Crawford was awake when Farfarello came into his room. Schuldig was still half-asleep when Farfarello took him by the shoulder. He squinted against the light. "What?"
"I think you have to see this."
Crawford threw a robe at Schuldig and got out of bed. "It's too early," Schuldig whined.
"Get up," Crawford said, and there was no further argument.
"Where are we going?" Schuldig rubbed his eyes in an attempt to get them to focus properly.
"The lab," Farfarello and Crawford said together, and Schuldig groaned in protest.
They all hated Masafumi's lab. The place was creepy as shit, and after he'd attempted to fry Crawford's brain, they'd kept the crazy bastard at a safe distance. But Farfarello wouldn't have yanked them out of bed for nothing, so they got into the elevator and Schuldig braced himself.
Schuldig could feel the power before the doors slid open.
There was something - someone - new there, floating in one of Masafumi's glass preservation tanks. There were tubes in his wrists and a ventilator over his face, and his eyes were closed.
"They're all busy running an experiment on the roof," Farfarello said. "Go ahead, take a closer look."
Crawford was smiling madly. "Finally," he said, almost dreamily.
There was too much power coming out of the tank for it to be anything but -- "It's a god, Crawford." Schuldig stared at the creature in confusion. "How the fuck did he get a god? Where do you find a god? What's he going to do to it?"
"He's not going to have the chance to do anything," Crawford said.
"I don't like the look on your face," Schuldig muttered.
"Don't be so short-sighted." The boy - god - was naked, and impossibly small and thin. He looked like a teenager, at most.
"Not all of us have your gifts," Farfarello said.
"That's why you should trust me." Crawford pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Go ahead, Schuldig," he said. "Take a look."
Schuldig closed his eyes and tried to send his mind into the boy's. "There's nothing there." It was like walking through an empty hallway, hearing an echo. "Is he dead?"
"Masafumi doesn't think so."
"You're not answering my question."
"He's a tool," Crawford said. "Masafumi wants to pull his soul back into his body. Resurrection. A god, under Masafumi's control."
"How?" Schuldig asked. Knock, knock, is anyone home? "The same way he controlled you?"
Crawford walked so close to the tank Schuldig thought for a second he was going to knock into the glass. He looked up at the boy. "I'm not sure. It doesn't matter, because you're going to find his soul first. And then he'll be ours."
"What makes you think I can find shit?" Schuldig said.
Crawford turned to him. For a moment, he looked completely, irrecoverably mad. "Do you really doubt your powers?"
"I doubt my ability to pull a god's soul out of my ass," Schuldig snapped.
"You'll find it," Crawford said. "You just have to look."
"You're full of shit." Schuldig tried not to remember all the times Crawford had been right.
Crawford frowned. "Masafumi's coming. Let's go."
"Do you know his name?" Schuldig asked, as they walked back the way they came, careful to not make too much noise. "That might help."
"It's Nagi," Farfarello said. "I heard when they brought him in."
Nagi, Schuldig called into the distance. C'mon, kid. Let's play.
Omi woke with half a thought in his mind, something lost, something -- A memory, he realized. He tried to chase after it, but it was gone by the time he was fully awake. The yearning was still there, tight in his stomach, almost as pressing as his--
"You're not out of bed?"
One of these days, he was going to strangle Aya, and wouldn't that end things well? "Must've fallen back asleep," he said instead, biting back his yelp of surprise.
"Today's going to be a long day," Aya said, turning away from him.
"Yeah," Omi said, and swung his legs out of bed. "I know."
Their tempers had gotten shorter as the Minus Wave pressed more heavily on the youkai members of their little group. They were tired, and frustrated, and none of them wanted to admit how overpowered they probably were. Masafumi and his guards were bad enough; then there was Crawford's group, with Ken's one-eyed, insane half-brother right in the middle, and he did not want to start thinking about them and what game they might be playing this early in the morning. Especially with Aya in a worse mood than usual. Especially with that hint of memory still clawing at his mind, next to the insect buzz of the Wave.
Almost a face. Almost familiar.
He sighed and pulled his pants on.
Yohji and Ken were already eating breakfast when he came down the stairs. "Where did Aya go?"
"Meditating or something," Ken said.
Omi sat down and ate, more out of habit than hunger. Nothing tasted right any more. "You really think we're ready for this?" he asked, between bites of rice ball.
"I don't think we have much choice," Yohji said darkly. "I'm not sure I actually slept last night."
"I'd rather die fighting for the right reason," Ken said. "This keeps up, I might--" Ken was only half-youkai, but it'd been getting harder for him too, they all could feel it. Yohji had almost lost himself months ago, and dumb luck and stubbornness had been the only thing to keep him sane.
"So tonight," Omi said. "We end it."
Ken sighed. "Yeah. When are we starting?"
