[Author's note: This fic is set after the fourth Weiss Kreuz Dramatic Precious drama CD and contains spoilers for the TV series, OAVs, and the DP series.It's rated R for violence, language, and general disturbedness. Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information.This story could not have been written without October Project's album Falling Further In and Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing, both of which I played on alternating loop while writing. Special thanks to K-chan for prereading this.]
By Natalie Baan
The music pulsed and pounded, /screamed/ like sharp metal down metal, distortion skittering in sparks above a rapid, throbbing roar. The air shook with the relentless impact of sonic thunder and feedback, the crush of bodies driving against each other, the weight of too much darkness, smoke, and sweat.
In the center of the pit, Ken let that assault of sound and movement dance him, slamming him into and off of other people, its pressure a solid fist hammered against his chest. Hands up, he twisted in a momentary clear space; shirtless, he felt the heavy, damp heat of the crowd, even without his skin touching theirs. He worked himself through the seethe of lashing arms and stamping feet, one crunch of contact to the next--like in a fight, no thought, just instinct, picking up wider patterns of motion. Putting himself where others weren't, moving as they moved, and then, when there was a chance, when that coiled spring inside had got too tight--
Easy to catch the rhythm of it, the fever of aggression.
Easy to match leashed violence for violence.
/Just like that./
The mob sucked and then surged, throwing him back into the knot of men he'd just hit and rebounded away from. The press swept him from the floor; he rode its lift, letting it carry him for a sweet, sharp breath before it let go of him and he dropped, landing on the balls of his feet. Adrenaline sang in him, briefly drowning the music. Nearby, some guy stumbled, was caught by the arms and hauled upright before he could be trampled: the unspoken rule of the pit. Light stabbed out from the stage, and in it Ken caught strobing glimpses of things: flying, sweat-soaked hair, a glint of chain looped over leather, torn clothes with muscles flexing beneath them. There were faces, taut or snarling, glazed, enraptured, pure in surrender; piercings glittered in ears, lips, and noses, in eyebrows and nipples. Glare traded places with shadow on the weaving torso of the man next to him, showing tattoos writhing across bare skin, precise ridges of scarification down the man's arms. So different from his own scars, which were ragged, unintended--the most recent one still half-healed, red and raised along one side of his chest: the work of a katana's blade.
So different from wounds that cut below the surface, gouging into the body, ripping into the still-beating heart.
And he knew what it would be like to feel the blades go in, sliding underneath another's skin--anyone in this frenzied, leaping crowd. It didn't matter. His hands had started their shaking again, clenching, wanting the leather and steel of his bugnuks, the slick heat of blood flooding over his fingers, a bottomless hunger for that one dark, deliciously wicked meaning in the empty shithole his life had become. Between one breath and the next, nothing around him had changed, but it had all been stripped bare--he saw the break between himself and the people pressing in on every side, saw it stark, like a moment picked out by sanity or suffering. For them, this was a refuge, a release made safe by the pit's rough kinship, but for him there was release in only one thing now; he was from the other side, where violence showed its true face, rabid and grinning, like the one he was starting to see in the mirror some days, looking back at him.
The pit's wild dance of anger and acceptance, its reckless, brawling mayhem....
None of it was real.
That tide came in again, crushing him in another swirl of collisions; only sheer physical strength and reflex kept him on his feet among the taller men. Out of sync, still blinded by what he'd seen, he wrenched free, then hurtled back into the mix: a high, acrobatic leap that crashed him down hard among thrusting arms and shoulders, thrashing fists and tossing heads. Something hit him across the back, a blow that jarred him to the bones--he answered it and more, random impact for impact, until everyone in the melee had given way as equals and he had possession of his own small wedge of floor. He danced then as everyone else around him was dancing, a moment given up into the music's groove. His breath coming hard and fast, he closed his eyes, raising both arms above his head, bumping elbows with the people nearest him, his mouth twisted into a smile, a gasp, his teeth bared. Trembling with an ecstasy of sin and anger, with exertion and the fierce pain of all he'd lost, he knew that something inside him wanted to pick up that havoc again and take it even further than before. To kill--and he could, even unarmed, could break necks with his bare hands--to kill and kill and maim until the others turned on him in naked savagery and terror and ripped the beast that he'd become apart. That part of him cried out for it, eager for destruction and the twisted deliverance of dying that kind of murderer's death; another part laughed, aware of what was growing inside of him that none of his fellow dancers could even guess at. And a part of him....
Another part of him....
* * * * *
Hearing voices outside the trailer, Ken scowled and shoved himself to his feet. He wasn't in time to get to the door before it opened, though, and he cursed, having lost the chance to settle the matter out on the sidewalk, rather than letting it get inside like things were the way they'd been. So instead there was Youji, holding open the door, and ducking under his arm a smallish, too-familiar figure, tawny-haired and smiling, full of cheerful energy. "H'llo, Ken-kun!"
