Part Eleven: Need to Be Needed
I thought perhaps the week would pretty much run the same as the one before, so it is some bit of a welcome surprise when Manx shows up Wednesday morning with a brown packet tucked under her arm. The shop is empty at the time; it is just Yohji and me when she arrives. Yohji sets a sign on the counter announcing that the florists will be back shortly; that way the customers can still browse and only the serious shoppers will linger until we return. With that, the two of us follow Manx down the stairwell to the mission room. Manx moves to put the video tape in. Yohji tosses a wink to a skeptical me and approaches the red-haired woman. She sees his reflection on the dark television screen and easily ducks the arm that he would have slung about her shoulders. Turning the TV on with a push from a well-manicured finger, she turns and cocks an eyebrow at him.
“I can’t help myself, beautiful,” Yohji says.
“You’re shameless,” she responds, pointing to the couch in a silent command for him to take his seat. Yohji gives a shrug and turns away from her. He tilts his head towards me as we both approach the couch from opposite directions, and he offers a grin before flopping himself down on the couch.
I freeze beside the couch, my hand resting on the arm of it, and stare at my teammate.
That is why Schuldich’s grin had bothered me at dinner…That open kind of grin, an expression too honest for the German to have ever shown me before, is Yohji’s. Their mouths curve in an identical way with a matching twinkle of amused mischief in their eyes. I had seen Yohji in Schuldich last night, but I hadn’t been able to recognize it. How could I have? Yohji and Schuldich are very different people, and now realizing where the alarms came from makes me uneasy. The comparison between the devil and the closest thing I have to a friend is unwelcome.
“Are you ready, Abyssinian?” Manx asks.
“A-aa…” I tear my eyes from my teammate and perch on the arm of the couch. I don’t want to sit any closer after that revelation.
Manx plays the tape. Our target today is a drug lord who has targeted youths. He has processed an addictive and harmful drug and is adding it to a type of candy. Once it hits the markets, just a few samples of it will leave someone needing more. His plan will easily make him a billionaire. He has to know that someone will figure him out along the way, but as long as he can make a chunk of money, he won’t mind disappearing when authorities start questioning people’s seeming addictions to his product. There are three targets that we will have to take care of: the president, the vice president, and the production manager. Their images flick by and Yohji makes a comment that all of our targets are ugly people. He has decided that people turn to criminal activities because their own ugliness has scarred them and made them unable to fit in with normal people.
The tape is over, and Manx sets it on top of the television. There are four small packets of paper left in her folder, and she removes these next. Two- meant for our teammates- are set on top of the tape. She carries the other two to us to examine, and Yohji and I flip through the pages for a few moments in silence. Manx waits patiently, watching us with her arms folded over her chest. When we are done skimming, she asks for our participation.
“Well?” she wants to know, looking from one to the other.
Yohji glances towards me; I return the look. At length Yohji shrugs. “Whatever.”
A night on a mission means less time spent with Schwarz. I nod. Manx echoes the gesture. “Good,” she says. It’s a wonder that she can smile and still have a voice that clipped; it ruins the expression. “I expect Bombay and Siberian to be notified immediately, and this mission needs to be completed as soon as possible.”
“We’re on it, darling,” Yohji assures her, and with that Manx leaves. Yohji and I linger behind for a few moments, studying our packets again. Finally he waves it and throws a lazy grin my way; I know immediately from that look that I’m not going to like whatever he says. He doesn’t prove me wrong. “It’ll be a night run,” he tells me. “Will your girl be upset if you don’t show up?”
I consider telling him the truth, that “she” won’t care. I don’t think that’s an answer he’d appreciate. “It’ll be fine,” I say instead.
“Yeah?” Yohji asks. He’s encouraged enough by my answer to ask me another question. “Will I ever get to meet her?” The Look I give him answers that easily enough; actions speak louder than words with a resounding No. “Can I at least know what she looks like? How you met her? Is she a customer?”
I set my packet on the cushion beside me and rise from my spot. “This isn’t a subject I want to talk about, Yohji.”
“What is?” Yohji returns easily, tossing his own papers carelessly aside and catching up to me. He slings his arm around my shoulder as we head up the stairs, lifting the other hand in front of us and closing his fingers with each question he ticks off. “What color hair does she have? Eyes? Height? Tell me she has a pretty smile.” He leers and leans close. “Is she good in bed?”