"I'm going to start working on their security system in a couple of hours," Omi said. "You guys might want to get rested while you can."
"Aya wants us all to go over the plan first," Yohji said. "That's why we're all down here."
Omi put his hands to his temples. "Then why's he out--"
"Who's out?" Aya. He'd come back in without any of them realizing. "Are you all ready now?"
"Sure, why not," Yohji said, leaning back in the chair. "You're the one who pulled us all together and fucked off."
"He had to eat," Aya said. "You two weren't done anyway. Clear off the table, I've got the blueprints."
After they'd gone over the plan -- again -- Omi went back to his computer and started working on Masafumi's security. It was going to be a slow process; he didn't want to set off any red flags.
When Yohji came in, Omi realized he'd been staring at the screen without blinking.The program had been running normally, which had meant he'd had the mental energy to chase after the remnants of his dreams instead. He'd gotten lost in them.
"You okay, kid?"
"Yeah," Omi said, and closed his eyes for a moment.
Yohji put his hand on Omi's shoulder. "You look like shit."
Omi smiled at the screen. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"We worry about you," Yohji said, leaning closer.
"I know," Omi said, leaning a little into the touch. "But I'll be okay."
"It'll be over, anyway."
The first level of Masafumi's security system was a joke, but a deceptive one, sliding the unwary hacker into a recursive loop of code that eventually would reveal location, name, and probably dietary habits. Omi split the systems, sending Masafumi's looping search to a location in Madagascar, while sending his own code further into Masafumi's system.
Level two. Sustaining three lifeforms: Takatori Reiji, Takatori Hirofumi, and --
Something big. Strong. Powerful.
What was Masafumi keeping in there? If the scientist was trying to resurrect something that used that many resources, Weiss didn't have any time to lose. Omi poured himself another cup of coffee and got ready to dig deeper.
"You need to work faster. I hear the scrabbling claws of approaching kittens," Crawford said.
"No," Schuldig said. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Tonight," Crawford said. "You have to be ready."
"The kid just got here yesterday! I've got nothing, Crawford, I can't--"
"You can," Crawford said, stone-faced. "You will."
Schuldig used to be flattered by Crawford's faith in him. That felt like a long time ago. Schuldig scratched at his ear absent-mindedly and dug in again. Come on, Nagi, enough running and hiding. What do you like? Candy? Ice cream? Sex?
As Crawford predicted, the kittens knocked the door down at ten minutes before midnight, bringing chaos in their wake. Most of Masafumi's guards were fools, hardly worth bothering with, born to be cut down by Aya's shiny, sharp sword. The jackoff was practically getting off on it. (Schuldig filed that observation away to be dealt with later.) The others got their hits in too, but Aya took most of Schuldig's attention, as flashy and self-righteous as he was. Schuldig dropped a quiet hint in the back of his mind about his sister's location and went back to his work.
Nagi had stirred, just a little, but not enough for Schuldig to get a handhold. He was alive, there was something there, but it was as slippery as a fish, and might have as little brain.
Masafumi strode into the lab with his usual oily authority. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "Has Mr. Crawford decided he needs another treatment?"
Farfarello smiled at him; his job was to run interference, and Masafumi was playing the game just as planned. "Not today. We were wondering what your latest project was."
Masafumi's mouth twitched at the edges. "You've lost access. Little boys who don't want to play by my rules lose their toys."
Farfarello pulled a knife out from its holster and regarded its blade thoughtfully. "But it's a god, Mr. Masafumi. Don't you want us to marvel at your skills? How did you find him?"
"I'm sorry to disappoint you and your friends, but that will remain a mystery. Herr Schuldig, are you listening?"
Schuldig flinched. Crawford could program some, but not well enough to reliably pass through Masafumi's security. And when the asshole knew he was listening....
"No tricks today," Masafumi said, and his mind was as oily as his voice. "I don't really need them." He walked over to the tank holding Nagi and adjusted a few knobs. "Once this little one's awake, you'll be busy."
That was a threat, and Schuldig could feel the confidence behind it. Shit.
And just then, up came the littlest kitten. The Wave was pounding at Omi, like a hammer directly into his skull, and he was --
Shit, the kid knew Nagi?
How the fuck did that--
Schuldig pressed into his mind. Nothing. An echo of some kind of memory, something sealed--
Omi was headed straight for him.
"This isn't really the time, kid," he snapped, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"Why do I remember him?" Omi demanded. "What's going on?"
Omi's crossbow was an inch away from his temple. Normally, it'd be a distraction, at best, to make him lower it, but there was too much shit already going in Schuldig's head. "Tell me. I want the truth."
"Fine," Shuldig snapped. He reached in and pulled. He didn't bother being gentle. Omi -- Mamoru's -- memories pulled free. That would keep him busy for a while.
