Yohji couldn't believe this was happening. There was something surreal about sitting in Schwarz's kitchen while Farfarello cleaned, stitched and bandaged his arms. Yohji thought he'd have stayed still anyway- He was afraid of provoking the lunatic- but Schuldig stayed in his mind, keeping him from moving.

Yohji held his tongue and tried to figure out where the door to the outside was. Schuldig and Farfarello conversed a little in a language Yohji didn't recognize. He didn't think it was English. He'd had enough of that in school that he thought he'd know it even if he didn't understand it.

To Yohji's surprise, neither of the other men tried to make the situation worse for him. At the very least, Schuldig should say something nasty. Yohji glanced at Schuldig then looked quickly away. He didn't want any more of the telepath's attention than he already had.

"There," Farfarello said at last as he taped down the last bandage. "That ought to hold."

"Stand up," Schuldig told Yohji, "and put your hands behind your back."

Yohji thought about fighting the command, but really, what else was he going to do? He stood. He let his hands hang at his sides for a second. Then Schuldig's power in his mind forced his arms back so that his hands lay palm to palm.

Farfarello wrapped cords around Yohji's wrists and arms, not hesitating even when Yohji flinched at the pressure on his wounds.

Once Yohji's hands were tied, Schuldig led the way into a large room with a TV, two couches and an overstuffed chair.

Yohji's legs took him to one of the couches. He sat right in the corner.

Farfarello bent and tied Yohji's ankles together. As he stood, he said, "He'll not be going anywhere." He seated himself at the opposite end of the couch and used a remote to turn on the TV. "Somebody-" He looked meaningfully at Schuldig. "-had better clean up the mess he made. Somebody who was responsible for making sure he didn't get into trouble."

Schuldig made an obscene gesture and stomped back into the kitchen. Yohji heard a cupboard opening. /Don't think I've forgotten- I owe you a beating. I'll make it extra special, just for you./ Then Schuldig was gone from Yohji's mind.

Great. Something to look forward to. Yohji fidgeted, trying to sit up enough that he could move his hands. He didn't expect to get far, but he didn't see any point in giving up.

If anyone had told Yohji that he'd spend an hour or two of his life, sitting on a couch, watching Farfarello play Harvest Moon, he'd have laughed. Now, it wasn't remotely funny. He watched Farfarello pet his livestock, tend his crops and court the neighbor's daughter. Farfarello played with an intensity that Yohji found more than a little creepy.

Yohji remained quiet and hoped that the other man would forget he was there. Yohji was fighting an almost overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. Nothing I did accomplished anything. Schuldig took me down like- like nothing. Now I can't even pretend that things are okay. He hunched his shoulders. No. I'm still alive. They want me that way for now. I've got time. There'll be other opportunities to escape. I just have to pay attention. Oh, why bother? They have all the advantages. Schuldig can make me cooperate with anything.

Schuldig came back after Farfarello had gotten through two or three days. He watched Farfarello play for perhaps thirty seconds then disappeared again. /You'll get yours later, Kudoh. Try not to remind Farfarello that you're there. He gets cranky when he's interrupted, and I don't know how many knives he's carrying./ Schuldig's laughter echoed in Yohji's head.

Yohji had enough self awareness to wonder how much of his despair was Schuldig's doing. He did something to me when he touched me. That wasn't me. I should be thinking of ways to escape or figuring out what Crawford could possibly want. It's just too hard. I wonder if I could sleep?

In the end, Yohji allowed himself to be soothed by the rhythms of Harvest Moon. He didn't intend it, but the movement on the screen drew his eyes. There wasn't anything happening elsewhere in the room. If he didn't look at Farfarello, he could almost pretend that the game was playing itself. It passed the time and gave him something to think about other than how badly screwed he was.

The sound of a door unlocking and opening, brought Yohji to full alert. That must be Crawford. Or maybe Naoe. But Schuldig said Naoe wouldn't be back today. But there's no reason to think he told the truth. Farfarello didn't stick a knife in me at the first opportunity, after all. Yohji struggled to pull himself upright.

Farfarello glanced up and to the right. "That'll be Crawford at last," he said. Then he went back to his game.

Yohji heard another door open. After a moment, it closed again.

Crawford walked into the room. He stopped in the doorway and surveyed the scene. He frowned. "Where is Schuldig?"

