Somehow, through all of the chaos I got myself caught up in, I heard Legato shouting at the top of his lungs.
The man's forceful voice cut through the painfully numinous sensations that came with my attempts to merge my brother's body with my own - the brilliant light that filled my vision, the piercing sounds of seraphic choir mixed with electrical interference, the boiling, radiant sensation of flesh melding together - somehow, his calls pierced through it all, whether by the strength of his own will or the weakness of mine.
"Sir Knives, please, STOP!"
With those words, screamed at impossible volumes, Legato Bluesummers kept me from flying too close to the sun. Vash's energy flow would have overpowered me, and I would have been trapped inside of him rather than the other way around.
If not for Legato's intervention, I could have put myself in serious danger. I had been overtaken by hubris, and it would do me well to act more carefully from now on.
I separated myself from the now-unconscious Vash and left him on the ground either to die, or to recover. I hoped with all of my essence for the latter, and went to my servant. I could barely bring myself to look at him - his physical condition had declined severely inside of that metal husk that barely held his spine in place. He now looked even weaker than he did on the day I met him, which irritated me for reasons I could not and did not care enough to pinpoint or analyze at the moment. Still, it was important that I spoke to him at this time, and I forced myself to turn towards him.
"You..." I spoke in a low whisper, and this was all I could manage to get out before my voice trailed off due to the distraction I immediately experienced upon taking his presence fully into my senses. His oddly-pigmented hair had grown out just past his jawline, and it clung to his face with sweat and grease. His skin, once a radiant shade of fair olive, had faded to an ashen hue. His light amber eyes, once piercing, now lacked any focus at all. Perhaps the most distracting thing of all was the harsh smell that came off of his body. I briefly imagined how he must experience that squalid odor more profoundly than myself, as he was the one contained inside of that box rather than anyone else, but the thought dissipated as soon as he spoke up in response.
"Yes," he rasped, his voice hoarse from screaming. He gritted his teeth and I heard one of them crack - an absolutely disgusting sound that elicited an involuntary curl of the lip on my end. Those teeth had surely been weakened by the self-destructive habits he gave in to before I incapacitated him, and his over-all lack of upkeep following Dr. Conrad's death didn't help matters one bit. "I felt it." He looked close to falling out of consciousness - something to be expected of someone who now rarely ate nor slept. Something else was more off than usual, but I couldn't place exactly what. I tilted my head until it dawned on me. He was, for once, perfectly still inside of that shell. Normally, I could hear his shoulders arching and jerking, bumping against the inner walls of the shell in tense moments such as these. However, in this moment, sheer reverence buried that man's perpetual restlessness and drama. I took a step closer and made eye contact. This man, who served me in good faith since he was not even halfway through his teen years, had moved to protect me.
I briefly reflected on Legato's actions throughout the years, not out of any distinct desire to - they simply bubbled up into my consciousness. Whether or not his actions were what I wanted or asked of him, he took each one on my behalf. To protect me, as he believed I protected him from the leader of the gang who once owned, used, and profited off of his young body. Over the years, I gave him every reason to turn on me in various failed attempts to liberate myself from his obsession and from the danger of becoming attached to a member of the human race. I shunned him, berated him, attacked him, disabled him, and neglected him - and all more-or-less in that very order. Still, his desire to shield me from harm and exact revenge on anyone who so much as inconvenienced me remained limitless - a life's worth of hunger for genuine appreciation manifested in the form of vicious obsession and idolatry. And, despite what I had done to him, he retained not only his ferocity and loyalty, but also his ability to act as a puppeteer of living things.
Legato's psychic threads, combined with his desire to defend me from any harm that may befall me as a result of my twin's efforts to thwart my goals, would be a priceless asset in this desperate time. With his help, I would imprison Vash - I would save my brother from himself at no cost to my own safety.
"Bluesummers. Are you able to contain him like this?"
He hung his head, and I sighed, hoping he would not hear me. "Yes, Sir Knives..." He replied. His voice was timid, as if expecting punishment. He would no longer dare to touch Vash in any way at this point without my express permission.
"Then, I shall leave this matter in your hands...So to speak. Watch him at all times."
