking for me. Why? Would any of us have done? Does he think I know something that he can torture me for- or just have Schuldig dig out of my mind? Does he want to kill me creatively? Why now? Whatever it is, it can't be good. I'm just lucky they let me wake up. That gives me a chance, not much of one, but a chance.

Yohji froze as the door rattled again. After a second of indecision, he stood again.

The lock clicked, and the door swung open. Schuldig was standing there with a tray that held a pitcher of water, a glass with a straw and a small bottle that Yohji thought he recognized as a common painkiller.

Not that that means anything. Yohji relaxed a little then wondered why he should feel safer with Schuldig. I'm definitely not safer with him in the room. He suppressed a shudder. He likes to play games.

/I listened when Crawford told me not to kill you or even hurt you./ Schuldig flashed a grin as he pushed the door shut behind him. He set the tray on the floor near his chair. As he straightened, he said, "I will, however, tie you more tightly if I think you're getting close to freeing yourself. I will also beat the shit out of you if you try to escape. I'll enjoy it, too." /Crawford told me not to play with you, but that wouldn't be playing./

Yohji heard Schuldig's words. He put them aside to consider later. For the moment, his attention focused the pitcher of water. He licked his lips.

Schuldig followed Yohji's gaze and smiled. This time, the expression wasn't remotely friendly. He bent and poured water into the glass. He picked it up and looked at it. He put one finger over the opening in the straw and pulled it out of the water. He watched as water dripped slowly from the straw. "You want this?"

Yohji closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Swallowing hurt, feeling as if the sides of his throat were trying to stick together. "Yes," he managed to say. It came out as more of a croak than a word. How is this not playing with me?

/I've got to have some fun./ "I don't think we start with the straw. You need a bigger mouthful to start." Schuldig let the straw empty out then laid it on the tray next to the pitcher. He walked over to Yohji.

Yohji didn't like having Schuldig that close, but he didn't see any other options. I need the water, and it's not like he has to care what I want. He opened his mouth as Schuldig placed the edge of the glass against his lips. He let the water in, letting it run over his parched tongue. He closed his mouth, and water ran down his face, wetting his shirt.

Schuldig pulled the glass away.

Yohji swished the water around in his mouth then swallowed.

They repeated the process three times before Schuldig retrieved the straw. Glad to have that much control, Yohji drained the glass. "More," he said.

Schuldig bent to refill the glass. /Just bear in mind- When you need to piss, you're going to need my help./ "Won't that be fun?"

Yohji shifted uneasily. It's not urgent. Yet. Shit. I don't want his hands on me.

/Like I want to touch your junk./ Schuldig sniffed. "As if. You're not that interesting." He held the glass so that Yohji could reach the straw.

Yohji couldn't help thinking, as he drank, that it was safer for Schuldig to think him dull. Bad things happen when he's interested. He suppressed a shudder. I've got to get out of here.

"You're not going anywhere until Crawford gets back from his meeting." /I don't see why, but he's gone to a lot of trouble over you./ "He even rescheduled his meeting for you."

Yohji released the straw. "I didn't ask him to." Why would he bother? Suddenly the water that he'd swallowed felt hard and heavy. Is that when things are going to get bad? When Crawford returns? He couldn't help remembering the feel of the gun pressed against the base of his skull. This time he did shudder.

Schuldig pushed Yohji's hair back from his face. "That bruise is going to be spectacular. Crawford's pissed about it." /I owe you for that. It's getting me out of a month of dishes. I bet him he couldn't get you without marking you./

Yohji jerked his head back from Schuldig's hand. "A bet? He did this for a bet?" He heard the rising emotion in his voice and forced himself to shut up.

"Oh, no. He has other reasons." /Not that he's shared them with me./ "He just thought he could do it without any fuss." Schuldig stepped away. /Maybe he intends to fuck you. I suppose you're pretty enough./ His smile was pure malice.

That idea had never occurred to Yohji, but now that Schuldig had brought it up, Yohji couldn't entirely dismiss it. For all that we're pretty sure about Schuldig- not that Sakura would ever say- we don't know that Crawford's a rapist. I could survive that. He might even let me go afterward. Maybe. He felt cold and wished he could rub his arms. What does it say that that's potentially better than the other possibilities I've been trying not to think about?

"I'm not going to sit with you all afternoon," Schuldig announced. "If you want more water, now's the time to tell me, and we'll take a trip to the toilet before I go."


Yohji almost persuaded Schuldig to leave the glass of water, but he couldn't keep his mind from focusing on how useful the shattered pieces of the glass would be. Schuldig laughed and took the glass.

I'll have to break the window, Yohji thought as soon as Schuldig had gone. This house is big enough that Schuldig might not hear it break. Maybe I can cut these cords before he can get back here. He stood up and looked at the window. I'll have to kick it. If I use my shoulder, I might carry on through, and the fall would kill me.