Serves you right, twerp, he thought, and then the memories crashed in through Schuldig's defenses, raw and unfiltered.
The world was a blur for a moment, chaos, Omi's -- Mamoru's -- mind crashing in so fast and frantic Schuldig couldn't keep himself separate. Nagi, his thoughts called. Nagi-kun, what--
And then the god roared to life.
Mamoru echoed in his head so loudly his skull wanted to shake. Mamoru, where is she?
"You know," Mamoru said. "She and Ouka-chan. You know."
They were just kids. We were children, Mamoru. Children!
"I know," Mamoru said, and Schuldig felt the pain, smelled blood and ash.
Why did they do it?
Mamoru shook his head; something about the motion was enough for Schuldig to find himself and pull free.
We need to get out of here, he sent in a direction he hoped was Crawford's.
Sometimes I really hate you.
Nagi's eyes were more focused now. His rage wasn't.
Masafumi suddenly flew across the room, his back smashing into the wall so hard that the plaster cracked behind him. "Do you know?" Nagi asked him. His voice was a young teenager's, high and soft. "Can you tell me?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Masafumi said. His face was stoic, but Schuldig could feel his mind scrambling madly just below the surface. "I just woke you to--"
"You woke me to control me," Nagi said, and it was strange to hear such a quiet voice coming from someone with so much power. "Why?"
"We have-- my project--" Masafumi was reaching into his pocket. "I have a goal," he said, straightening up a little. His brain must've been overriding the pain. "And I needed your power to accomplish it." His body rose up; Nagi wasn't finished with him, apparently. "I still do," he said, and his hand flew to his mouth for a second. "Nothing's going to stop me--" He coughed.
And then his body began to transform.
Crawford, you're shitting me. We can't stay through--
Not much longer now.
He's turning into a tentacle monster, Crawford! Have you been in this fucking country too long?
Crawford ignored him.
The tentacles on Masafumi's body were whipping like tree branches in the wind, his new strength set against Nagi's power. Farfarello appeared at Schuldig's elbow. "We're leaving," he said. "I'm not waiting for Crawford."
Wait, Crawford said urgently in Schuldig's mind. He's not done--
That's what we're afraid of!
Masafumi's body continued to rise. The tentacles slammed into the walls, sending plaster flying. Something shattered deep in the heart of the building.
This place is going to fall around our ears, Schuldig said, but he held Farfarello's arm to keep him steady.
That's why we have to leave very carefully.
A second crash, and the walls shook again. Mamoru was still talking, but Schuldig wasn't sure if Nagi was listening, or was even capable of listening; all he could feel from the god now was a blind, angry rage, strong enough that other minds were impossible to read unless, like Crawford, they were essentially shouting in his ear.
I've been ready since His Godliness woke up. Schuldig tightened his fingers around Farfarello's arm.
Go out through the east wing. Don't take the elevators.
I'm not going to take the fucking elevators.
Now, Crawford shouted, and Schuldig ran, dragging Farfarello with him, trying to ignore the falling ceiling and Nagi's rage still roaring through his mind. It was rough as hell, though, and soon Farfarello was taking the lead, half-guiding, half-dragging him through the chaos. "Crawford said not to take the elevators," he muttered as they thundered down the first flight of stairs. "Like we're that stupid."
Farfarello rolled his eye. "He didn't say which door to go out of while he was being useless, did he?"
"I wish," Schuldig said, as they cornered another flight of stairs. It was a little easier to think, now they were further away from the god.
And then the floor started sliding out from beneath them. Crawford, Schuldig thought, mostly to himself, if I get crushed I'm going to kill you.
Weiss -- well, all of Weiss but Aya, who'd gone running after his sister -- had hunkered down under the remnants of one of the storage tanks; Yohji had grabbed Mamoru at the last minute, still shouting and pleading at the god, and pushed him under a specimen table. They'd all been splashed with some kind of slime. What did they keep the...beings in? Was it toxic? They'd survive this and all get cancer twenty years later.
Who was he kidding? They weren't going to survive any of this.
Mamoru was huddled under the table still; his lips were moving, but it was too loud to tell if he was making any kind of sound. Yohji had always figured that if Omi -- Mamoru? -- ever got his memories back, it wouldn't be pretty. He hadn't really planned on it happening while a mad scientist and a god were battling it out in a Tokyo skyscraper, though.
He wondered how much more damage the floor could take before it collapsed.
Another ear-splitting crash, and Masafumi hit the wall again, his tentacles waving like a speared squid. Something shattered, and suddenly the hammering dropped away. Whatever had caused the Minus Wave was gone, snapped as quickly as a twig breaking in two. At least I'll die sane, Yohji found himself thinking. Mostly sane.