Farfarello shrugged and continued to play.

Yohji chose to remain silent. I don't know, and I don't care. He glared at Crawford then, when that seemed to take too much energy, he turned away, back to watching the little figure on the screen collecting eggs.

"How is your head, Kudoh-san?" Crawford sounded closer than Yohji expected, and Yohji couldn't keep from jumping a little. "I told Schuldig to give you something for it, but given how well he seems to have followed my other directions... Well."

Trust Crawford to use 'san.' Schuldig didn't bother, and Farfarello never used my name. Yohji looked up at Crawford. "He gave me something. He insisted." Yohji hadn't wanted to take it. In spite of the clearly labeled bottle, the pills could have been anything. Yohji considered for a moment. His arms hurt worse than his head did.

"You should be upstairs with Schuldig keeping you company," Crawford said.

Not down here, sitting beside a psycho, Yohji filled in. "The company's been better down here," he said at last.

Farfarello looked up and flashed a grin. The effect was not reassuring. "Upstairs is all over glass," he said. "Or was. I suppose Schuldig has cleaned it up by now."

"Glass." Crawford didn't sound enlightened.

"He-" Farfarello nodded at Yohji. "-broke the window. There was blood, too." He sounded almost wistful.

Crawford's eyes returned to Yohji's face. "You're injured," he said flatly. "You're not supposed to be injured."

Yohji remembered the ugly bruising on the side of his head. "Says the man who bashed me in the head."

Crawford flicked his fingers dismissively. "Necessary. Undesirable but necessary." He looked at Farfarello. "How badly is he hurt?"

"He wasn't very careful. Two cuts needed stitches." Farfarello didn't look away from the screen. "Bandaging seemed sufficient for the rest."

Crawford sighed. "I suppose, Kudoh-san, that you're as well here as anywhere else under the circumstances. I need to have a talk with Schuldig. After that, well, you must be hungry."

Food. That's a good sign, right? He can't be planning to kill me soon if he's going to feed me. "I could eat," Yohji admitted. What the hell does he want me for that me being hurt matters? He opened his mouth to ask then closed it again. He watched as Crawford turned and left the room, presumably heading for the stairs.

Yohji tried to relax into watching the game again, but he couldn't. They're Schwarz. Whatever they want me for, it can't be anything good. Yeah, but they're almost being nice. They're just playing with me. Schuldig would do that. Would Crawford? Would Farfarello? I don't know enough about them. Well, Farfarello was with Schuldig that night. He's the one who shot Ouka. Was he playing the same game as Schuldig? Does it matter? She's still just as dead.

Crawford didn't keep Yohji waiting long, just long enough for Farfarello to get through another two days of farming.

Yohji had managed, by that time, to work himself up into active terror. He thought it was better than despair, if only by a little. Whatever he wants, it's not like I can stop him.

Crawford stopped a few steps away. "I'm going to untie your legs. If you attempt to kick me, I will give Schuldig five minutes alone with you." He knelt next to Yohji's legs and began working on the cords.

Tempting, even with Schuldig. I may not win, but I can be a hell of a lot of trouble. "Why are you doing this? Any of this?" Yohji was proud that his voice came out even.

"I don't want to feed you in here." Crawford made short work of the knots.

Yohji shifted to stretch first one leg then the other, carefully avoiding hitting Crawford. "You know what I mean."

Crawford stood up. "Not here. We're disturbing Farfarello."

Responding to his name, Farfarello looked over at them with a glare before turning back to his game.

"Can you stand?" Crawford asked. "Or do you need me to pull you up?"

Pride warred with the desire to force Crawford to do some work. Pride won. "I can stand." Yohji wasn't altogether sure he could. The couch wasn't particularly low or deep, but he'd been unable to move much for what felt like hours. He pulled his legs in and shifted so that his ass was near the edge of the couch. Then he straightened and stood. He wobbled but managed to stay upright.

"Through the kitchen then left." Crawford waved for Yohji to precede him.

Yohji hesitated then complied. What else would I do?

Nobody had cleaned the kitchen. The blood stained sheet still lay in one corner, and there were smears of Yohji's blood on the counters.

Yohji glanced back at Crawford, trying to gauge his reaction.

Crawford frowned. "I suppose cleaning this was too much to expect."