He lifted his head, and his sweat-soaked face lit up with the passion that should have been snuffed out through and through when I broke his back at Jeneora. The passion that would have died, had he been a remotely rational being. "...Yes, Sir Knives, of course!"
I made eye contact with him once more, and smiled back at him, just to gauge his reaction. In his enthusiastic expression, I saw that filthy child that I led away from the carnage and wreckage I caused - the one who begged in an extremely stilted manner to either serve me or die. The one who fell prone in the sand after barely walking a quarter of a mile. The one who left me to carry him the rest of the way, and then, to top it all off, required weeks of medical attention before he could even start training to serve me. Why had I gone through all of that trouble after I had been poised to sever his head only moments before?
At that time, I must have seen something of her in him - a young individual, brimming with potential and yet robbed of their agency. By sparing him and giving him a chance to serve me despite the fact that he was ultimately a part of the scourge, I kept some part of my lost Sister alive within what was left of my heart.
Of course, that quickly faded and I began to see him for what he was - a burdensome, unwieldy, and unpredictable tool, albeit one just barely too useful to discard.
When he noticed that I was now smiling upon him, he wept. He shook his dirty hair in front of his face in an attempt to hide his tears, as he was now conditioned by the knowledge of how much I despised his habit of crying on my account. Without thinking, I moved his hair from his face and resisted the urge to cringe at its unctuous texture and scent. His skin felt clammy, and a clear, thin fluid leaked from his nose. Regardless of what he said and the eagerness with which he said it, he would not be able to help me contain my brother in such a state. Not to the best of his ability, anyway, and I wasn't willing to allow any chance of error. I leaned in and whispered, despite no one else being present to hear me.
"Bluesummers... Did Elendira remember to dose you today?"
He shook his head and struggled to appear as composed as possible.
"Damn her," I muttered through my teeth. Ever since I broke Legato, he had been on a steady regimen of narcotics (to be administered orally by another, in order to prevent Legato from purposely overdosing himself). Without them, he was erratic at best and completely useless at worst - far too distracted to use his abilities in any meaningful way. No wonder he looked and sounded so terrible.
Still, he used what little energy he possessed to intervene on my behalf.
Perhaps I had not given him the credit he was due.
Perhaps he was not the parasite I thought him to be - at least not entirely.
I began to feel sick myself. With a heavy sigh, I drew back from him. "I will get your dose for you." The words sputtered stiffly from my mouth.
He bowed his head as deeply as he could within the confines of his body-casket. "Thank you, Sir..."
I waved my hand as if to dismiss his gratitude and fetched the pills, along with a glass of water. Once his eyes settled upon me, they continued to track my every motion. "Here." He opened his mouth, and I carefully dropped the tablets just behind his teeth before tilting the glass toward his face. He leaned the back of his head against the curved plate that extended out from behind his neck and wrapped around the side of his face (it appeared to be designed as a head-rest, but it was made of metal and could not possibly serve as a very comfortable one). He swallowed the tablets, thanked me once again under his breath, then I saw his brow furrow and his neck tense up.
His eyes went wide, and he gasped.
I had not addressed him by that name in years, even though I had given it to him. This change was a conscious choice, as I'm sure he knew.
Until our first complete conversation, he had no name. After I got him back to my base and called for Conrad to help me with his injuries and apparent illnesses, we spoke at length. With the aid of "lost technology", Conrad acted as an interpreter.
He had come from an insular community - one of several havens for those who desired more authoritarian leadership in a mostly-lawless world. As with the rest of the society I was in no small part responsible for, I watched these "fortress towns" form - they appeared most frequently among groups of non-American SEEDS settlers. Like many of these communities, the fanatical drive for order had long since folded in on itself in that place, devouring its own tail and giving way to absolute libertinism.
Without much contact from the outside world, the teen's English was terrible. I allowed him to defer to his native language for the time being, offering him relief from the burden of translating his thoughts after such a long, heavy day.
There was a word he kept circling back to as if it were a leitmotif, particularly when he spoke either about how his handlers treated him, or about the nature of his abilities.
That word was "legato", and I decided it would be his name, with the surname "Bluesummers" inspired by his appearance.
No one protested.