I have been silently answering his questions as he asks- Orange, Blue, 5’9”, and Not Really- and when he voices the last question I choke. Yohji must interpret that the wrong way; he has no clue what horror and heavy denial silently answers that question. Instead he bursts into laughter and gives me a small shake.
“Good for you, man. Don’t be embarrassed; it’s about time you got laid.”
“Yohji,” I grit out, ready to correct his suspicions.
Green eyes meet mine; while amusement still dances in their depths, the smile on his lips is warm. “I am glad,” he tells me, and I pause to let him finish before correcting him. “You need someone, you know?” he asks, and when I frown at him he explains. We stop at the top of the stairwell, his free hand resting on the doorknob. “You just strike me as the kind of person who needs to be needed,” he says, watching my expression to see if I take offense to his words. “You need someone to need you, need to protect and take care of someone. You can act all antisocial in there,” and he taps his fingernails on the doorknob, “but something about you…” There’s a struggle for recognition in his eyes, and I wonder then if he’s speaking in regards to my sister. Schuldich informed me the other week that he blotted her from everyone else’s minds, and I wonder if in wake of her absence Yohji’s observations about our relationship still remain. Yohji gives up on the struggle. “I think you want to be needed,” he tells me, “because you can’t just live for yourself. You’re the kind who lives for someone else. And this person, whoever they are, must be special, if you’ve chosen them.”
His words bother me- most especially because he’s unknowingly referring to my situation with Schuldich- but also because I think back to what it was like before my sister was kidnapped. For a while there, there was nothing; life was dark shades of gray. My sister was safe and stable, my team had few missions as we were still recovering from our wounds, and the shop work was the same dull routine as always. Before then, my sister’s recovery was always an assured thing in my mind. I had Takatori to kill to avenge my family; I had spent years preparing for that showdown. He died and I was left with nothing. Life teetered for a while after that, when Weiß took its break, then Aya was kidnapped by Schreient and we found ourselves with new enemies to destroy. Then the tower collapsed, Schreient was gone, Schwarz was gone, and Aya was safe. And I…started to slowly collapse inside.
Is Yohji right? Do I need to be protecting someone? Do I need to have someone to look after? Was I so unhappy that Aya was safe?
I shove away these thoughts; I should have been overjoyed that Aya was safe. Yohji must be wrong.
Except that, when Aya was safe, she did not need me. She just needed my money.
I realize I have looked away; I am staring at the doorknob as I turn the words over in my head. Yohji taps my shoulder, and I glance back towards him. He searches my eyes, still looking for a reaction to his words. “I may be way off,” he tells me softly, seeing my mixed feelings to his observation in my expression. “Don’t listen to me. The main point is…I’m glad you’re not alone anymore, yeah?”
With that, he opens the door and allows me to enter the shop first. There are two girls waiting on us. Yohji is quick to attend them, abandoning his warm smile and soft words for the cheerier tone our customers expect. I am glad we have customers, equally glad that Yohji volunteers to look after them. I remain by the door even after I have closed it, gazing at Yohji as he makes small talk with the girls, wooing them each in turn with ease from years of practice.
Now that Schuldich has taken my sister, Aya needs me again.
Is that the real reason I am recovering so quickly from the pre-kidnapping slump? Am I content once more, despite the situation, despite the people involved, because someone needs me?
I don’t know, and I’m afraid to find out. I don’t know what I would think of myself if I discovered that I am only happy when my sister’s safety is dependent on me.
Omi worked on the mission as soon as he got home from school yesterday. Ken had afternoon shift with me, and Yohji told him about Manx’s visit before he left. Ken had shown up early, so he used those spare minutes to go downstairs and skim through the information Kritiker had chosen to give us. It was Ken that passed the message on to Omi, and the boy vanished downstairs and wasn’t seen again that day. Ken checked on him as we closed shop, and Omi called up that he wasn’t done yet, that he’d be a couple more hours. On Thursday, I work only the afternoon shift, and when I come in Ken tells me that Omi has gathered everything we need. He wants all of us to meet after the shop is closed to go over the details, as he wants to try and run the mission tomorrow night.
