Part Ten: Last Respects


    The first week with Schwarz followed pretty much the same routine. Schuldich and I woke up at the same time in the morning and got ready to leave. We took our own cars, turning different directions out of the parking lot to get to work. I still donít know where Schuldich goes every morning, and while Iím curious, I havenít been interested enough to ask. I donít think he would tell me, anyway.

    The days at the shop slowly returned to familiar grounds. My teammates harassed me the first couple days about my strange behavior the week before and the bruise that took the entire week to completely fade. Their questions died out as I continued to ignore them, and in turn they accepted that they would never know. They were just grateful that things had returned to normal between us. It was easier to act like nothing was wrong; the realization that despite Ayaís absence I had full control of her safety kept me sane. My teammates were relieved to see me acting like myself again, although Yohji now tries to tease information about where I go at night from me. He hasnít alerted my teammates to my constant absence from my room yet; heís content to keep the knowledge to himself and Iím grateful for that.

    At my new apartment- I would hate to call it my new home- things are still settling. By the time I reach my second weekend there Nagi is eating his entire meal, the heebie-jeebies of showering in their bathroom are fading (though I still refuse to go anywhere near their bath), I still have seen no sign of the missing two, and I am not taking my medication until 10. This gives me a couple hours to retreat to my corner in Schuldichís bedroom and read one of my books.

    The Schwarz household has its own routine, and I am slowly finding my place in it out of necessity. I worked all day Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and only the afternoon shifts on Wednesday and Thursday. Schuldich and I arrived back at the apartment complex at the same time three of those days; one day the hood of his car was still hot when I arrived and the other he showed up just minutes after me. Considering what time he leaves the apartment everyday, I have concluded that he either works long shifts everyday or he always stops somewhere on his way back.

    Nagi is harder to figure out. He leaves after us when I have morning shift and is gone when I wake up on my free mornings. He is always at the table working when I return, and he never has anything to say to me. I donít mind; his silence may be edged with disdain but itís still silence.

    While I am growing used to the place, I still dislike its owners. Unless I am cooking dinner or eating, I stay out of their way. And, despite frequent mental and vocal comments from the German devil, they both stay out of my mine. It is as if we have a mutual truce to avoid each other. Itís obvious that Nagi doesnít want me here, and after Schuldich admitted that my hatred is reciprocated, Iím not surprised that we tend to stay away from each other. After a week they still demand nothing more than my food and my presence in Schuldichís bed. I can understand the cooking part; the instant meal we ate my first lunch here was horrendous. A week later and the second demand is still a mystery. Like the nature of his work, Schuldich offers no explanations and I ask for none. I just do what is asked, hide away when I can, and try to be thankful that my imprisonment is not as terrible as I feared it would be. Even so, every day my thoughts go to Aya and the day when Schwarz will be done with me.

    On Saturday my alarm wakes me before the sun has risen. It has taken several days, but I have finally accepted that it is impossible to turn off my own alarm. I tried for a few days only to remember the handcuffs. I wake first, cracking open bleary eyes to study the ceiling. I am very warm, and my first thought is that it is because I have somehow made it under both blankets again. Then I notice that itís Schuldich.

    My first morning here I woke to find him lying against me; I remember mistaking him for my sister. Since then he has woken right before me or has been gone for hours by the time I wake. Now I remember that morning as I stare at him, my alarm clock still going in the background. His arm is looped around my waist, hidden under my pajama shirt. His other arm is bent up against his chest; I can see where his fingers curl to his collarbone. His face- which I used to be believe was frozen in a smirk and have discovered otherwise throughout this week- is relaxed.

    Then his mouth tightens, his eyes narrow briefly, and the alarm clock pulls him to consciousness. Blue eyes gaze at my shoulder for a moment; I see that lack of recognition I noticed the first day. He gives a slow blink and his gaze lifts to mine. He watches me as he yawns before pushing himself up, leaning over me to turn the alarm off. I can see his scars again as he moves and study them absently, trying to ignore the way my skin is crawling in aftermath of waking up and realizing his arm was around me. Schuldich retreats to his side of the bed, seeking out the key to my cuffs. He grumbles something about being woken up early on a Saturday that I ignore. The cuffs are undone and he is already making himself comfortable again when I leave the room.