Yohji felt no need to defend Schuldig and Farfarello, so he remained silent. He looked around the room. Seeing a doorway on the left, he headed for that. Through the doorway, he found a room with a rectangular table surrounded by mismatched chairs. The table was wood, and the finish was so worn that the natural color of the wood showed through in places. There were plates at two of the seats. Yohji didn't give a lot of attention to the contents of the plates, but he thought he saw scrambled eggs and rice and something green.

"Sit down," Crawford said. "Is there any reason I shouldn't feed you eggs?"

Yohji hooked a foot around the leg of one of the chairs, pulling it out far enough that he thought he could sit. "Eggs are fine." He stood next to the chair and hesitated. It's not actually worse if I sit down. He sat at last, perching just on the edge of the seat. "I want answers more than I want food."

Crawford pulled out the chair next to Yohji's. "Do you? I expect you aren't going to believe me."

"Try me."

Crawford leaned back in his chair. "You know I see the future."

Yohji nodded. Though how much or how reliably, we never knew.

"Good. That makes this easier. Weiss is coming up on a turning point soon, something that matters to me, but there was a little... How to put it? Something else came up that was going to get in the way. Kidnapping you changes things enough that everybody survives."

Yohji stared at Crawford. "You're right. I don't believe you."

Crawford pinched the bridge of his nose. "There's a mission Kritiker will assign Weiss later today. Your team will spend tonight and most of tomorrow looking for you. They'll carry out the mission without you tomorrow or the day after. Hidaka will be injured but not badly. If you were there, Tsukiyono would die. I considered removing him- He's key to what I'm seeing because his family wants him back- but that led to you dying. He'd never forgive me for that, and it would be a criminal waste."

"His family?" Yohji wasn't ready to address the rest of Crawford's words, so he focused on one point. "He doesn't have any family but us."

"Wrong." Crawford held up a finger. "His grandfather still lives and is searching for him. He's the last Takatori heir. I'd point your Omi out to the old man, but he wouldn't believe me. We have to wait for Takatori Shuichi's former assistant- I think you call her Manx- to do it. She will soon."

Yohji opened his mouth then closed it again. He found himself torn between anger that Manx would keep Omi in Weiss an instant longer than necessary and jealousy that Omi had a way out. He quashed both. Why do I even believe him? It's not like he wouldn't lie if it suited him. But it's plausible. And what about the rest of it? The mission with one of us dying? Why would he care? "Why do you care what happens to Omi?" Or to me?

"Estet is not gone," Crawford replied. "The old man won't use Takatori resources to oppose them. Tsukiyono- Takatori Mamoru- would. Schwarz can do many things, but standing alone against Estet is not among them."

Yohji tightened his shoulders then released them, trying to ease some of the strain. It might be true. It might not. It makes as much sense as anything else. "So you kidnapped me. What makes you think Kritiker will take me back?" I'm compromised. There's no way to prove that Schuldig hasn't already planted commands in my head, and I'll be here two more days. If Crawford's telling the truth.

"You're clever. Tell them a lie they'll believe." Crawford shrugged. He picked up a pair of chopsticks. "Besides, the rest of Weiss hasn't told Kritiker you're missing yet." He smiled.

And you know that how? Right. Super powers. Yohji's eyes followed the chopsticks in Crawford's hand as they dipped into the plate of food in front of Yohji and lifted some egg. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I can do this. Refusing to eat won't help anybody. But what if the food is drugged? What if it is? They can get the same effect more efficiently with a needle. It's not like I could stop them. He opened his mouth.

"It would be easier," Crawford said as he placed the first bite in Yohji's mouth, "if you believed me. It's in everybody's interest for you to stay away from your team for a while. Do that, and nobody dies. Escape and return to them, and Tsukiyono dies."

Yohji opened his eyes, chewed and swallowed. "Just because I can't see how lying benefits you doesn't mean it doesn't."

Crawford shrugged. "As you wish." He picked up more food and offered it to Yohji. "You did well with Farfarello this afternoon, by the way. He wouldn't have killed you if you'd interrupted him, not when I want you alive, but he probably would have hurt you. He plays like that when he's trying to keep his balance."

Yohji swallowed then said, "I expected him to play something more, I don't know, violent."

"Only in preparation for actual violence. He prefers the real thing."

