Part Twelve: Rainy Memories
It’s raining when we wake up the next day; I can hear the drops hitting the window even over the sound of both alarm clocks going off. I flick mine off first before leaning over Ran to get his. His eyes open, blinking a couple times to fight back the edge of drug-induced weariness. I find the key and free his hands so he can get up and shower. It takes him a moment to sit up, and he perches on the edge of the bed as he gathers his thoughts and waits for his mental haze to become more coherent. I know when his mind is working when he tilts his head to one side, a light frown gracing his lips. He’s heard the rain and is contemplating what effect it will have on the shop’s customers today.
He says nothing to me but rises from the bed and heads towards the closet. I yawn and rake my fingers through my hair, watching him as he gathers his towel and picks an outfit for the day. He won’t be wearing that hideous orange sweater ever again…He wore it last week and once it disappeared into my laundry hamper, it ‘accidentally’ got tossed out in the basement’s trash bin. It’s too ugly for him to keep. He just hasn’t realized it’s gone yet, and I continue to wait with some amusement for him to find out.
He leaves the room and I climb off the bed, reaching out with a hand to yank the blankets back into place. I wander towards the window, reaching over Farfarello’s dresser to pull aside the curtain. The skies are a drab gray and the buildings are blurry with all of the rain coming down. This is just the front edge of the storm, and I grin as I note that it’s going to get worse as the day goes on. Ran had better hope that it lightens up before he and Weiß go out to spread their goodness and light. With a snort at the thought, I let the curtain fall away. Fingers dance lightly over the top of Farfarello’s dresser, brushing over the polished wood. Farfarello liked the rain…He used to sit up here with the curtains pulled back to watch it. It could entertain him for hours. Crawford said it was a sign of the simple minded. Nagi agreed. They didn’t care, though, because it kept him occupied for a while and neither of them wanted to be bothered with him. Nagi was never sure what to make of Farfarello. He did not fear the man, not with the strength of the telekinetic powers in his small frame, but the man bothered Nagi all the same.
Farfarello liked the rain. He liked it because it was gray, because it was cold and wet. He liked it because it was the sky’s way of grieving, because it chased people indoors. During the more horrific storms, the streets would be almost completely empty, and he liked looking out at a dead town. He liked the rain because it was beautiful, and I liked the rain because he did. Some of my best memories have to do with the rain.
After all, despite what they say about rain accompanying tragic events, the sky was crystal clear when the tower fell.
I turn away from his dresser, heading for my own. I don’t usually worry much about what I wear, as I’ll just be changing once I reach work, anyway. Today I make sure to pick up a long-sleeved shirt, however, as it’s going to be very cold at the docks. I’m dressed and working on my hair when Ran returns. He passes behind me to deposit his clothes in the hamper, and he reaches out to pull open the window curtain like I did. He studies the rain for a few moments in silence, judging the strength of it before letting the curtain fall free from his fingers. His towel is set in the closet to dry and he leaves the room as I continue to fight with the knots in my hair.
When that task is finally done, I find my umbrella where it rests under the bed. Ran is eating his usual breakfast of toast in the kitchen when I wander into the kitchen. My cats are gathered around Ran’s feet, rising onto their hind legs to beg for some crumbs. They abandon him the moment my foot hits the kitchen linoleum, gathering around me instead and crying mournfully to make me take pity on their hunger.
“The day I’m too poor to buy food is the day you ingrates decide you don’t care if I come home or not,” I inform them, crouching to scratch at their backs. Fur seems to explode off of them, sticking to my sleeves and my pants in large clumps. Ran watches as he drinks, watching the cats more than me. He likes my cats, even if he can’t pronounce their names worth a damn. He never voices them aloud because of that, but now and then I can catch his mental struggle. He’s closest with Eins, but there’s still that extra half syllable in there that ruins it. Eins is Ain, Zwei is Zuwai, Drei is Darai, Vier is Fiaa, Fünf is Funfu, and Sechs is Sekusu.
Japanese people amuse me.