    I pay special attention to my waist as I clean today, one part of me knowing itís childish but needing to wash away the thought of being held by Schwarz, needing to wash away the warmth his arm left behind. I dress in the bathroom and return to the bedroom to drop off my things. After three days of leaving my clothes in the corner and having them disappear, I discovered Schuldich was relocating them to the hamper. He informed me that that was what the basket was there for. I donít like mixing our clothes, but Iím not really in the position to blow him off.

    Schuldich is asleep again, stretched out in the middle of the bed. His hand rests on the mattress where I just was, as if heís trying to absorb the heat I left behind. I put my towel and dirty clothes away and leave the room.

    I make myself toast for breakfast, eating two pieces and downing a glass of juice. The dishes are set in the dishwasher and I am ready to go.

    Almost.

    My noise is enough to wake the cats- suddenly the kitchen is flooded with them. Two run straight to their dishes to see if theyíve been filled, one leaps up onto the table to check things out there, and the other three come running to me.

    I may have neutral feelings for the apartment and dark thoughts for its owners, but I have to admit the cats have grown on me. Iím able to tell them apart after a week, even if pronouncing their names the way Schuldich does is impossible. They are a lively bunch who loves anyone that will spare them just a momentís attention, and a couple seek me out to be pet when I am holed away with my book. When I returned before Schuldich I received their enthusiastic greeting; when I arrived at the same time I was a part of it. The owners may be corrupt, but the cats are pure, and I cannot help but feel some affection for them.

    I have time, so I crouch to stroke them. There are instant purrs, and the attention I give them attracts the other three. They want more than I can give them, and I feel my lips twitch into a helpless smile at their shameless begging for love.

    What they want more than pets is food. Schuldich feeds them every morning before we leave, so I know where to find their food. I fill the twelve dishes and the motorcycle-loud purrs tell me Iíll be worshipped forever for my consideration. I put the canister back where it belongs, fetch my shoes at the door, and step onto the elevator feeling surprisingly light hearted.

    I open shop and have the morning hours with Ken today and have an all day shift tomorrow. Omi doesnít work morning shifts unless itís a holiday or we have a big sale. Heís up early every morning for school anyway and up late doing homework and research when we have a mission. Ken shows up ten minutes after I do; he has already been up for an hour to take his morning run, and his hair is spiky in places where it is still wet from his shower. He chatters cheerfully off and on through the shift. I donít discourage his conversation, letting him say what he will and enduring his rapid jumps in train of thought in tolerant silence.

    Halfway through the shift I realize cat fur clings to my pants and the ends of my sleeves.

***

    It isnít until Tuesday that I realize there is something wrong with the apartment, that there is something wrong with the people that used to be Schwarz.

    I have Tuesday off. I wake at ten to find myself alone and unchained. I remain where I am for several minutes, thinking that I should probably switch to taking half of a pill. It takes a while to shake the grogginess when I have to wake early and I lose half the morning when I am left to sleep it out. I lay there and wonder what Iím supposed to do with myself today. Schuldich had said he wanted me here when Iím not working or on a mission, so I suppose that means house arrest. Schuldich will not be back for over nine hours and I have no clue when the boy will return. I suppose I will shower and eat; that will take up some time.

    Like the other days when I wake alone, I take advantage of Schwarzís absence to escape the bathroomís steam and dress in the bedroom. Feeling clean and awake, I make my way to the kitchen. After a momentís consideration, I eat toast and drink some milk. In a couple hours it will be lunch time; this will hold me over until then. A glance towards the cat dishes shows them to be half empty, and I spare a moment of amusement for such gluttonous kittens.