"What the fuck are you doin' down here?" Glaring, he turned his shoulder to the boy, torn between kicking their former teammate back out onto the street and stalking away into the rear of the trailer. "You're supposed to be out starting some kind of normal life and getting cozy with grandpa, not comin' around this place!"
"Aya said it, Youji! If he thinks he can get out of this life, he should go! So get lost!" Stomping over to the fridge, Ken grabbed a can of beer from it, still fuming.
"It's all right," Omi said, somewhere behind him. The boy's voice was surprisingly calm. "I want to talk to him."
"Knock yourself out." The door's hinges creaked before it clattered shut over the sound of Youji's retreating footsteps. Who knew what the man was off to go and do--the Koneko II flower shop was closed, with Aya still in the hospital and all of them at loose ends. Taking his drink, Ken went over to the couch and threw himself down on it; he flung his hair from his eyes to glower at Omi. Silently Omi stood there and returned his gaze, smile dimming into something more thoughtful. After a minute, Ken was already fed up with being studied like that. With a snort, he gave attention to his beer instead.
"Have you decided what you're going to do?"
"Mmph." Lowering the can, Ken swallowed quickly, then shot the boy a sidelong glance. "I'll do what I said I'd do. I'll work freelance, doing what we did in Weiss." He smirked to cover the reaction that twisted inside him: anger and excitement, dread and pain, that black, tense thrill. Edgy with a rush like the one from strapping on his bugnuks, getting ready for action, he added, "It's nobody else's goddamn business anyway. Stay /out/ of it, Omi."
Omi's clear-eyed look never faltered, only grew a bit more grave. He said, "I brought something to show you." Taking a narrow object wound in white silk out from under one arm, he walked across the room and set it down on the coffee table. Ken squinted at it, suspicious, but curiosity and restless energy won out: taking his foot off the table and sitting up, he began unwrapping it. Anyway, he figured, if he humored Omi, maybe the kid would make his point and then go away.
Whatever the thing was, it was hard within the wrapping--felt like metal through the delicate cloth. A nameless unease squeezed at Ken's gut. Reluctantly, he put aside the last layer and stopped, his breath frozen--not one thing at all but three. Three pieces of steel, sharp-pointed and edged, rust-stained, but not by weather. "These are...."
"From your bugnuks. Yes." His hand tremoring faintly, he laid the claws back down on the table. That contact splayed them; they glinted between the dull smears, broken off at unequal lengths.
"That time when we staged our own deaths, fighting each other, you were the only one to come out 'alive,'" Omi murmured. "But I think that something died that day. Am I right?"
Ken said nothing in reply--could only stare at those shards, not even really seeing them. He was scarcely aware of Omi easing forward to kneel at the other side of the table. There were just the memories: of Omi hanging limp in a fine net of wires, of Youji sprawled face down nearby, the thin dusting of snow beneath the man's body melting away into an ever-widening crimson pool. He could feel again the impact as he met Aya's charge, the splattering of blood--could see the outraged surprise on the swordsman's face, and then the perfect emptiness of death's peace. And that vertigo, the same then as it had for him been ever since, that moment of looking up into a black sky, snow spinning down, and thinking that maybe instead he was rushing up into it, plummeting through that dance, falling faster and faster, screaming--
"I'm going to try to rebuild Kritiker." Omi's voice rang through that night, and what it said was enough to bring him back from it, blinking in the hazy morning light inside the trailer. Disoriented, he glanced at Omi, who rested both elbows on the table, cheek pressed against clasped hands. Omi gazed at the snapped-off blades, his brow tensed slightly in concentration, like when he'd been going over one of their mission plans, testing it for holes.
"My grandfather first created the group to protect the rule of law and government from criminals--naturally, because that was where the Takatori family's chief power lay, in politics and the courts," Omi explained. "Then my--when Takatori Shuuichi took over the group, it worked to avenge the defenseless and victimized, even against those with political influence. And afterward, when he died and others gained control, it became a instrument of violence, nothing more. But it was never meant to be that way." Lifting his head, Omi met Ken's eyes and smiled. "I'm going to take Kritiker back to what it was originally supposed to be--an organization for justice, using tools aside from killing. Being a Takatori ought to be good for something, right?" That smile changed again, becoming more personal and coaxing. "I want you to help me, Ken-kun. I want /all/ of you. But I wanted to ask /you/ first."
Swallowing past a throat gone dry, Ken edged forward on the couch to reach for his beer. "I already told you once--dunno how to do anything but kill people. Don't know--I don't wanna--"
"That isn't true." Ken took a swift drink, then stared at his fingers on the can, the alcohol sharp and bitter in his mouth. "You also know surveillance, demolition, computers, and how to blend into almost any situation," Omi listed imperturbably. "You know absolutely everything to do with athletics, of course. You know how to put any old thing together, from a broken pot to a motorcycle engine. And you make a really spectacular wedding bouquet." Incredulous, Ken turned his head to glare at the teenager. Omi's blue eyes were dancing, alive with silent, laughing light. "You know how to inspire a bunch of grade school kids and make them love you," Omi added, a shade less teasingly. He tilted his head to one side. That smile was still in his eyes, but its amusement was giving way to something softer, closer to affection. "You know how to make other people feel good inside."