Schuldich has said that he wants me at the apartment as soon as the shop has cleaned; I suppose if I’m not there when he shows up he’ll check my mind to determine my whereabouts. I wonder if I should wait until then to tell him- I wonder if I can risk a last minute notice. I don’t know how long the meeting will be. I mentioned last night that I would have a mission soon and Schuldich had accepted it with an odd smirk on his face. I suppose he can smirk and find whatever amusement he likes in the work Weiß does, now that he is out of the assassin business. I’m not sure how to contact Schuldich to tell him. The apartment has a phone but I don’t know the number, I don’t know if it has an answering machine, and I’ve finally discovered that Nagi gets back to the apartment at half past three on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s only one now.
I accept the message with a nod and retreat to my counter to try and sort this new obstacle out. Finally my thoughts settle on Schuldich’s gift. I wonder if it works at this range, then remember the other times I thought I heard his voice while on shift. I wonder if he would be able to hear me if I wanted to talk to him; I don’t even know how to get his attention.
~Schuldich?~ I finally think, doubting that it’s going to work but figuring I have to try.
He answers almost immediately, his voice slipping through my thoughts. It bothers me that it’s already beginning to feel so familiar. He uses his gift to nag me enough at the apartment that I am growing accustomed to the way it feels. /Afternoon, Sieben./
~I have a meeting tonight.~
There’s a brush against my mind; imagine an invisible finger skimming lightly over your temple and, while it’s not perfect, that’s the best I can describe the sensation. I guess that Schuldich is looking for the details behind my announcement to keep our conversation short. /Well, if you’re checking in with me, I suppose that means you’re trainable after all./ He sounds amused.
I glare at the counter, wishing he could see it. He laughs. /Such an unpleasant person you can be…Enjoy your little campfire picnic./ he says simply, and I can feel him leave. His entrance is accompanied by the faint feeling of warmth along my scalp, and his exit leaves a cool tingle behind. I rub at my forehead and rake my bangs out of my face. I feel somewhat accomplished for getting in contact with him, then squish that quickly. I have managed to assure myself that Schuldich won’t be irritated over a delayed dinner, but that is all.
Giving a light sigh, I try to get rid of such thoughts by focusing on my work. The day passes relatively smoothly. Omi and Yohji show up towards the end of the shift to help us clean up, knowing that the sooner the shop is tidied the sooner the meeting begins and ends. We retire downstairs when the shop is cleaned to our satisfaction and the brooms are set back in the closet where they belong. Yohji takes the couch after I do, lacing his fingers together behind his head. I catch the movement out of the corner of my eye and for a moment I think Schuldich is here. I push away such startled thoughts, glancing towards Yohji before forcing my gaze elsewhere. In the span of two days I have seen two things about Yohji that remind me of my German captor, and I don’t like it at all.
Luckily, Omi starts speaking then and I don’t have to think about the similarities between Yohji and Schuldich. I focus on every word my teammate says, listening as he fills us in on the company we’ll be striking, going into more detail than Kritiker gave us. He moves onto our three targets, telling us what he could find about them. That done, he launches into our plan of action. He has his dry eraser board rolled out from behind the desk, something Ken bought him, and there’s a floor plan sketched out. Different colored lines show us each our starting and ending positions and how to get from one to the other. He goes over it, instructing us each in what he wants and what he thinks we can expect on our respective routes. We accept his words in silence, trusting his judgment.
Yohji waits until I’ve risen to go to get up even though he’s usually the first out. He follows me upstairs and I can feel his grin boring into my back; I grit my teeth and say nothing. I know he’s waiting for me to leave; he’s here to watch me abandon the Koneko. Omi and Ken follow us out the back door, bid us goodnight, and pass us to go up the stairs to their apartments. I wait until their doors have closed before turning and meeting Yohji’s eyes.
“Is someone waiting on you?” he drawls.
~Two someones and maybe six cats,~ I answer mentally, ~all of whom are probably hungry.~
“Good night, Yohji,” I say instead. “Don’t be late to work tomorrow.”
“Am I ever late?” he asks. I choose not to answer that one; we both know the answer. Yohji doesn’t wait for a response. He just laughs and calls a farewell as I climb into my car. A glance at the rearview mirror shows that he watches me drive away until my car has turned out of sight. I sigh, lifting a hand from the wheel to rub my forehead. Yohji may find great amusement in all of this, but if he knew what was really going on he’d probably be horrified.
/You mean he’d probably shit his pants,/ Schuldich offers up helpfully.
~Hungry enough to come looking for me?~ I wonder.