    I find the pigs sleeping in the den when my feet carry me there. I consider the room from the doorway. Despite being here over a week, I have never been in the den. The only rooms I have visited are the kitchen, the bathroom, and the bedroom. There has either been no desire to go elsewhere- as there has always been someone else there- or no time, as I have been on my way to work. Now there is no reason to stay away, and I enter to explore. There are two chairs and a couch, and a nice television. The shelves beside the TV stand hold a large selection of movies, mostly foreign. My English has never been good, so I skim the titles with mild interest, studying the foreign words. I pull a few free, eyeing the pictures on the cover to try and figure out how the title relates to the film.

    When I have gone through the movies, I cross the room to the window and peek out through the curtains. Itís not a welcoming view; I am greeted by the sight of the other apartment buildings in this area. I abandon the window with disinterest and make another circuit around the room, stepping over the dozen or so cat toys scattered on the floor. I give into curiosity and poke the furniture as I pass, testing them. The couch seems to be the most comfortable, as the cushion sinks under my hand. It would be a nice place to curl up with a book, and I consider doing that before my new housemates come back.

    As I step into the hall, however, I wonder if I should stop my exploration at the den. There are three other doors I have not been through, though I know one of them is Nagiís. I suppose that means the remaining two belong to the missing assassins. The precognitive comes to mind. He was always dressed in top of the line suits despite the outfits his teammates wore, and I wonder if his room will reflect the difference in styles and tastes that easily.

    Top of the line suits and instant meals? It doesnít fit.

    I go to the closest door and turn the knob. The door is unlocked and opens easily for me. My hand finds the light switch and I gaze in a room even cleaner than Schuldichís. The curtains are dark blue and the floor is polished wood. There is nothing on the dresser or nightstand. There isnít even a thick blanket on the bed. I find that odd; itís cool enough at night in this apartment that I canít imagine someone sleeping without more covers.

    I shrug it off, heading towards the window. This room has to be Crawfordís, as I canít imagine that white haired freak living in a room like this. I donít expect the view to be any good, as the window is on the same side of the apartment as the den. Indeed, I am greeted with stark buildings when I tug the curtains aside. Well, as long as the curtains stay closed, thereís nothing bad to be said about this apartment. I let the curtains fall back into place and turn to consider the room once more. The closet is just a few feet to my left, and I wonder if he owns any normal clothes. I have to snort at the strange mental image that conjures up, and I open the closet to see.

    If I wanted to see a row of suits, I am disappointed. The closet is bare. Doesnít anyone in this apartment use their closets? Closing the door once more, I turn to the dresser instead. I slide the top drawer open to find that it is empty. Frowning, I check the bottom two. Thereís nothing there- no shirts, no pants, no socks, nothing. I close the drawers again and turn my frown on the room. Someone _does_ use this room, right? Thereís only one more room to be a bedroom; if no one lives here than there is not enough room for Schwarz.

    The sullen thought of why I have to sleep with Schuldich when this bedroom is empty crosses my mind before I brush it away. Why is the room empty? Where is Crawford? Maybe Schwarz doesnít live together. Maybe only two live here, and the other two are elsewhere. It would explain why half of the group is missing, though it wouldnít explain the bedroom. I canít see a reason for Schwarz wanting a spare bedroom. If no one was using it, they could have converted it into something else. But why pay for the bedroom set just to leave it unused?

    Maybe my answers will be in the other room. I leave, tugging the door shut behind me, and move towards the end of the hall. Iíve seen Nagi go into his room, so I know which one I am looking for. This door is unlocked as well and I push the door open, looking around with a critical purple gaze. It isnít a bedroom. Itís an office. A beautiful wooden desk is up against the wall, and the only other things in the room are a lamp and a chair.