"That's not reassuring."

"It's not meant to be. Take some comfort in knowing that you're not currently interesting enough prey to garner his attention. If you were armed, he'd be mildly interested in killing you. No more than that."

"Where is my watch?" Don't say you threw it away. That really would be hard to explain to Kritiker.

"It's safe. I'll give it back to you when we let you go." Crawford met Yohji's eyes. "Ideally this will be a minimal interruption to your life." He put down the chopsticks and lifted a napkin. "You've got a little something there," he said as he wiped the corner of Yohji's mouth.

Yohji blinked. Did he... linger? Nonsense. Schuldig wasn't serious. "This would be much easier if you'd just untie me."

"And stand back, keeping a gun trained on you while you eat?" The corners of Crawford's mouth twitched. "A gun is less effective when you know I don't want to shoot you. That sort of injury would be very hard for you to explain."

"A bullet in the right place, back in that alley, would have kept me out of this supposed mission quite nicely." Yohji raised his chin. "We could have avoided all of this."

Crawford pushed his glasses back. "I didn't want to avoid all of this. You intrigue me, and a bullet in an alley is so impersonal."

Is he flirting? If he is, can I use it? Yohji did his best to keep his thoughts off his face. "Forgive me if I'd rather be home. You've all been... surprisingly civilized, but it's an experience I could have done without." He forced a smile and licked his lips. He lowered his eyes to focus on Crawford's hands.

"Don't bother, Kudoh-san. Really. Don't. There will be no seduction." Crawford raised one hand to touch Yohji's cheek. He brushed his fingers over Yohji's skin. "I don't object in theory, but in practice... Making out would only last until you got your hands around my throat."

Of course, he can see the future. "You're not unattractive." He's not, just dangerous as hell. And more, whatever Schuldig did to Sakura, Crawford condoned. For all I know, it was his idea.

Crawford scooped up some rice and offered it to Yohji. "That's something for later, some time when I haven't just kidnapped you." He smiled, an expression Yohji thought was genuine.

Like hell. "You kidnapping me is kind of hot." He's already said it won't work, but I have to try. I'm running out of ideas. Yohji took a deep breath before accepting the rice Crawford offered.

"Then you won't mind being tied to the bed." Crawford's chopsticks dipped into the food again, this time coming up with a bit of broccoli.

Yohji suppressed a shudder. I can do it. He might slip up. "If that's what you're into." He smiled and leaned toward Crawford, taking the broccoli.

Crawford gave an answering smile. This time it didn't reach his eyes. "It would simplify tonight." He selected a bit of egg. "I'd intended to have you sleep in the room where you woke up." He shrugged. "You rendered that uninhabitable. It'll simply be too cold once night falls."

"I'd have broken that window no matter when you left me in there alone, and I doubt anybody wanted to sit and watch me all night." Yohji couldn't bring himself to be apologetic.

"If you could bring yourself to believe me about the mission, it would help. I don't particularly want to keep you tied up while you stay with us."

Yohji hadn't really thought about that. "It's not that I don't believe you." It's that I object to being kidnapped and held captive. "My time here has been so pleasant. Why ever would I want to leave?"

Crawford surprised Yohji by laughing. "Our household does take some getting used to."

"I'd really rather not. I'm definitely not Schuldig's favorite person right now, and he said that Naoe would like to kill me." Though he also said Farfarello would attack me immediately. Was he telling the truth about any of it?

Crawford set down the chopsticks. "Nagi is a problem. Tot hasn't forgiven you for Neu, and Nagi's still trying to get her to forgive the rest of us for Hel, Schoen and Masafumi. Nagi would definitely like to present your corpse to Tot as a love gift."

This time, Yohji didn't conceal his shudder. "I'd prefer to avoid that."

Crawford shrugged. "Nagi is more obedient than Schuldig or Farfarello. He's also occupied with his job."

"His job?"

"Masafumi actually adopted Tot. Who'd have thought? Anyway, that makes her Takatori enough for the old man. He's got her in school. It's not going dreadfully well. She's not good at conforming. Nagi's job is to go to school with her and smooth things out for her. She doesn't really need a bodyguard, as such, but that's as close to Nagi's job description as anything. Schuldig laughs and says it's all very shoujo. He tends to make sure people see hearts and sparkles when he says that."