The young man was pleased to be called anything other than "child" or any of the various derogatory things his handlers would call him. More than that, he was so pleased to be in my presence that he couldn't bring himself to complain about much of anything, even when he should have. He was quick to draw close to me, as I had given him so many things he'd spent his entire life deprived of up until that point. Something in me responded - something instinctive, the urge to engage in a cycle of give and take with this human.
I hated it. All of it. I began to address him by the less familiar of his names in an effort to establish distance. It was the first step in my series of efforts to curtail the growing bond I knew I needed and yet could not accept. And, just then, I slipped. There was something vaguely intimate about administering drugs, and that act must have rekindled that terrible urge.
I could see the hope in his eyes for that distance to close as I spoke to him and looked upon him, and I turned my own eyes to the floor. Annoyance and disgust crept up my spine, seized the back of my neck, pinching and pulling at the hinges of my jaw. How dare he remind me of my failings?
"What is it, Master?" He stammered.
"You... You look terrible. I'm bringing Vash into the basement...as a prisoner. When I return..." I sighed, and looked away. "When I return, I would like to get you cleaned up."
"Yes, Sir," he muttered. As I walked away, I saw him shut his eyes out of the corner of my own, and I heard him take deep breaths as he waited both for my return and for the effects of the medication to take hold.
I went to my brother and found him still unconscious, but very much alive. Strong pulse. Still breathing enough to keep his brain sufficiently oxygenated. The relief brought on by my findings nearly made me forget Legato's situation. I lifted Vash and carried him to a cell just below the ground floor of the base, setting him down with utmost care and clasping his hands in my own for a moment before I walked away and locked the gate behind me. I hung my head, clenched my fists, and bit back a sob. Tears streamed down my face. I anticipated that I would shed a few tears of mixed guilt and relief over my brother, but this went on for far longer than I could tolerate. My head flooded with thoughts of everyone I hurt over the years despite claiming they were important to me - with every instance and manner in which I hurt those whose support I needed. Vash's arm, not to mention his precious energy, dear God. Legato's spine, and his psyche. Conrad, who I killed so impulsively and whose assistance I now begrudgingly missed. And, of course, Rem - had she not died due to my actions, would Vash still be in my life? She meant so much to him. How could he ever forgive me?
Before I realized what I was doing, my fists were in my hair, balled tightly enough to draw blood from the follicles. Shortly after, my nails scraped down my face in a swift, impulsive motion accompanied by a throaty growl.
I slumped to the floor and stared at the wall, rocking and trembling silently for what felt like hours but couldn't have been more than a quarter of one. I had bitten into my hand to the point of breaking skin in several places. I took a few deep breaths to collect myself, then rose to my feet. I had told Legato I would attend to him, and, as terrible as I felt, I knew I would feel worse yet if I did not keep my word.
I would do something to kill my guilt tonight, even if it destroyed me.
I returned to find Legato with his head bowed, breathing slowly. Every so often he would open a single eye and rub his cheek or nose against his headrest. I allowed him to doze like this for a moment as it bought me some time to allow any evidence of my shut-down to fade - I could heal my skin, and the swelling in and around my eyes would go down on its own.
"Bluesummers!" I called to him, announcing my presence to jar him from his stupor.
He opened his eyes. "Master," he intoned with a smile.
My eyes instinctively dodged contact with his as I restrained my pride from surging forth - I would not let it compel me to make yet another regrettable choice. Not tonight. "You're too susceptible to infections given the current state of your hygiene. That won't do. Lean your case back so I can get you out."
The metal extensions that allowed Legato a small range of movement from within the case articulated in order to prop that rusty cocoon up as it tilted into a reclining position. Once the device was still, I moved in closer and grasped the metal valve that protruded from the front of it. I forced it about eighty degrees to the right and the mechanisms that held the case together released, allowing me to pry the front half of it off him. I recoiled at the ensuing assault on my sensory organs - namely, my nose and my eyes. His body was pale and clammy all over, sagging in some places and sunken in others. He smelled at once acrid and musty, like an old basement in which once-living things had been left to rot. I could not help but make a show of my disgust.
"Master, if you would rather not touch me, I entreat you to call for Elendira instead."