    I close the door again and stare down the hall. So there are only three bedrooms, therefore all of Schwarz doesnít live here. Iíve been waiting for two people to return that probably never will. Now I just have to worry about them visiting. But if Schuldich said Schwarz doesnít exist, perhaps they wonít. But why would Schuldich and Nagi stick together? The kid may be young- he looks to be younger than Omi- but I canít see him staying with Schuldich out of the rest of the group. Granted, he wouldnít pick the rabid Irishman as a housemate, but Schuldich is very different from the boy. The differences werenít always as easy to see on the field, as our meetings were brief and we were usually getting thoroughly beaten, but in my time here I find it strange that they can get along.

    I canít explain why they would choose each other, neither can I figure out where the others went. And why the third bedroom?

    An hour later I have no answers and the questions are irritating me. Finally I resolve to worry about them later and retreat to the den with my book. I instantly have a cat in my lap, and I spend the next several hours reading, the results of my exploration tucked to the back of my mind to be considered again later.

***

    Nagi shows up a short time after three; I am absorbed enough in my book that I donít hear the door open or shut. I am only alerted to the fact that I am not alone because the cats abandon the living room. I am disoriented for a moment and look around, seeking out the clock in the room. It rests atop the television stand and announces it to be 3:30. I realize then that I never stopped my reading for lunch, and I rub at my eyes to try and ease the odd sensation that comes from being interrupted after reading for hours. I know immediately that it is Nagi, as it is several hours too early for Schuldich. I can hear the catsí crying die out as Nagi bids them welcome, and I glance to my side, closing my book in preparation for retreating to Schuldichís bedroom, as Nagi passes the doorway.

    He notices my gaze on him and meets my stare with an unreadable look. He does not look surprised to see me here; perhaps Schuldich informed him I would be here when he returned from classes. His gaze lingers just long enough to be insolent before he turns away. He is carrying his bag over his shoulder, the handle dangling from his fingers. The cats follow him in a crowd into the kitchen. Their adoration is rewarded just a few moments later when I hear the sound of their dishes being refilled. Thereís the sound of a chair being moved and I know he is settling in to do his work. I rise from my seat, sparing just a moment to mourn the loss of such a comfortable spot, and head down the hall to Schuldichís room to continue my reading. It takes a while to get settled again, and my thoughts drift to my teammates and my room at the flower shop. With a soft sigh, I push them from mind.

    Not much later, the door opens with a creak. I leave it cracked for the cats, and now one approaches me where I sit cross-legged in the corner. She gives my hand a sniff, rubs a cheek along the corner of my book, and helps herself to my lap. My long fingers weave through her short black fur and she purrs, curling up tighter into herself and burying her face against my calf. One hand scratches the top of her head as I search for my place in my book once more. Purring accompanies me as I step back from reality once more, losing myself in the pages of my novel.

    I donít realize Iíve dozed off until the cat wakes me when she abandons my lap. She leaves a cold spot behind and I glance towards the door she has just disappeared through. She is crying loudly, and that can only mean one thing: her most beloved master has come home. Giving a soft snort at the notion, I tilt my head back to rest against the wall and listen to the kittensí chorus. They didnít cry for Nagi like they now cry for Schuldich. If they shout a welcome to Nagi, they offer desperate, ecstatic greetings to Schuldich. I hear him laugh, hear his voice without being able to make out the words, as he speaks to them. With the door open all the way from Ainís (Eins, Schuldich insists, but I canít pronounce it quite the same) entrance and exit, I can hear the soft creak of the couch. Nagiís chair moves again and I know heís going to greet Schuldich. Perhaps heíll also complain that I was here when he got here.

    With his arrival, I am reminded of my hunger, and I accept the fact that dinner is near. His arrival also brings back the results of my wanderings earlier today, and I frown at the return of such unanswerable questions.

    /It seems WeiŖ was named after cats for a reason,/ Schuldich muses. /You four are just as nosey./

    ~You never said not to explore,~ I remind him loftily. ~If Iím to be here for a few months, I might as well know what the apartment looks like.~

    /Keep in mind, little Abyssinian, that curiosity never got the cat anywhere. It just got him killed./ I frown at that, wondering if heís making conversation or threats. /Itís up for interpretation,/ he responds amiably.