He waited, hoping that time would take Schuldig out of earshot. He bounced on his toes, trying to loosen up so that he could manage a kick that high. I can do it. I have to. I can't just wait to see what Crawford has in mind. He stretched his legs. My right leg has more force. That's what's wanted. He tried a couple of kicks into the air to see if he could get the necessary height. It was harder with his hands tied as he couldn't use his arms for balance.

He thought that about ten minutes had passed. Schuldig's elsewhere, or he isn't. I could wait forever and never know. He paced in front of the window. This is going to cut the hell out of my feet. I wish I had my shoes. I don't think socks are going to help much. My pants'll be less than useless, too. He looked around the room, trying to find an alternative.

I might be able to get the blanket off the bed. It's keeping it in place while I kick that'll be hard. It's worth trying. I'll run better if my leg isn't all gashed up. He backed up to the bed, crouched and tugged at the blanket. It took some doing, but he got it loose.

The weight of the blanket threw him off enough that his first kick hit the windowsill. Pain shot up his leg. He clenched his teeth in an effort not to make any noise. He hopped twice, not daring to lower his leg for fear of losing the blanket. Higher. I can manage higher. I have to.

With his next kick, the sole of his foot struck the glass, carrying through it and through the screen beyond. The sound of shattering glass seemed incredibly loud. Yohji could only pray that no one had heard it. The blanket stuck in the window as he pulled his foot back. He had to turn backward to tug it back in. Small pieces of glass fell from the blanket as he pulled, each hitting the floor with tinkling ping. I hope those don't end up in my feet.

Once the blanket was free, Yohji turned to look at the broken window and at the pieces of glass on the floor. None of what was on the floor looked large enough to be useful. Just as well. Getting down there to pick it up would be... difficult. The jagged edges of the glass remaining in the window didn't appeal much either, but he selected a protrusion and backed up to it. His fingers reached cautiously, trying to find what he was looking for. He thought he managed not to slice his fingers, but he suspected he wouldn't know right away.

He did slice and gouge his arms as he rubbed the cords against the jagged glass. Still he felt the cords start to part and counted that as a win. As long as I don't lose too much blood, it's not a big deal.

The door began to rattle just as he freed himself. He stepped away from the window, moving closer to the door and trying to pick a spot free of broken glass. At least this answers the question of how I'll get the door open. He settled into a ready stance. I hope there's not too much glass in my socks. I hope he doesn't have a gun. No, he doesn't want to kill me. A gun's a lot less of a threat than it could be. He resolutely didn't think of all the places Schuldig could shoot him without killing him.

Schuldig burst through the door. He dodged right, avoiding Yohji's first blow. His hands were empty, and Yohji felt a surge of hope.

Yohji shifted closer to the open door. He'd rather run than fight. Though turning my back on him seems like a bad idea.

Schuldig moved almost impossibly fast. He closed the distance between himself and Yohji. His left fist drove at Yohji's gut. His right hand came in higher.

Yohji twisted to avoid Schuldig's left. He wasn't sure what Schuldig's right hand was doing, but he tried to dodge that, too.

Schuldig's right hand grazed Yohji's cheek.

Yohji felt a wave of utter despair. He was unarmed. He had no hope of getting by Schuldig, and even if he did, Farfarello was lurking somewhere in the house. I'm bleeding. There's glass in my feet. No. What the hell am I doing? He straightened up, but the distraction had cost him.

Schuldig's left came up again, catching Yohji just below his diaphragm and punching upward.

Yohji doubled over, gasping for breath.

Schuldig's fingers brushed the side of Yohji's face then pressed in hard.

Yohji felt the overwhelming despair again. I didn't even get in one good punch. I'm a fuck up. I deserve whatever they're going to do to me. Vaguely, in the back of his mind, he knew that he was over reacting, that something was wrong. He simply couldn't focus enough to figure out what that something was.

Schuldig leaned in close. "What did I tell you about trying to escape?" he asked.

Yohji didn't even try to answer. There wasn't any point. Why did I think I could get out? No. I couldn't- I can't- give up. He pushed against the despair, trying to find room to think.

/Oh, very good./ Schuldig's fingers still pressed against Yohji's face. His other hand tangled in Yohji's hair, pulling Yohji's head upward. "You're more work than you're worth." Schuldig's eyes met Yohji's, and he smiled. /I promised you a beating, but right now, you wouldn't even resent it. No fun. An escape for you./

Yohji closed his eyes. Whatever.

"I was wondering when you'd get here."

Confused, Yohji opened his eyes. He couldn't see anything but Schuldig.

"Looking after him is your job," said an accented, male voice.

Yohji couldn't place the new voice. I don't recognize the accent. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. No. I can't think that way. There's only one person this could be.