With a frown that was nearly a wince, Ken looked away once more. Anger and a gnawing pain made him awkward. Ducking his head, he scowled down at the floor. He let that moment of not speaking stretch out longer and longer, refusing to answer the presence that waited, that shifted in place, and then, after a seemingly endless time, sighed faintly.
"I met Ouka's mother once," Omi said at last. "She told me something I've always remembered. 'Everyone has problems. No one can solve them for you. Only you yourself.' /Ken-kun./" Ken's gaze was jerked back to Omi's, half against his will. "I can't save you from falling," Omi went on, quiet and utterly serious. "Not if it's what you truly want to do. But whatever happens, no matter what you choose, I want you to know that a part of me will always go with you. " Reaching across the table, he laid one hand on Ken's knee. A glimmer of smile crept back into his eyes, luminous and wistful as moonlight. "Ken-kun, you have always been my friend."
* * * * *
Staggering, Ken reeled against the chain-link fence that framed one side of the stage. He set his back to it, feeling it shake with the occasional impact of bodies. Almost numb with collision and the music's nonstop abrasion, he hooked one hand into its mesh and clutched at his chest with the other, his mouth open, gasping for air.
/What you truly want..../
Oh God, what he wanted was to be the young man he'd been, a person who couldn't even imagine what it was like to love to kill.
Sweat chilled down his back and sides, like ice sliding where the metal fence touched his skin. He didn't know if he could still do it--didn't know if he could come back from that edge. That hit of pure and raw sensation, like the feelings of lust and fulfillment, from the time he'd put a shotgun to the mouth of the man who'd set them against each other and blown the fucker's head off, the hot blood raining back all over him--and after that, again and again, better every time, the pleasure that had started to give his sick world meaning--
He didn't understand what it was in Omi that could put everything they'd seen and done into some neat place in the past. He'd never thought Omi was a cold bastard. Was it strength instead, to be able to hold onto something cleaner and brighter--to let it lift you higher, out of the dark?
But nothing he'd ever held onto had been able to help him. Everything he'd given himself up to had been ripped apart. Akira, shredded by machine gun fire, those staring eyes still looking for a justice they'd never find. Reiko, beautiful Reiko, mutilated on his own steel claws. And Kase--Kase--
/I'll see you in hell!/
Like a whisper, then, those other words:
/You have always been my friend..../
He whirled, dug his fingers into the fence above his head--dragged himself upward, his free arm reaching for a new grip, his boots scrabbling after toe-holds. Unexpected hands cupped his leg and hoisted, other dancers helping him to clear the crowd. Another hand grabbed at his foot--a bouncer, maybe, spotting him too late--he kicked free and was out of reach, climbing, the muscles in his arms and shoulders knotting as they took his weight, the scar down his chest a dull ache with every stretch. He sucked air in through his teeth, shook damp hair from his eyes, and strained higher, shaking, his heart pounding.
/A lamb who has tasted death is twin to the wolf,/ Youji had said. /It cannot return to what it once was./
Was it even possible for him to believe in someone again?
And if he did--would it be enough?
A meter, another meter, and he swung to one side and let go, dropping to the edge of the stage. The blast of sound from the rack behind him was an almost physical blow, a howl slamming into his spine. In the flaring haze and darkness, the band were shadows, only the singer visible, tautly motionless in front of the mic stand, face hidden by wild hair, voice rising startlingly silver and acidic through the music's scream. Ken looked at the mob below him, waving arms and pale blobs that were faces turned upward, a churning and chaotic sea. Then, shutting his eyes, he leaped out as far as he could. He twisted in midair to fall backward and felt an instant of pure abandonment, lost above the ground, not knowing if he would hit it or just keep going, all the way to the bottom of the hell that was waiting for him--
--and he crashed into a solid tangle that first gave and then supported him: arms that raised him, steadying him precariously above the crowd. Hands clutched at his arms and legs, thrust upward under his back and shoulders; fingers closed on his injured side, and a spasm of pain throbbed through him. His eyes snapping open, he stared straight up into the spotlight-fired smoke, a veil that hid the ceiling like a scrim, and against it he saw--
--/sunlight through clean air, turning sorrel hair golden; a laughing gaze bright above a ready smile/--
--a belief in the good person that he'd thought couldn't exist anymore; a hand that was reaching for him/--
With a gasp, he flung his head back and spread his arms--he arched, letting himself be lifted, his eyes closing once more on a dampness that burned them, on a tightness that seized at his throat: a silent, pleading cry.
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