I said nothing. I closed my eyes, counted backwards from three in my head, and set to removing the various tubes that lined into his body from the inner walls of the casket, working around the rough, ill-fitting hospital gown he was clothed in. I made sure to look at him as little as possible as I did so. I felt the muscles in my face tighten and twist of their own volition once more as I heard him whimper at the sensation of his threadbare nerves being jostled with each unceremonious yank of a tube from an orifice or a needle from a vein. Once he was entirely detached from the case, I lifted him with one swift movement, keeping my gaze fixed forward and my expression as severe as possible for as long as I could.
As I climbed the stairs with Legato in my arms, limp as a fresh corpse from the shoulders down, I could no longer hide the strain. Even for how much he had wasted away, dead weight was heavy on an incline, even one as slight as a flight of stairs. I heard him huff, and I looked down at him. His eyes boiled with self-directed rage - my struggle to carry him undoubtedly sparked his old urges to rip the flesh from his bones, despite there being very little left at this point. "Stop that. I'm fine."
"Yes, Sir," he muttered and closed his eyes.
When we reached the master bathroom, I placed Legato in the empty bathtub and removed his sweat-dampened gown. In response, his eyes grew wide, then squeezed shut as every muscle in his body still capable of tensing did so. I noticed his breathing pick up pace in spite of the sedation brought on by his painkillers. Within moments, he was breathing entirely too fast. I knew exactly why he was reacting this way. I cupped my hand over the lower half of his face. "Stop that! You should know better than to equate me with those pigs. Did you act this way for Conrad when he was still here to do this for you?"
He gave a single sheepish nod, and his panicked gaze fell soft and apologetic as his breathing slowed. I released my grip on his jaw and turned on the water. As the tub filled, I adjusted his body in order to keep his head from submerging. For safety's sake, I could no longer avert my eyes. I could see the outline of nearly every bone in his chest and hips, and his torso was covered in bruises from repeated impact with the inside of his casket. He began to shiver, and I adjusted the water's temperature. Hot water would wash away all this grime more efficiently than cool water, anyway. I reached for a sponge and the most potent soap I owned that could safely be used on one's skin. I set to cleaning him, one region of his body at a time, taking caution with his hair and face in order to avoid burning his eyes. When I repositioned him to clean his back, I could see the contours of his vertebrae. With so little other tissue in the way, I could even pinpoint the location of the jagged fracture that left him in this state of immobility. I wanted to break something, anything, but I restrained myself.
Could I allow him to carry on his life in this way? It certainly wasn't practical. Legato's punishment made him easier to control, but at a very steep price. I could think of one way to reverse the damage I had done, but the risks ran high.
"Bluesummers." I began to feel awkward and forced calling him that, likely due to the nature of our current interactions and how they grew more personal by the second. "Legato..." I muttered, as if to correct myself.
"Would you... be opposed to an experimental treatment for your paralysis?"
"The serum used by the Eye of Michael is unstable. To find a suitable dose, particularly for someone like myself who already has a few congenital anomalies likely caused by Plant radiation...Well, that may not be possible. I beg you will forgive my saying so, but if you need me alive, it may be ill-advised to administer such a thing, Master."
I blinked, somewhat surprised that we'd had the same thing in mind.
"Unless you were thinking of something else, in which case I beg your forgiveness for my assumption," Legato added. I shook my head.
"It's a risk I'm willing to take. Conrad is dead, Elendira is not suited for the task of attending to another's health and..." I lowered my voice, as well as my gaze. "Neither am I. If you are to fulfill your duties without interruptions or hindrances, we must attempt to remove the limits I've imposed."
Legato nodded in agreement. His expression remained subdued as I leaned him back against the wall of the tub. I picked up his limp hands and examined them. Three nails were entirely absent on the right hand, and the other two were overgrown. Those on his left hand were all there, all of them grown far past anything resembling an appropriate length. I grabbed a pair of small scissors from the sink and remedied this. From the corner of my eye, I saw him smile.
So much of my being wanted to lash out, but some other part of me reeled those urges in and replaced them with something else. I squeezed his hand and brushed my thumb across his scarred fingers. He looked calmer than I'd ever seen him. I continued this motion, observing his reaction with something akin to amusement by the absolute control I appeared to have over his mood. However I wanted Legato to feel, I could make it happen with the actions I chose to take. I had no such power over my brother, as had been made so painfully clear to me this evening.