"I'm surprised that any Takatori would have anything to do with you, given everything." Yohji still wasn't sure what he thought about the idea that there were still Takatoris in the world. Omi doesn't count. What will he think? Will he believe any of it? Do I believe any of it?

"Takatori Reiji fired us. He made sure that we wouldn't be with him when he faced Weiss."

Yohji wondered if that was the truth, but he guessed that Crawford wouldn't give him anything more. "What about Ouka?"

"Ah, that. The old man won't consider putting Schuldig or Farfarello on the payroll. He sees me as only useful because I bring them along. The three of us are freelancing. It pays the bills."

"I'm surprised he's content with just not hiring them." It wouldn't be enough for me, not for a granddaughter.

"The old man is pragmatic. There's a reason he's not hunting Weiss over his son and grandsons."

"He knows?" Yohji felt cold. What sort of resources could he bring to bear? Could Kritiker- would Kritiker- protect us?

"Tot knew, so yes, he knows. According to Schuldig, he thought his sons were fools, but he had great hopes for Hirofumi." Crawford lifted the last bite of rice and offered it to Yohji.

Yohji ate almost mechanically. He didn't like where his thoughts were going. Always assuming Crawford's telling the truth. But why wouldn't he be? If I trust part of it- Each piece relies on the others. If I got away now, would I dare to go home? Probably not. It's not worth the risk. He straightened his spine. I still want out of here.

Crawford picked up a clean pair of chopsticks and started in on his own plate. He ate with efficient focus, leaving Yohji to his own thoughts.

If I'm not going home, what am I going to do? I don't know, but it's got to be better than staying here. Schuldig wants to kill me. Farfarello wants- Actually, I don't know what the hell he wants. Crawford... He's told me way too much, way too easily.

Yohji cleared his throat. "Crawford-san, if I promise not to try to escape, will you untie me?"

Crawford looked up. He studied Yohji's face. "If I believe you. We both know you'd have no compunction about lying."

Yohji had to acknowledge the truth of that. "What would it take to convince you?" Not that being untied will help when Schuldig comes after me. I mean, he just touched me, and I couldn't move, and he can control me like a puppet. I think it's hard work for him, but he can do it.

Crawford set down his chopsticks and pushed up his glasses. "It depends on what I see coming. I might ask Schuldig to be sure."

"He wants me helpless."

"Schuldig won't lie to me." Crawford sounded completely confident.

Yohji had no answer for that, so he did his best to shrug.

"Were you planning to offer your parole or is this an academic discussion?"

Yohji flexed his fingers. "It depends on what I get for it. I'm not saying I believe you entirely, but I'm not willing to take the risk that you're telling the truth, either. Of course, if you're lying to me and keeping me away so that one of my teammates will die- If that's true, then I'll kill you. You may be able to see me coming, but I'll find a way."

"If I wanted one of your friends dead, it would be simpler to put a bullet in him." Crawford steepled his fingers and studied Yohji. "If- If I believe your promise, I'm prepared to go a step further. You and I will get a hotel room. Two beds, in case you were wondering."

Yohji closed his eyes. I don't have to do this. I could still escape. No, I couldn't. They've got super powers, and I... don't. And getting out of this house means getting away from Schuldig and Farfarello and Naoe. That's attractive. "What do you want me to promise?"

"Not much. Just that you'll stay in this house or in the hotel room until I tell you it's safe to go home. I do ask that you not try to kill me or any other member of Schwarz, but I'd like to think that follows from a civilized agreement."

"I don't plan to search for loopholes."


The hotel room was very nice. Whatever sort of freelancing Crawford was doing, it apparently paid well. As if I couldn't guess that from the house. Three floors and a garden! Yohji claimed the bed nearer the door simply by sitting on it.

Crawford shrugged and took his bag to the other bed. He opened the bag and started to unpack. As he did, he tossed a t-shirt and sweatpants onto Yohji's bed, followed by an unopened package of socks and a similar package of underwear. "That all ought to fit, and it'll be better for sleeping in than what you're wearing now."

Yohji picked up the shirt. It was an unflattering shade of brown. "As long as no one else sees me wearing it." He stood up. "I can't shower, not with the bandages on my arms, but I would like to wash a little."

Crawford waved a hand. "Take your time. I'll just see if there's anything on TV. There might be a movie we can agree on."

