Written for Purkledragon in the Weiss Day 2009 exchange. Thanks to Olna Jenn for cheerleading and to Chichiri no Da and Hope of Dawn for beta reading.
Sakura had thought that she couldn't hate Crawford- any of Schwarz, really- more than she already did. The loathing vibrated through her body, knotting her muscles, but she didn't let it show on her face. She allowed herself a glance at the girl seated next to her then looked away quickly to keep herself from saying anything she shouldn't. Witnesses. Never forget witnesses. Kritiker can't know we've spoken before, can't know- Anything.
Her time with Schwarz served her well now, and she hated them for teaching her to lie. For teaching both of us. I doubt Aya knew. She has the easier part. No one will expect her to know anything. Me, though... She turned and hid her face against Aya's hair, knowing that she'd use anything she had to if it kept them both safe. The American bastard has been right so far. She pushed her wish that he'd been wrong to the back of her mind, burying it as deeply as she could. I don't have time for that. And I want him to be right about some things. He said all eight of them would survive. He said he was certain, and he didn't lie. He stopped lying when he realized I could tell.
She squeezed Aya's hand then turned to look out the window of the red haired woman's car as it moved rapidly back into the city. She hasn't even given us a name. I don't want to know, but shouldn't she say something? She forced a smile. "He never gave up on you, you know." All three of us know who 'he' is. "He brought you flowers. He worked with them. You'd have liked seeing that, wouldn't you?" She kept her voice light, trying to sound like she was soothing a child or an animal. The tone matters more than the content, and it's all harmless.
Aya sighed and shifted a little but didn't pull away. She'd barely spoken at all since she'd woken.
Sakura wasn't entirely sure that Aya could speak at the moment. She wasn't going to ask. I'm supposed to be stupid, too stupid to think of that. She looked up to see the red haired woman studying them in her rearview mirror. Sakura refused to look away. I'm not ready to hide completely yet. He said we'd have a little time. That was truth.
The red haired woman turned her attention back to traffic.
Sakura closed her eyes. "The woman with red hair won't be an ally, but she won't be an enemy either. Just don't ask her to lie. She doesn't give a damn about Kritiker's policies." I'll use what he said, follow his... Not instructions. He didn't- quite- tell me what to do.
Crawford had predicted the apartment, so Sakura wasn't surprised. Except that he bothered to tell me. She tried to guess if he'd told Aya. I can't tell. Why did he bother? So much time on us, with us, for us. What does it buy him? He'd refused to tell her, simply stating that they were an investment. I wish I could think he lied. Truth telling is less useful- and less pleasant- than it sounds.
The red haired woman unlocked the door, opened it and handed Sakura the keys. "I have things to take care of. There's food here and a bath. I don't expect the clothes will fit, but you can probably find something." She gave Sakura a tiny push. "Take care of Aya."
Sakura pulled Aya inside but didn't turn her back on the other woman. "May I call my parents?" She already knew the answer, the real answer. Crawford had told her that, too, and the truth of it had been solid enough that she knew she'd never speak to them again. "If you seek them out, they will die." I wonder if he meant die eventually as we all will or if he meant he'd kill them? She put the question aside. I'll not risk it.
"There's no phone." The red haired woman bit her lip then nodded firmly and added, "There's also no one watching or listening...for here and for now."
Sakura blinked. Half-truth, truth and truth. "I'm sure we'll be...comfortable." She smiled politely, offering a bow. Thank you.
"I'll send Momoe-san- the lady from the flower shop- to check on you tomorrow. Stay here until she comes." The red haired woman didn't wait for a response. She simply turned and was gone, leaving Sakura and Aya alone in the doorway.
"Come on." Sakura wanted to get the door shut as quickly as possible. She wanted time with no Schwarz and no Kritiker. "I'm amazed you're even on your feet." She locked the door with some relief. "You don't seem to have any muscular atrophy or deconditioning."
"I feel fine." Aya sounded uncertain. "I think-" She shrugged. "I guess it's part of the perfect host thing." She looked around as if trying to assess their surroundings.
"She was telling the truth about no one monitoring the place." Sakura wandered into the apartment, guessing that this was likely to be her one chance to enjoy such a luxurious set of rooms. "Bath first or food?"
"I'm not hungry."
Sakura frowned. "Maybe some miso..." How long since she ate anything? She tried to remember the details of the hospital room where she'd kept vigil the night the Prime Minister died. Was there a feeding tube? "We don't want to hurt you by stressing your stomach, but you do need to eat a little." Don't you? Yes. Even if it's only so no one notices anything.
Aya walked over to the television but didn't turn it on. "Do you like this Momoe-san any better than you like Schuldig?"