/Why else would I want you here?/ he returns easily, and for some reason I take some comfort in those words. It means that they don’t want anything else from me; it’s just another reminder that my time with them could be much worse. /What’s for dinner, anyway?/
There is, however, still something very surreal about discussing dinner choices with Schuldich as I head towards his apartment. ~I haven’t decided.~
There’s a pause, then Schuldich makes some suggestions. I guess he’s rummaging through the cabinet to see what we have. The choices are limited; it’s time to make another shopping trip. Schuldich catches that thought and agrees, even going so far as to say he’ll make the list of dinner items for me. How generous of him.
Schuldich hears the dry sarcasm behind that thought and snickers, then falls silent. Less than ten minutes later, I find a parking spot outside the proper building. A couple and their child reach the door at the same time as me, and I hold it open for them. The man ignores me, the wife offers me a wan smile that doesn’t reach her eyes, and the child clinging to her hand and following behind just stares at me, one finger in his mouth, as he passes. We wait by the elevator in silence. The husband is reading a magazine. A few seconds go by and he must have found something he didn’t like because suddenly he’s crumpling it with quick, angry movements. The wife winces beside him, tucking her child closer to her side. The child doesn’t notice, as he’s still gaping at me.
The elevator arrives, and we press our respective buttons. The wife sends me a curious glance when she sees what floor I choose, and I wonder if she knows who else lives on that floor. I return the look. Instead of looking away, she holds the gaze and inclines her head to me. I echo the gesture. The husband notices and mutters something too low for me to catch; abruptly her eyes turn to the floor. The boy makes a face at me as the doors open at the sixth floor, bobbing his head like some sort of bird and baring tiny teeth at me. A small finger wet from being in his mouth slides free to run down his chin and I blink at him, amused and surprised by being given such a look.
The mother notices my pause and looks from her son to me, quickly clapping a hand over her son’s face. I give her a faint smile as I leave to show her that I’m more amused than offended and she offers me a weak smile in return as the doors close. As I turn away from the elevator I notice that our door is open. Schuldich is lounging against the doorframe, dressed in some loose cargo pants and a tight blue shirt. He gestures towards the elevator.
“Yamaguchi Makiko,” he announces, “eighth floor. Cheating husband who is abusive when drunk. The kid is Tunio and he isn’t hers. He’s from another woman who refused to keep the child when she gave birth four years ago and threatened to make a fuss if the husband wouldn’t take him off her hands. Makiko had just lost a child in childbirth, so she was able to take him in. She didn’t want to, but her husband’s reputation couldn’t take a scandal. She had no choice in the matter.”
He says it as if he’s announcing the weatherman’s forecast for the night, a calm drawl that doesn’t show his own opinions on the matter and shows little interest in the mess. I look over my shoulder back at the elevator, considering this. I feel a small wave of outrage at the thought of what that woman had to go through. She’s young, but she has a tired slump to her shoulders.
“What’s to be done?” Schuldich asks me. “He will never let her have a divorce; he’d see her dead first. And if he dies, she’ll lose her home here and have to raise her kid elsewhere on her own.” He shrugs and turns away, heading inside. I remain behind for a long moment before following, and I feel some sort of relief that he is reacting in such a way. Yohji wouldn’t have taken such a story well; it would have deeply bothered him. After being disturbed by noticing two similarities between Schuldich and Yohji, Schuldich’s seeming disregard for the mother is almost welcome.
Nagi is in the den, channel surfing. I suppose that he has had plenty of time to get his work done if he has been here for over five hours. My shoes are abandoned at the door and I go straight to the kitchen when Schuldich gestures that direction.
I can already see the look on Yohji’s face if I were to tell him about the woman, and I am half-tempted to do just that and spread her story to him. I usually prefer to stay out of other people’s business, but I remember the way she winced away from her husband as he started crumpling his magazine- an instinctive recoil from someone who has been beaten many times before.
I have picked the quickest to prepare of the remaining meals, and in just fifteen minutes it is being served to the table. I feel Schuldich brush against my mind. Whatever he is looking for, I think he passes to Nagi, because the boy glances as me. I seat myself, finished with carrying dishes over to the table, and Schuldich reveals what he was looking for. /Off to protect the innocents tomorrow, hm?/ he asks. /Let me know when that white horse you’re riding starts to make your ass sore, gallant knight./
~Shove off,~ I return acidly.