This brief moment of peace dissolved when I noticed how dark the water had become. I drained it out and fetched a towel to wrap him in. "I will be back shortly. Try to relax, and brace yourself. I'm not sure what will happen."
I had several vials of serum stashed in one of my arsenal rooms. What I planned on doing felt absolutely alien. I dealt damage, I did not repair it, especially not that which was dealt unto humans. I grabbed a single vial, along with a syringe. I forced down every thought that surfaced and concentrated solely on my actions. The walk from the arsenal back to the bathroom was mercifully short. I prepared the syringe as Legato peered up at me from the corner of the tub, utterly helpless. Part of me hoped this procedure would kill him. He had tried to kill my brother and was generally the very definition of a loose cannon, after all. I remembered Dr. Conrad's recommendation regarding Legato after I had injured him - euthanasia. As infuriated as I was with Legato's behavior, I still couldn't stand the idea. He served as an example of what would happen to those who went against my wishes - punishments worse than death.
Looking at him now, however, after the night's events, I could only see his sorry state as a failure on my part. I resigned myself to the fact that he could die. If he did, I would have to find some other way to ensure that Vash would not escape - one that would pose no threat of physical harm to him. Despite all her loyalty, Elendira would be poorly suited to such a delicate task, but perhaps someone like Zazie could manage.
I knelt down, turned Legato onto his side so that his back faced me, and injected the luminous solution into the base of his spine. His body twisted and he opened his mouth as if to scream, but nothing came out aside from gasping, labored breaths. Once I had pushed all of the serum out of the syringe and withdrew the needle, I could hear bone and other tissue fusing together. Legato began to cry wracking sobs interspersed with violent dry heaves. I wasn't sure if he was in his death throes or simply excruciating pain, but, desperate to muffle the awful sound of it all, I lifted him into my lap and forced his face into my shoulder. I could feel him healing under the arm I used to support his body as he continued writhing in agony. It felt slightly unsettling - just barely more so than the sensation of his filthy drool and tears and phlegm seeping into my sleeve.
I realized I was not only muffling him by restraining him in this manner. Without even trying, I was calming him. I could tell from the tension in his body that he was still in great pain, but he choked and gagged and sobbed no more. He simply breathed as evenly as he could manage.
My mind grew bright and urgent with curiosity. "How do you feel?"
"Like I'm being electrocuted," he strained.
"That would be your nerves repairing themselves, if I had to guess. You should be able to feel things normally again, once this is all over." As far as I understood from Conrad's reports, Legato had not lost sensation due to his injury. Rather, his perceptions of pressure, temperature, and pain had simply been altered - sometimes blunted, other times amplified, mostly just uncomfortable. I set him back down, pulled away, and got out of the tub. "Try to stand."
"Yes, Sir." He struggled to his feet only to topple out of the tub and onto the bath mat, trembling from the strain. My chest tightened.
"Please forgive me, Master..."
I shook my head. "You don't need forgiveness. There's nothing to forgive. You simply need some time."
He looked up at me with a similar expression to the one he wore when he first spoke to me - one of sorrowful reverence. "But we have none! You gave me a task - the most precious thing I could ask of you - and I am now in worse condition to carry it out than before. It may be better that you kill me now."
I sighed and rubbed my brows. "I don't remember asking your advice. You can perform the duty I assigned you while seated until you're fully regenerated. It shouldn't be too long. Given the route of administration, I would say about thirty-six hours." I closed my eyes and knelt beside him, helping him to his feet and allowing him to lean against me for support. "For now... Considering how exhausted I am, I imagine my brother will sleep through the night. Perhaps well into the morning, even. You have my permission to rest for the time being." I led him to his quarters and all but dropped him onto his bed. I watched as he used all of his strength simply to wrap the covers around his body. He nuzzled the pillows, perhaps not even realizing what he was doing. The worst of the pain seemed to be over, and he appeared to relish in the sensation of lying down in a bed. I found myself suppressing a smile.
"Thank you, Master. I did not deserve this... I hope this chance you have given me only allows me to serve you better. I promise, I will-"
"Silence, Legato." I wrapped him a bit more tightly in his blankets, then quickly drew back. "Sleep well. You'll need it," I added under my breath as I left the room to retire to my own.