Sakura managed not to drop the bowl she'd just pulled from the cupboard. "She's a nice lady, but she answers to people who...may not be so nice." Let's not discuss Schuldig. Please. She closed her eyes and focused on Crawford's words about Kritiker. "It will devour you if you let it, if it thinks you know too much. Too much about Kritiker or too much about us. Be stupid and sweet and traumatized-" She shook her head. That line of thought led to Schuldig's offer to make sure she didn't have to rely on her acting skills when it came to making Kritiker think she was traumatized. Crawford spoke enough truth about Kritiker that I'm going to be very, very careful.
Sakura prepared food without really noticing what she was doing.
Aya watched silently.
After a few minutes, Sakura said, "Schuldig enjoys being cruel. He wasn't allowed that with you." She knew the truth of her words as she spoke them. I was guessing, but... She shook her head. Later.
Aya turned away. She walked to a window and looked out. "He let me see." She smiled. "It wasn't always what I wanted to see, but anything was better than the darkness."
I have nothing to say to that. Sakura finished preparing the soup. She started rice. I'll want that later. "Eat the soup."
"You can use my name if you want to." Aya knelt by the table and picked up a spoon.
I don't want to. Sakura opened the refrigerator again, trying to find something she wanted to eat. "It's his name. It feels like giving up on him." "You won't see him again." He believed it. It wasn't certain truth, but he believed it. As much as he believed that 'encouraging' my...talent was something I'd thank him for. Eventually.
By the time Sakura came out of the kitchen again, Aya had finished half her bowl. She laid down her spoon. "Thank you."
Sakura picked up her own spoon. "I'm sorry." She took a deep breath. "It's been a long time." And I won't see my parents again. I want them. "It's going to be a longer time starting in the morning." Forever.
"How long were we with Schwarz?"
"Not long." Except in our heads. "Barely long enough for Schuldig to teach me shoot." And to make me try to shoot your brother. Crawford said I should be grateful they had an excuse to teach me, that I'd need to know. That was mostly true. "Did they teach you...things?" Schuldig could, in your head, couldn't he? He did in mine.
"A few things." Aya folded her hands in her lap. "He never said why. I was just glad for the company." She untied one of her braids. "He did say I'll have to do most of my training in the real world, building muscles and such."
"I can help with that." I'm good at that. "I went back to running after- after-" She shook her head. "It's not important." All that matters is that everyone will believe that I'd think working out would help this time.
"I would be grateful." Aya loosened her other braid.
"You can call me Sakura if you want." Sakura picked up her bowl and drank. The fluid had cooled enough that she didn't burn her mouth.
"Sakura-chan..." Aya hesitated. She rubbed her throat then cleared it. "I'm sorry, too." The words came out as a whisper. "We got you into this."
"You didn't." I wish you could get me out. Sakura rubbed her face. "Just think- This is all because you look like her. No- Because he thought you looked like her. Aren't you lucky? We'd never have found you otherwise." Hell. Schuldig's not even here, and he's still in my head.
"Will you really tell me everything?" Aya ran her fingers through her hair. "Really everything, I mean. I know what I heard, but...I'm not sure how often I didn't hear, and I don't know... I didn't think to ask Schuldig and..." She shrugged.
Sakura weighed Aya's words. Mostly true except at the end. She did think about it, but either she was afraid to ask or he wouldn't answer. Probably. Crawford said I'll get better at interpreting what I sense. I am better already. "I will." I have to. "We don't have a lot of time. After we leave here, we can't, not about anything that matters." Sakura choked on laughter, her shoulders shaking. I'm missing Schuldig. I never- How can I miss Schuldig? No. I miss his powers. I'd take any other telepath first- Well not any other telepath, not an Estet telepath, not- She covered her face as tears started to escape her.
Aya's hug surprised Sakura. "I'll take care of you, too. I'm older than you are, so I'm responsible."
Sakura found herself crying in truth. Neither of us are old enough for this. She gave herself up to the tears even as part of her mind started counting the seconds she was wasting.
Aya rubbed Sakura's back and made soothing noises.
Is it wasting time if I need this? She tried not to think about how good it felt to have someone hold her without violence. Without threat. Without fear. She let herself relax a little. She doesn't feel anything like Schuldig or...any of them.
"Maybe we should have that bath now?" Aya asked. "It might help."
Sakura wiped her face on her sleeve, reflecting that she never planned to wear these clothes again anyway. "A bath sounds good." The rice cooker will turn itself off. "I want to wash." Wash off Schwarz. Wash off Estet. Wash off...me. "It can be a new beginning. I'll tell you everything. We'll take care of each other." I lost my parents. Maybe I can gain a sister.