Schuldich grins, and I am distantly reassured to see it is that amused, edged grin that is all Schuldich and none of my teammate. With that, he turns to Nagi. “Overtime this weekend,” he announces, and I suppose he is only saying it out loud so I don’t bother either of them with questions later.
Nagi lowers his chopsticks, frowning at his companion. It’s obvious this is unwelcome news. “How long?”
“Full shifts, two days.”
“Two days?” Nagi demands, casting his chopsticks back to his plate. The argument must be taken to mental grounds then, because they both go silent. Nagi is giving the older man a dark look and Schuldich returns it with a calm expression, a faint smirk curling his lips in response to his teammate’s anger. I watch them as they argue. Schuldich must have won, because Nagi finally turns away with a “Feh” and collects his chopsticks again. “You need a new job,” Nagi informs Schuldich as he shoves his food around on his plate.
Schuldich just shrugs, the amused look still on his face as he sips from his glass. He looks towards me, catching my gaze across the table, and waggles his eyebrows at me. I look away, turning to more interesting things than his face, such as my food. Schuldich laughs as he sets his glass aside and silence descends over the table once more as we finish off our meals.
It’s getting easier to remember that it’s Ran and not Farfarello in my bed; the time spent with Ran in my waking hours helps hold over to the night. I am relieved, as it means that it is not so crushing to wake up in the morning. It is getting easier to accept the warmth and weight of another body beside mine without mistaking one man for another. It still hurts that it’s the wrong person, but it’s not the same as it was before, when I woke up and did a double take that I wasn’t with Farfarello. This morning I woke with the knowledge that it was Weiß’s kitten.
The more time I spend with Ran, the more the little things remind me of my lover. The way he sits sometimes, when he’s perching on the end of the bed, matches the way Farfarello would sit when he was watching me. The little things he does with his hands and sometimes his thoughts echo my lover’s. These things always catch me off guard, but even as I can find my lover in Ran, more time with Ran is showing me all of the ways that he is different from the Irishman. His thoughts are ultimately different; it is more Fujimiya in there than Farfarello. His continued disdain towards me helps and I am content to feed such feelings.
I scrub my hair dry with a towel, eyeing Ran’s reflection in the mirror above my dresser. He is already asleep, unconscious from the medicine. His hands are not yet secured to the headboard, so he rests on his side, one hand tucked under his pillow and the other on the mattress in front of him. I sigh, lifting my eyes back to my own reflection to concentrate on my hair. I use two towels; one is slung around my waist and the other is used only for my hair. My hair requires a towel of its own, and even though I’ll scrub it thoroughly now I know it’ll still be wet when I climb into bed.
Work should be fun tomorrow…Nagi was flipping channels and paused on the weather station for a forecast. The prediction is a nasty thunderstorm. Most of the other men hate working in such conditions, but I find it a welcome change of pace. The men are more stressed then; there’s a better chance for accidents. It’s more entertaining than a normal day.
Nagi isn’t asleep yet; I can hear his thoughts where he is still out in the den. He will retire soon, grateful that he will be waking up to a Friday morning. Schoolwork is very different from Schwarz, but it still requires as much of his time for him to succeed. He works hard at it, as hard as he ever did for our team.
I set my towel on top of my dresser and tug out some pajama pants to sleep in, drying and dressing at a leisurely pace. I’m not in any hurry to go to sleep; perhaps I’m spoiled from being so rested these past few weeks. I gather up my towels and carry them back to their hooks in the bathroom with a yawn. I offer Nagi a goodnight and he returns it distractedly, his attention absorbed by whatever he’s found to watch on the TV.
I climb onto the bed and gather the handcuffs from on top of my nightstand, rolling a limp Ran onto his back so I can fasten his hands in place. I gaze down at him for a long moment, then reach out and touch my fingers to his shoulder. “You are Fujimiya Ran,” I inform him, voice low even though I know he can’t hear me through his drugged sleep.
The words satisfy me, and I tug at the blanket that Ran always sleeps on top of, pulling it out from under him before draping it over top of him. That accomplished, I burrow myself under the blankets as well. I lay on my side for a long moment, studying him in the darkness. Sleep overtakes me soon, and even though I’ve fallen asleep on my side of the bed, I know morning will find me lying against this red haired intruder.
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