Yohji used a washcloth and soap and cleaned himself as well as he could. He'd bled on his clothes. He wasn't sure they could be saved, but he put them to soak in the bathtub. At least I know enough to use cold water. That's a mistake you only make once. He washed his hair in the sink, using a cup to pour water over his head.

When he emerged, he found Crawford reclining on his bed, channel surfing.

Yohji ran the towel over his hair one more time before draping it on a chair. "Not liking anything on?"

Crawford glanced over at him. "I wasn't sure of your taste, so I'm just getting an idea of what's on."

Yohji nodded. "Oh- I hope you don't need to bathe any time soon. I put my clothes in to soak. The blood might come out." I'd rather not wear these clothes when I do finally go home. He sat down on his bed and pulled one knee up against his chest. "And I can watch anything really."

"Let me know if anything catches your eye." Crawford continued clicking from channel to channel. "Or we could- This place caters to western business travelers. There are some fairly recent movies we can get."

Yohji tried to think if there were any recent American movies he cared about. There's got to be something. This is so fucking weird. He's acting like we're friends or something. At least he's stopped flirting. Or is he just biding his time? Circumstances are different now. He might make a pass at me. And what do I do then? "I don't mind sports. With Ken, you get used to watching that sort of thing." Not that we've watched anything in months. Ken has to go to bars in order to see his games. "I miss TV. The way we've been living the last few months, we don't have TV."

"That means you probably don't recognize any of the shows." Crawford's channel surfing slowed. "What sort of show do you like?"

Yohji made a face. What do I want to tell him? "Historical dramas can be fun, and I don't mind modern dramas. I just-" He bit his lip. That's a little naked. No, fuck it. "No amnesia stories, and I try to avoid tragedies."

Crawford's hand stilled. The TV showed a newscaster talking about the economy. "She'd have killed you, you know. That's what I saw. Her killing you. It didn't matter because I only needed Hidaka and Fujimiya. I hadn't thought through needing Tsukiyono yet."

Yohji flexed and relaxed his hands, over and over. "We'll never know. There might have been some way to help her." He wiped a hand across his face.

"If you could have killed the rest of Schreient, I suppose other options would have opened up. She'd have fought you every step. Do you really think Kritiker would have spared resources to deprogram her?"

"So she actually was-? Of course she was. She couldn't be anyone else." The conversation was tearing at a raw place in Yohji's mind. He pulled his other leg up against his chest and wrapped his arms around his knees.

"That was when I started to be interested in you," Crawford said. "You surprised me. That's very difficult to do."

"I'm so pleased." Yohji didn't even try to hide his bitterness. "I relive those moments, you know, trying to think what else I could have done." Do you see another way? I don't. It would be worse if I did. He could see Asuka's face. She seemed so far away, getting farther away as he watched. "I just wanted-" What did I want? Asuka back. Asuka happy. He scrubbed his face and hated that his hand came away wet. Was she happy as Neu? Asuka would have hated Masafumi, but Neu... was devoted to him. Asuka would have hated Weiss, too. "We're all trapped. I almost- No, I do. I envy you. You have choices."

Crawford sat up and swung his legs off the side of his bed. "That comes with fewer scruples. You should consider- Kritiker will use you until you're used up. And then what? They don't exactly have a retirement plan."

"Live fast. Die young." Yohji shrugged. "Do you have any cigarettes? It's been hours." He felt like he was bleeding inside, but there was no reason to show that to Crawford.

Crawford pointed at the room's dresser. "Top right drawer. It's everything I took from you."

Yohji squeezed his knees a little tighter against his chest then forced himself to let go. He stood, took one step and opened the drawer. Inside lay his cigarettes, his lighter, his wallet and his watch. He snatched that last up and held it for a moment before putting it on. "I'm surprised you're giving this back to me."

"Either I trust your promise or I don't." Crawford turned off the TV.

Yohji heard the sound of movement but didn't look back to see what Crawford was doing. He left his wallet where it was. As long as I don't forget it, there's no reason to move it. He picked up the pack of cigarettes and the lighter and returned to his bed.

Crawford brushed past Yohji, apparently heading for the toilet.