Ran puts his dishes in the dishwasher and moves past me on his way to get his own umbrella from the closet. I feed the cats before searching for my own breakfast, knowing that the cats will give me no peace until their bellies are full. I find leftovers in a small container in the fridge and help myself to it. The dish is emptied easily and I am closing the dishwasher when Ran passes the kitchen. He is tugging on his shoes and lifting his keys from the hook on the wall when I approach, and he goes on ahead to call the elevator as I tug on my own sneakers. I pull the door closed behind me, spinning my keychain on my index finger, and wait opposite Ran for the lift to arrive. Our umbrellas dangle from our free hands and I can hear the rain when the elevators open on the first floor. It has gotten much stronger already; we can hear it banging against the lobby doors as we approach, and the world outside is a blur through the glass. Yes, work will be very interesting today.
We pause under the overhang to open our umbrellas. Ran steps away first, heading towards his own car. I remain under the cover for just a moment longer, holding my hand out so the icy drops can explode against my palm. I consider the clouds just a bit longer, giving Ran time to get into his car and start the engine before I move to my own vehicle. Nagi’s going to have a wonderful time walking to school in the rain. I grin at the thought. He has an umbrella as well, but he only needs one so he doesn’t draw attention to himself. I’ve seen him form his own protective shield around himself with his gift, and no rain in the world can penetrate such a thing. It’s the cold Nagi can’t keep out, and Nagi doesn’t like the cold. He lived on the streets long enough that he despises cold, wet weather like this.
Some people drive cautiously in the rain. The people out this morning don’t bother. They’ve driven in rain millions of times before and they have places to go, long hours to put in, and things to do. The horrible weather doesn’t slow the traffic down as much as it could have- and maybe even should have- so I make decent time to the harbor. I get a spot close to the front just because I’m on time today (meaning twenty minutes early). Takada arrives as I’m getting out of my car, and he struggles with his umbrella as he slides out. The rain beats relentlessly off our car hoods, splashing us, and we move away quickly, long strides carrying us towards the door. The ground is wet and every step sends water up onto our pants; perhaps we should have brought home the waterproof coveralls so we could have worn them on the way to work this morning. Seriously, we should have a pair for at home. My pants aren’t going to dry enough sitting in my locker all day.
“It’s so cold,” Takada says, raising his voice over the drumming of rain hitting the dozen or so cars already gathered in the parking lot. “It’s no good working in the rain. People are going to be falling all over the place, rubber mats or not!”
“And we can all laugh at them,” I return easily. Takada holds the door open and I slip inside the building first, closing my umbrella only after going through the doors. I give it a shake, ignoring the water that scatters on the floor. Takada rakes a hand through his hair as we head down the hall, combing fingers through spiky locks that managed to get wet before he could get his umbrella open in the parking lot. Short haired people have no right to complain about getting their heads wet. If I get my hair wet, it’ll be soaked for hours.
“I suppose,” he says at last. “Just make sure it isn’t you. I’ve fallen on these floors before; it takes a week before you can sit down without it hurting.”
I decline to comment that there are other ways to get a sore ass, deciding he wouldn’t appreciate it. The thought brings a faint smile to my lips, though, and I can feel the wistful edge to my thoughts. Yes, the rain is just what I need today. I need the hectic edge it’ll add to our work. And if there isn’t enough excitement…Today I’m willing to use my gift to make it so. If someone doesn’t fall before lunch time, I can help them eat wet concrete.
…Anything to take my mind off of wet white hair and a throaty laugh, and the memory of fingers ghosting across my skin.
By an hour into our shift, the rain has only gotten worse and it is starting to thunder. Yohji and I stand by the door, staring out at the gray sheet that seems to block the world from our sight. Yohji gives a low whistle as lightning rips through the air, lighting everything up like a strobe flare. He turns to face me, raising an eyebrow. “Now what are the chances that anyone is going to brave that mess just for flowers and some pretty faces?” he asks.
I reach up, snagging the handle of the shield. “Almost none,” I answer, and Yohji gives a delighted smile as I yank the guard back down over the shop. “And if they do make it all the way here…They can see the guard and take themselves all the way back home.”
“Good thinking.” Yohji is already peeling off his apron, crumpling it in one hand as he fixes his bangs. I work at the knots on my own apron, looking around the shop. There won’t be much to do to tidy the place back up. We don’t need to bother calling the others to inform them; Yohji and I were supposed to work the whole day together. “Now, what shall I do with all my glorious free time?” he wonders, toting his apron to its hook. I join him there and he considers his options, using his fingers to tick them off. “I could go back to bed, I could stop somewhere and get a real breakfast, I could find someone and help keep them warm…” He trails off on that one, giving me a meaningful look as if saying I should consider that option as well. I give him a Look in return.