    ~How generous of you,~ I answer dryly.

    /Always. For future reference, you can wander the town when you have weekdays free. Now feed me./

    I canít decide whether to be annoyed or not at his order; I donít really feel it and wonder why as I rise from my spot and stretch the soreness of hours of sitting from my limbs. Perhaps itís because Iím hungry as well. I check the page of my book before closing it and sliding it into its spot on my nightstand. Nagi hasnít returned to the kitchen; I pause in the doorway and hear a crack, followed by a sharp curse. A peek into the den shows Nagi working on Schuldichís back again. That noise came from Schuldichís back? It was _loud_. I suppose he has frequent back problems? Or maybe it has to do with his workÖ The last time I found him like this, he said he had been moving things all day. Schuldichís hands are clenched in his hair and Nagi has a faintly amused look on his face. Schuldich tilts his head to one side, sending Nagi a dark look, and the boy gives a soft laugh. Itís the first time Iíve heard him laugh; I had figured his vocal cords were incapable of producing such a sound.

    I retreat to the kitchen to figure out what to cook. I settle for tempura and noodles. We have a variety of things I can fry, from chicken to shrimp to vegetables, and maybe even some fish and potatoes. I find everything I was looking for. When I turn around, Schuldich is in the kitchen by the stove, watching me expectantly.

    ďIt isnít ready yet,Ē I inform him.

    He checks out what Iím carrying as I approach, lifting the packages so he can see everything in the stack. From the interested gleam in his eye, I can only guess that he really likes tempura. He grins at me; itís such an open expression that it startles me. Something about it makes me uneasy; something throws a warning switch deep inside and my eyes narrow slightly as I search his expression, trying to figure out what about it is bothering me.

    His grin tilts into an amused expression and he taps my ingredients. ďI know Iím gorgeous, but you can stare at me after youíre done cooking,Ē he drawls.

    ďIíd rather claw my eyes out,Ē I respond, setting everything down on the counter.

    ďSuch a mean cat,Ē Schuldich notes, turning away and stretching before lacing his fingers together on the back of his skull and wandering towards the table. Nagi has entered and taken his seat again, and Schuldich stands over him, peering over his shoulder to see what heís working on. I study his back for a moment before pulling my gaze away and returning to my work.

***

    I donít bother telling Nagi that Ran wandered all over the apartment today. I donít tell him that Ran has realized that only two people live here. I can hear the questions in Ranís thoughts and see them in his eyes when he glances towards me, but I do not acknowledge them or offer answers. I doubt heíll ever voice his questions to me. He doesnít know what Iíll give him in response, and figures the odds are in favor of him just regretting asking.

    I leave Nagi, wandering down the hall and stopping in front of Crawfordís door. Perhaps inspired by Ranís explorations, I turn the knob and step inside. I leave the lights off, closing the door behind me and leaning against it. The room seems so bare with the lights off; the darkness cannot hide the empty shelves and bed. If I close my eyes, I can see it as it was five months ago. Crawfordís room was always cleaner than mine; my room used to be an eternal mess. I open my eyes, letting my legs carry me towards the dresser. I was never invited inside his room when he was still around, and I never had the interest to trespass into his space. Many times found me lounging against the doorframe, however, talking to Crawford as he finished the buttons on his shirt or picked out his tie for the day. He wasnít my friend; I donít miss him as one. He was my leader, and I trusted his judgment in a way I canít and wonít ever trust anyone elseís ever again. I had been his partner for so many years; we had grown up together in Rosenkreuz. Our line of work and the way we were raised at that Austrian school forbid us from ever growing closer than we needed to be. We could be allies and partners without stepping further, without ever wanting to cross that line. We were content with what we had because it worked for us and it worked for the group.