He didn't have to come so close. Did he want to touch me? Yohji lit a cigarette and took a long drag. So what if he did? How is this different from him flirting during dinner? Well, for one thing, I can tell him to stay the hell away. If I want to. Do I want to? He inhaled again then blew out smoke. He looked around for an ashtray.

There was one on the table between the beds, next to the alarm clock. Yohji moved along the bed until he was next to the table. He had nearly finished his cigarette by the time Crawford returned. He hadn't reached any conclusions which surprised him. I rarely go for guys, and he's Crawford. I shouldn't even be considering it.

"There's a toothbrush for you," Crawford announced. "I left it by the sink."

"I'll get to that eventually." Is it time for that? I've lost track. Yohji glanced at the clock. It was only ten after eight. "It seems early to get ready for bed."

Crawford continued unbuttoning his shirt. "I'll be more comfortable in my nightclothes. It's not as if we're going anywhere."

Yohji crushed the butt of his cigarette. He tried to picture Crawford in something other than a suit. I can't do it. He watched as Crawford undressed efficiently. Then, realizing what he was doing, he looked away. He must work out. Of course, he works out. You can't move like he does if you don't work at it.

"It's all right to look." Crawford sounded amused.

Yohji looked at his feet. "Schuldig- What he did with Sakura- You could have stopped that. You let him- It's like you did it."

"As long as he was playing with her, Estet let us keep her, and we needed her."

Yohji still couldn't look at Crawford. "Even if you hadn't, you wouldn't have stopped him." That's even without mentioning Farfarello.

"I control Schuldig because I let him... indulge from time to time." Crawford didn't sound even a little apologetic. "I don't normally let him bring his toys home, and most people survive. Schuldig is mine."

'Most people survive.' Right. You knew he was ruthless. Yohji raised his eyes. And he's naked. What would it be like to touch- No.

"I don't pretend to be anything I'm not, Kudoh-san. I'm not one thing during the day and something else at night."

That's to my address. "I'm not accusing you of hypocrisy. Other things, yes, but not that." Yohji found himself continuing to study Crawford's naked form.

Crawford leaned over, picked up a pair of sweatpants and shook them out. "Each of us has his own sins. I can live with mine."

Yohji had nothing to say to that. Who'd have thought he'd think of it as sin? To keep himself occupied, he lit another cigarette.

"Ignoring your sins doesn't make them go away." Crawford stepped into his pants.

It's doing well enough. Yohji closed his eyes. Asuka's face was all he could see. "Dwelling on them doesn't help either."

"Have you got anything else?"

No. Yohji opened his eyes. "I suppose you're offering?" Offering what exactly?

"The road you're currently on leads to self-destruction, and you'll take others down along the way, innocents as much as anybody is." Crawford pulled on a t-shirt. "I can show you other paths."

Yohji tapped ash off his cigarette. "Right."

Crawford raised his hands in a shrug. "I'm not trying to take away your choices. If you want to start strangling your lovers, that's no skin off my nose. It just seems like a waste of your potential."

Yohji sat bolt upright. I will not! I wouldn't! Would I? He set his cigarette in the ashtray and stretched his hands in front of him so he could study them. "My potential?" He shook his head. "I thought we agreed earlier that there's no future in Weiss. I am Weiss, nothing more, nothing less."

Crawford frowned. He skirted his bed and came to sit across from Yohji. "I'm not a fool. I'm not asking you to stop being Weiss. That would just alienate you."

He's close. I don't think I like him that close. Yohji picked up his cigarette and took a drag. He blew smoke in Crawford's general direction. Back off. "Then what are you asking?" He wants something.

"For the moment, just to take a look at your arms. I think the bandages probably need changing."

Yohji cradled his right arm in his left. It's not a bad idea. Yeah, but it's his hands on me. Who knows where that will lead? Where do I want it to lead? "All right. After I finish this cigarette. Should we go to the sink? I don't know how much I'll bleed."

Crawford snorted. "For what I'm paying, they can handle a little blood on the bed." He hesitated. "Unless you think you'll want to wash. Farfarello did clean the wounds, yes?"

Yohji nodded. "He was very... careful." It was fucking eerie.

Crawford watched while Yohji finished his smoke. He looked, Yohji thought, like a man facing a puzzle or a challenge. He definitely wants something. It can't be as simple as sex. Not with him. But if it were- Would I? It doesn't gain me anything now that I've promised to stay. Does it lose me anything? It's just bodies, and I'm not going to get a better offer while I'm here.

