Theme: 11. The Ward, or, “The Sleeves on this Jacket are a bit Long, Sir.”
Great idea, Yohji told himself. Yeah, man, you are so fucking smart.
Because obviously what this mission needed was an inexperienced teenager with authority issues who’d been kidnapped and held prisoner by the guy they were trying to rescue. Would Ran recognize Schuldig when she saw him? Yohji thought she would.
The back of the hospital was dark, quiet, and locked up tight. Yohji checked his watch. “Two minutes,” he whispered to Ran.
She nodded, crouched beside him behind a dumpster, wearing bits of Omi’s old mission gear. “It smells,” she whispered back. “And this alley is gross.”
He hadn’t noticed before--he’d smelled worse things--but it did. “Thanks for pointing that out.”
“I want to do it,” Ran said suddenly. She turned her brother’s stare on him. “When the guard comes out, I want to do it.”
“Fine,” Yohji said.
“And I will never take you on another mission as long as I live. And you can bet the rest of them won’t either,” he added.
Her mouth tightened, but she only nodded. He was ready for trouble when the guard stepped out for his hourly smoke, but she followed the plan.
Yohji slid forward out of the dark and knocked out the guard. Ran injected him with a cocktail that should keep him unconscious for an hour or so. They slipped inside the dark hospital and closed the door behind them.
Their footsteps echoed on balding tile. Only every other overhead fixture was lit. The air smelled of disinfectant and formaldehyde. It was a familiar smell, one that got worse the more familiar it became. It was so familiar by now that it made the back of Yohji’s neck go cold and his stomach sink.
He glanced at Ran, but she stalked on beside him, jaw set so hard he could see her muscles clenched even in the dim light. She pulled out the map he’d given her and found their position. “This way,” she said.
She must know that smell even better than he did. Aya was actually going to kill him when he found out about this.
Yohji followed her through long corridors, lined with locked rooms. Each held some damaged mind. They were only going to leave with one. Yohji wondered what it took to get locked up here. Surely not much, or there wouldn’t be so many rooms. Maybe more of the world was crazy than anyone knew. Himself included, certainly, or he wouldn’t be here.
He took a few quick steps and caught Ran’s arm. “Do you know who he is? Who we’re going to get out?”
He said it much too loudly, and his words bounced off the tiles.
“Fuck,” he added, and pulled them into the shadows in case they’d attracted any unwanted attention.
“Yes,” Ran said simply.
“Then why did you want to help?”
She bit her lip a moment. “They’re not that bad. I know Ran would say I’ve got Stockholm syndrome or something, but I think it’s just that I spent so long listening to them. I was alone a long time. Ran could only visit so often. I know he tried, but... It was nice hearing them all argue about what to watch on TV or who was supposed to do the dishes. And sometimes they talked to me, like I could understand. He-- Schuldig did it more than the rest.” She paused and sucked her lower lip thoughtfully. “The crazy one slept on the floor beside me sometimes.”
Yohji could just picture that. It gave him the creeps.
“This is it,” she said, turning to a door that looked just like all the other doors. The number stenciled on it was 69, which made Yohji smirk.
He bent and went to work on the lock, Ran watching over his shoulder. “Stop that,” he said. “Keep an eye out for the guards.”
“All right, but you have to teach me that later.”
“I’ll think about it.”
The lock was old and yielded easily, but the hinges screeched when he pushed the door open. He and Ran both froze. “In,” he muttered, and got them both inside and out of sight.
With the door closed, the room was lit only by the small square of light from the hallway. The bubbled glass cast a strange shadow on Schuldig’s face where he lay, balled up under a thin, grey blanket. At least there were no restraints now, but Yohji could see the raw skin on one wrist where it stuck out of the covers, fingers dragging limply on the floor. His head was shaved down to a red stubble.
Ran stepped forward, but Yohji caught her shoulder and shook his head. He called Schuldig’s name softly. No response. He took the box of tissues off the windowsill and tossed it onto Schuldig’s stomach. Still nothing.
Even so, he was still prepared when he touched Schuldig’s foot and Schuldig lunged for him. It was worryingly easy to hold him down. Yohji gripped his upper arms in deference to his abused wrists and looked down into his vacant eyes.
Schuldig subsided under him to seemingly involuntary twitches and muscle spasms. Just as Yohji started to relax, he felt something crawling along his arm. He looked down and saw a bright red millipede, at least three inches long and as thick around as his finger. He could feel its billion little legs perfectly, scratching against his skin, advancing up toward his shirt sleeve.
He let go of Schuldig and slapped at it, but he knew even before Schuldig started to laugh that it couldn’t be real. It vanished before he could touch it, but Schuldig’s dry, racking laugh went on and on, his eyes still empty as before.
Within seconds, Yohji could hear the same laughter coming from other inmates up and down the hall. Maybe all over the building. He wondered how much more crazy the crazies had gotten when Schuldig joined them.
“We have to get him out of here,” he said, more to steel himself than because Ran needed telling.
“Did you see that on my arm?”
“He made me see...something. He’ll probably make me see more stuff. I’ll try to ignore it, but I may not be much use on the way out.”
She nodded again, silent and steady and reminding him strongly of Aya.
“All right," Yohji said. "Check the hallway and let’s go.”
They went. Yohji was barely aware of the hallway. There were snakes and spiders on him, rats around his feet, red eyes in the dark. He kept a firm grip on Schuldig and tried to be grateful he had no serious phobias. After a while, there were naked girls, and then naked guys. There was no Asuka though, which he took to mean Schuldig didn’t have any problem with him personally at the moment, or possibly that Schuldig wasn’t even aware who he was.
He dumped Schuldig in the back of the car and sat down hard on the pavement, rubbing at his arms. He could still feel rat feet on his skin.
“Are you okay?” Ran said.
“I’m fine.” He’d have to be. She couldn’t drive.
“Where are we going?”
“You’re going home. I’ll take him--somewhere.”
“I want to come!”
“Get in the car.”
He hauled her round to the passenger’s side and stuffed her in.
On the road, with Schuldig giggling now and then in the backseat, he felt a bit calmer.
“Your brother can’t know. You realize that, right?”
“And he’ll want to know where you are. In theory, you’re still recuperating. I can get away with vanishing for hours at a time. You can’t.”
She slumped down in the seat, jaw set, but she didn’t argue.
After he dropped her off, he took Schuldig to a cheap hotel. Yohji sat in a chair at the end of the bed and drank thin, acidic coffee. Schuldig slept the whole night through.