    Nagi saw the precognitive in a slightly different light. Nagiís general distrust of society and Crawfordís personality kept them from getting too close. Nagi respected Crawford probably more than I ever did. Nagi had been dragged off the streets into Schwarzís care by this mysterious American who could see the future. Crawford clothed and fed Nagi, he gave him something to do with his life. He became a surrogate father to the boy, even if the relationship between them wasnít the best. They spent time with each other only when it was needed, as Crawford wasnít much for socializing and Nagi wasnít sure then how much he was welcome. Crawfordís behavior towards other people was a mix of his gift requiring the majority of his attention and Rosenkreuzís cold training. The school had him longer than they had me; they found him earlier on.

    Farfarello and Crawford viewed each other with wary respect. They did not fear each other, nor did they look to each other with any kind thoughts. Farfarello would do what he was told because I did what Crawford said and Farfarello always followed my lead. He was not particularly interested in the precognitive and spared him little attention. Crawford, in return, left Farfarello to me to take care of. Farfarello was a weapon; Crawford would use the weapon when he needed it and return it to its place when he was done.

    Crawford was a mystery; Crawford was a cold-hearted man. He was different than the rest of us, and in my mind I can see him as he told us about the tower collapsing. I remember realizing that he was quite content to die, I remember realizing that he would not use his gift to find a way around it. Crawford had been raised by Rosenkreuz, was raised and given to Estet as a possession like the rest of us. He was their dog and they were his master. The dog would bite the masterís hand and then starve to death when there was no hand left to feed it. If the sun set for Estet, it would set for him as well. That was how he thought, and he was satisfied with it. He would love to see them perish, but he accepted the fact that their death meant his own as well. That is why he did not fight it.

    Part of me wants to be angry at him for it; I know his death must have devastated Nagi. I want to be angry at him for not considering the boyís state of mind, until I remind myself that none of us should have ever cared, not in a unit like Schwarz. We werenít supposed to form bonds outside of the telepathic link that kept us in constant touch. Crawford never encouraged anything with anyone; in his eyes, it would be Nagiís own fault if something he did hurt the boy. Crawford didnít want to be a part of Schwarz anymore than was required of him to be leader. He knew that the rest of us had odd relationships with each other that Rosenkreuz and Estet might not be pleased with, but he did nothing to discourage it.

    When he told us the tower was going to fall, he tried to tell us how to survive it. The three of us that had melted into something slightly more than partners were the ones who were supposed to live. Whether he really cared or not if we lived, I will never know and I will never guess at. That wasÖexactly the way Crawford was. He could have been doing it just to calm our apprehension over the betrayal of Estet, or maybe he had tried to find a way that would make us both free and happy. Who knows? I donít. I just know that it failed, but it was our fault. I wonít hold it against him. I canít.

    Fingers run over the top of his dresser, sliding over the slick surface. His glasses rested here; he always kept the case on his dresser in this spot. The drawers of his dresser are empty, as is his closet. A couple months ago, I got rid of everything. I bundled his clothes together, took his personally tailored suits up to the cliff where everything Schwarz fell apart, and let them fall to the waves. Wherever Crawfordís body drifted, I thought perhaps he might want them. Only one of his suits still remainsÖNagi took it wordlessly from the stack and I never said anything about it. I allowed him to carry it back to his room, and I know it hangs in the back of his closet now. He wanted something material to remember the American by, to remember the man he considered to be some sort of father even if he wasnít supposed to.

    I canít blame him for taking it, not when the second dresser in my room is still full.

    ~Schuldich,~ Nagi calls.

    I inhale deeply and let it out slowly, reaching up to rake my bangs out of my face. /Mm?/

    ~Dinner is ready.~

    I turn my back on the room, crossing to the door. As I stand in the doorway, I look back over my shoulder. Even though getting rid of his personal effects was supposed to be my farewell to him, I somehow feel that this visit was my way of paying him his last respects. I make a note to lock the room up until we decide what to do with it; he does not need anymore visitors for the time being.

    I close the door behind me and wander down the hall, allowing the odd sense of peace that lingers within me to help me cover up my thoughts with a grin as I enter the kitchen.


Part 11
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