"If you're going to leave," Nagi said, turning his attention and making Yohji's skin crawl, "you should do it now."
"I'll take the kid," Yohji said to Ken. "Clear the way."
Tot and Ouka. Who had they been? There was no time to ask questions; if they made it out, Omi would tell him later.
As they ran, they heard Masafumi howl with pain.
Mamoru's head ached as the ceiling came into focus.
He supposed it should, between the concussion and the memories. At least he assumed it was a concussion; no one had actually come into his room to tell him what was wrong yet. He wasn't sure how long he'd been awake. The ceiling was familiar, of his room at the flower shop, and the Minus Wave's vicious itching had finally disappeared. He closed his eyes.
The light had changed when he woke up again. Ken was sitting near the bed, watching him sleep. "Hey," he said.
"Is everyone all right?"
"Yohji broke his arm. Manx found us, got a doctor here so we wouldn't have to deal with any hospitals, and we took Yohji's limiters off for a while so he'd heal faster. Aya and I are fine, scratched up a little, that's all."
"What about …" Nagi. "The others?"
Ken shrugged his shoulders. "We're pretty sure Masafumi's gone. But we were too busy getting clear to worry about anyone else."
"Did you know him? The god?"
"Yeah," Mamoru said. "I knew him."
"Do you remember...."
Ken left it at that, to Mamoru's relief. "Are you--" He swallowed. "You gonna be okay?"
"I think so."
Ken reached over and took his hand.
Mamoru smiled at that. "Thanks," he said.
"We've been trying to keep an eye on you. Well, we've let Yohji sleep mostly, his arm's pretty painful, I guess...."
Ken stayed with him until he fell asleep again.
When he woke again, Nagi was there, leaning against the open window.
He tried to sit up, but Nagi held him down. "Don't," he said. "You're still hurt."
Mamoru sighed and stopped pushing against the pressure. "You're all right?"
Nagi nodded and walked closer. "Yeah. You're okay?"
Mamoru shoved over on the bed. Nagi rolled his eyes, but he got on the mattress. Nagi felt warm, and Mamoru closed his eyes.
"What happened to you?" Nagi asked.
"They made me forget," he said. "Then I told Schuldig to make me remember."
Nagi chuckled low in his throat.
"What-- what did they do to you?"
"They put me in a tank," he said. "Until I healed, I guess. And then they left me there, because I didn't want to come back out."
Mamoru opened his eyes, found Nagi's hand, held it tight.
"You don't have to feel sorry for me," Nagi said.
"I didn't say I felt sorry for you," Mamoru answered, but his throat felt tight.
"Just shut up," Nagi said.
Apparently years in a tank hadn't changed Nagi much. He smelled different, though. Older, taller, his hand bigger in Mamoru's. Of course, Mamoru had changed too. Everything had.
"Did you miss them?" Nagi asked.
I thought you told me to shut up, he thought. "I didn't remember them," he said. "I think I did, though. I think I missed you."
Nagi reached over and stroked his hair, gently. "I'm going East with Crawford," he said. "They want me to help them."
Mamoru hadn't really expected him to stay, anyway. "Will you--"
"They woke me up," he said. "You made me remember who I was, but...I owe them. I'll come back after that. We'll...." He leaned down and kissed Mamoru's hair. "I don't know. But I'll come back."
Mamoru shifted his weight so he could look at Nagi. They'd been children. But that was a long time ago. He pulled Nagi's face down and kissed him, hard, awkward and clumsy before they got the hang of it. "I'm going to hold you to it," he said.
"All right." Nagi's hand reached out for a second and touched the limiter in his ear. "I promise. Now get some more sleep."
Manx was there when Mamoru woke up next, perfectly dressed as always, her face drawn with anxiety. "Do you need anything?" she asked.
"I'd like to get up, actually," he said. He needed to pee, but he couldn't quite admit that to her without blushing.
She gave him her arm and helped him up, and while he was a bit unsteady at first, he was all right soon enough.
"Hidaka said you remembered," she said.
"Yeah," Mamoru said. I remember you too, he thought.
"Are you angry?"
"I guess I should be," he said. "But I'm not angry at you."
She nodded. There were tears in her eyes, but he chose not to point them out to her. She'd been through enough, and it really wasn't her fault. She'd been at the mercy of events as much as any of the rest of them, and she must've been so young when all this started -- not much older, he realized, than Mamoru and Nagi were now.
Once he'd left the bathroom, he checked his phone, because he needed to give his life a little more normalcy. There were fifty unanswered texts, most of them from school about homework (that was the good thing about the limiters, he'd almost passed for a normal schoolboy most of the time).
And one new contact: Naoe Nagi.
He sent a text: So, do you sleep on the plane?
Sleep is for the weak and injured, came the reply.
I missed you, he thought, and went to find the rest of Weiss.