Yohji grins, pulling his hair free of its short ponytail. “What are your plans?” he asks.
I consider that. Schuldich told me that I can wander where I like when I have days off. This is sort of an impromptu free day, but it still counts. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what to do with my time. All of my things are back at Schuldich’s apartment, but I’m not interested in going there yet. I suppose I’m going to brave the rain and wander Tokyo for a while.
Maybe I should get some grocery shopping done...
I give a light shrug. Yohji hmm’s and stuffs his hands in his pockets, looking towards the guard. The sound of the rain on the glass is almost deafening, and I can hear thunder. It’s close enough that I can feel the ground vibrating beneath my feet. Yohji looks back at me. “Coffee?” he asks.
Perhaps it is because I don’t have any real plans in mind, but I nod. We tidy up the shop easily, setting the few supplies we had pulled out back where they belong. Yohji scribbles a note and sticks it to the door that connects the storage room to the shop front in case one of the others stops by to see how well the business is going with such weather. Our umbrellas are by the back door and we collect them before stepping outside. We brave the rain to Yohji’s car, and he unlocks the passenger door before going around to the other side of the vehicle. I set my umbrella by my feet and take Yohji’s when he’s in the car to put beside mine. The rain is loud on the roof and Yohji turns on the radio to help drown it out.
He takes us to a coffee shop halfway across the city, one I have never been to before. The parking lot is almost full; it seems everyone wants to gather for a hot drink and stare out at the rain. The café is several floors up. We manage to find a table; it’s against the window and the air by the glass is cold. A waitress is with us immediately, greeting us warmly and taking our orders, and Yohji and I are alone again to consider the rain. The waitress knew Yohji by name; I suppose this is his place of choice. He props his elbow on the table and perches his chin on his hand, and here in this café he allows himself to fall out of the Yohji our teammates and the girls require him to be. The cheery lines on his face fade to more thoughtful ones and his green eyes sparkle with a different kind of light. This is the Yohji I know; this is the Yohji I met and consequently befriended. I study him for several moments before turning my gaze back on the window. We can see the water from here; the waves are wild in this storm. I can make out the tops of a boat and decide the building it is beside must be the loading docks; the boat is rocking in the water and I reflect that that must not be a fun job today.
The silence between us doesn’t last long. The waitress returns with our coffee, inclines her head to us, and leaves to check on her other tables. Yohji touches a fingertip to his coffee and studies the wet fingertip a moment before lifting his eyes to me.
“How did you meet her?”
My first thought is to shove away the subject, but the eyes staring at me are not the eyes that laugh at me in the shop, not the eyes of the man who teases me about my absence from the shop. This is the Yohji that I used to sit with in the long nights, either in silence or listening to him talk about this and that. Yohji needed to talk, and I would let him. I would listen to whatever he needed to say and whatever he said would never be repeated. He knew he could trust me as his confidante, and I know that if I ever need someone, he’ll return the favor. He told me about Asuka, and I, in turn, told him the whole story behind Aya.
This is the Yohji who isn’t out to tease me, who isn’t out to congratulate me on finding a partner. This is the Yohji that has loved and lost and is trying to look out for me. I wish, in this moment, that I could tell him the truth. He deserves some sort of answer, in exchange for all the work and pain he went through to be my friend.
Yohji knows I won’t give him full answers, if I choose to give him any, so I am allowed to be vague. I cup my mug in my hands and lift it to my lips, lightly blowing on the coffee before answer. “I was out and I saw her almost a year ago.” That is when Schwarz first stepped into our lives, when we first saw Schuldich face to face. It might have been ten months ago that Omi was kidnapped by his older brother and the German easily avoided the other three of us. Our attacks were child’s play to him and the smirk on his face said it.
“That’s a long time,” Yohji comments. Perhaps he’s relieved that it’s someone I’ve known for so long. It reassures him that what he thinks is going on is more real than a spur of the moment thing. I take a sip of my coffee, glancing out the window once more, telling myself to go along with his story. One day, maybe, I can tell him the truth. One day I can be honest. Today I have to play along with him. But I am not a skilled liar, so I hope that his questions are easy ones.