Crawford's hands were as gentle as Farfarello's had been. This time, Yohji was less surprised. He knew by now that Crawford valued him. As weird as that is. The old bandages clung. Lifting them did, in fact, make him bleed again.

Crawford clicked his tongue in disapproval when he saw Yohji's right arm bared. "You really did a number on yourself."

"Can you blame me? I thought, best case, that you'd kill me."

"After taking that much trouble to take you alive?" Crawford raised his eyebrows. He spread salve on Yohji's cuts.

"That was puzzling but not reassuring. Schuldig's kindest explanation was that you might want to fuck me."

Crawford stopped, looked up and met Yohji's eyes. "I do want to. It just wasn't part of my plans for today. I prefer consent, real consent."

Yohji's hands twitched. "Yeah, I got that. You definitely weren't thinking with your cock."

Crawford started wrapping clean bandages around Yohji's arm. "You'd have done anything to get me to untie you."

"If I could have knocked you out, you'd have made a spectacular meat shield."

Crawford smiled. "Other arm."

Neither of them spoke until Crawford finished working on Yohji's left arm.

"That should hold you through the night," Crawford said. He squeezed Yohji's hand before letting go. Then he reached up to touch Yohji's face. He leaned in and brushed his lips across Yohji's.

Yohji froze. Though why I'm surprised, I don't know. He said he was interested. When Crawford had pulled away, Yohji said, "I thought you said that wasn't going to happen."

"That was then. Circumstances have changed."

"I suppose they have." Yohji swallowed hard. Decision time.

Crawford picked up the discarded bandages and stood. He carried them to the trash.

Yohji watched him go. This would be easier if he hadn't done that. He wasn't altogether sure what 'that' referred to, whether the kiss or the getting up and walking away. I guess it really is up to me. He stood and stretched. "Crawford-san-" He hesitated, waiting until Crawford turned to look at him. He squared his shoulders. "Just what do you want?" He managed to keep his voice even.

Crawford looked Yohji up and down. "Immediately or long term?"

Long term? There's a long term? Of course, there is. Yohji cleared his throat. "Either. Both. Yes. Both." I need to know.

Crawford pushed his glasses up. "I'd like you to call me Brad."

Yohji simply stood and watched him.

"Too soon? Of course, it's too soon." Crawford sighed. "For the moment, I'd like to kiss you again. This time with you kissing back."

And one thing leads to another. Got that. Yohji nodded.

Crawford took a step toward Yohji. "For the long term, I'd like to see you again. Without having to kidnap you." He gave a one armed shrug. "What comes of that isn't certain, but the possibilities... intrigue me."

He wants more than a simple fuck. He wants a relationship. Yohji raised his chin. "Why would I do that?"

Crawford laughed without much humor. "If nothing else, it's useful to have a... friend who can see the future. I can save you a lot of trouble. I can help you invest so that you have money Kritiker knows nothing about."

He's not trying to romance me. That's something. If I do it, though, long term, I can't stay detached. I know myself that well. I'll call him Brad, and he'll call me Yohji. I'll... care. Yohji licked his lips. "That's more than a small risk." But, if he's telling the truth, there would be rewards.

"I can help with that." Crawford spread his hands. "I want to."

"I need to think." I need not to think. "I can't decide on the long term today or even tomorrow. I need time." Time to remember why it's a terrible idea.

Crawford smiled. Yohji thought it was the expression of a man who thinks he's winning. "I can handle that," Crawford said.

"For the short term-" I don't have to. I don't think he'd push. No. I need to know what I'm getting into. Yohji looked Crawford up and down as he considered what sex with him would be like. "I'm willing to kiss you and see where it goes."

"Not a ringing endorsement of the idea." Crawford's tone was dry.

"It's been a really fucking bad day. You're not getting a ringing endorsement of anything." But sex would feel good, and something about this day should.

"I'm sorry for hitting you."

But not for the rest of it? Of course not. Yohji shrugged. "Take it or leave it."

"How about instead I give you a massage? I brought oil."

You were expecting this, weren't you? Yohji studied Crawford's hands, wondering how strong they were. He rolled one shoulder then the other. "I could go for that."

"Take off your shirt and lie down." Crawford headed for his bag.