"And I'm doing my job," Schuldig replied. He sounded irritated.

The newcomer strolled into Yohji's line of sight. Yes. Farfarello. What's he going to do to me? Yohji couldn't quite muster the energy to be afraid.

"There's a limit to how long you can hold him like that," Farfarello said.

"I know that."

The two men fell silent. Yohji could only assume there was a private conversation going on.

"Oh, all right," Farfarello said at last. "But you can't leave him in here. No matter how you tie him, he's too likely to find a way out the window."

The window... Yes. The window. It's far enough down that it'd be over. I could do that.

Schuldig snarled and shook Yohji's head.

"And he's bleeding. How deep are those cuts?"

"Just get the cord. We'll worry about the rest of it after he's tied." Schuldig bit off each word as if it had personally offended him.

"As you wish." Farfarello disappeared from Yohji's sight.

Schuldig looked down at Yohji. "Sit," he said. He followed the verbal command with a telepathic push, and Yohji found himself obeying without really thinking about it. "Take off your socks."

Yohji didn't want to, but his hands moved without his intention. Stop! He's making me- No! His hands stilled for a moment, but fighting Schuldig took too much energy. What's the point? He pulled one sock off then the other.

"Check your feet for glass." Schuldig sounded bored, but his will bore down on Yohji's like a weight in Yohji's head.

Yohji looked at his feet. His head felt a little clearer now that Schuldig was no longer touching him. I should anyway. What's the point? They're going to kill me. I don't know anything, and I'm no good as a hostage. He picked a piece of glass out of his right foot. It was so tiny that he could barely see it. His fingers left bloody smears on his foot. I'm still bleeding. How badly did I cut myself? He wanted to stop and look at his arms, but Schuldig's command still held him. He removed another sliver from his foot.

"You're going to have to walk, and I'd rather you not drive glass any further into your feet." /I'm damned well not going to carry you./

Yohji took a shuddering breath. Breathing still hurt. He pulled his right foot in close so that he could see it better. There's less than I thought there might be. Despair still draped over him, but he could see now that it hadn't come from his own mind. Not entirely. I really am screwed. I just... I wasn't ready to give up. I'm not ready to give up. I just feel like I ought to.

Schuldig folded his arms across his chest and simply watched Yohji.

When Yohji had done as well as he could with both feet, he inspected his arms. Both arms had deep gashes. He'd been lucky. He wasn't going to bleed to death. Probably. No, I missed anything serious. I ought to have stitches for that one, though. More scars. If I live that long.

"What the hell were you thinking, Kudoh?" Schuldig sounded annoyed. "All you had to do was sit quietly and wait. Crawford will be back in an hour or so." /And then you're his problem./ He looked around the room. "Who's going to clean all of this up? And it's still cold enough at night that a hole in the window will matter."

"Fuck you." Yohji didn't feel up to coming up with something original to say. "Boo hoo. Sucks to be you." But not as much as it sucks to be me. He considered trying to get up, but he knew that Schuldig would simply knock him on his ass. Not to mention- He shuddered, recalling the feel of Schuldig in his mind, coercing him. He did that to Sakura.

/Don't you ever forget it./ Schuldig moved away. He stepped around the worst of the glass.

He's wearing shoes. Inside. Yohji wasn't sure why that bothered him given everything else. He turned to keep his eyes on Schuldig.

"I don't know where the hell you're going to sleep tonight. Crawford cleared this room just for you, you know." /He's not going to kill you right away. Maybe he won't at all. Then again, maybe he'll let me do it./

Yohji shuddered again. He had no answer for that. Am I reduced to hoping that it'll be quick?

A throat clearing from the doorway announced Farfarello's return. "I think we'll want to move him," he told Schuldig. "It'll be easier to clean him up if there's water to hand."

"He'll bleed on the carpet. At least it's bare wood in here."

Yohji wasn't sure which of them to watch. They're both threats. What am I doing still on the floor?

"Use the sheet. If we wrap his arms in that, we can get him to the kitchen or the toilet, some place with a sink."

Schuldig made a sound that Yohji interpreted as frustrated agreement. "The kitchen has more room." He moved to the bed and started stripping off the fitted sheet. "Stand up, Kudoh."

Yohji considered refusing, but he knew that Schuldig could force him. He climbed to his feet. "My feet aren't bleeding much, but won't that get on the carpet, too?" Rather than letting it happen and getting beaten for it.

"I brought these." Farfarello tossed something at Yohji's feet.

Yohji looked down and saw a pair of house slippers. He twitched them into position with one foot then slipped them on.

"Stretch out your arms." Schuldig followed the verbal command with a psychic one.

Yohji found his arms moving without his conscious intent. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

Schuldig made a bag out of the sheet and pulled it up over Yohji's hands. Then he wrapped the cloth of the sheet tightly around Yohji's arms.