“You’re living with her…?” Yohji inquires.
“Her and,” another brat, “her cousin.”
I wonder if Schuldich would be amused or offended that he is being referred to as a female. I’m sure he would be most unhappy if he realized Yohji thought he and I were lovers. The thought makes me sick, and I’m sure it would do the same for the telepath. I’m half tempted to share it, if only to see the look on his face. I decide not to bother; Schuldich will discover it at one point or another when he’s nosing around where he doesn’t belong in my mind.
“Two girls?” Yohji blinks at me.
“A guy,” I correct him. “He’s attending the University of Tokyo and living with her.” Another sip of coffee; my gaze remains on the roiling waves. If I look at Yohji I’m sure he’ll see in my eyes that I’m hiding something dangerous from him. Yohji is a professional liar, and as such he can tell when someone is being dishonest with him. It bothers him when I lie to him.
“She is legal, right?” Yohji asks, raising an eyebrow at me. I catch the expression out of the corner of my eye and give a small sniff of amusement. Yohji is big on the whole jailbait issue, but now that he says it, I realize I have no clue how old Schuldich is. He has to be at least my age, but other than that I don’t know.
“Mm,” I agree.
Yohji considers this, studying me still as he taps his fingers lightly on the rim of his mug. Finally he gives a soft sigh and a light shrug, lifting his mug to take a deep swallow. “Well, if she ever does anything to you, let me know and you know I’ll kick her ass for you, right?”
This time I can’t hide a faint smile, and I send him an amused look. Just the thought of Yohji trying to punish Schuldich for being a pain is laughable. “I know you would try,” I say.
Yohji gives a quiet laugh. “It doesn’t matter that she’s a girl…I’ll still hit her if she does you wrong.” When I look away again, Yohji decides the conversation is over for now. We nurse our drinks for a while; Yohji finishes his before I do and looks out the window, gazing up at the clouds. “Good coffee, isn’t it?” he asks after a long pause.
“Mm,” I agree, looking around. “I never would have known this place was here.”
A smile tugs at Yohji’s lips, a self-deprecating and wistful expression. “Asuka showed it to me,” he tells me, and our eyes meet. Through the green of his eyes I can see the black pain that will never go away. Asuka took a piece of him when she left, a piece of him that will always be hollow in her wake. Anyone else might be blind to it, but I’ve seen Yohji in a much worse state of mind. I’ve seen him drunk and mourning Asuka; I’ve seen his actor’s mask crack and break into a million pieces and heard the professional liar utter truths so despairing and sad that I’ll always remember them. “This was our place,” he says, looking away again as if he cannot keep up the stare anymore. “I thought maybe it was time to bring someone that was still living here…”
He is good at hiding his pain; the grin that curls his lips seems easy but if he were to look back at me I know I would see the agony still in his eyes. “I visit this place a lot, just sit here with her ghost and the fading memories of her voice and smile. They’ll always be there, you know…That’s why I want your girl to take care of you. Once they’re gone, you can’t have them back. All the company in the world cannot hide them, though you try to blot out the pain with new memories. When I come here, I want to come here and remember her, but maybe also remember sitting here with you…It adds something more real to something I can never have again. If I remember her, I’ll remember you, and you’re someone I can still turn to. It reminds me that not everything is dead and lost.”
At least I can reassure myself that I will never fall into the same position that Yohji is in now. His concern that I might end up like him one day, broken hearted and always alone despite the constant company he seeks, are useless. For one moment I can almost feel the worry, then I remind myself that the woman Yohji fears will hurt me does not exist. I empty my mug; the last sip is cold.
Yohji turns his face back to me. The grin has relaxed into a softer sort of a smile, and his green eyes are warm. “I’m glad…” he says, “that I have you as a friend. Sorry to be sentimental and such, but it’s true. I was so worried for you for a while, when you seemed to be fading and nothing could bring you back. I guess I’m just very relieved that you’re getting better.”
I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing.
And I realize that Yohji doesn’t need or expect me to say anything. That’s one reason we can be friends. Yohji can understand me; it doesn’t take words to tell him what I’m thinking. Indeed, Yohji breaks the silence just a short time later- not because he realizes I won’t answer but because he is done thinking whatever he wanted- by calling the waitress back over for refills. The splinter in his mask disappears; he offers a warm smile to the server and when he turns back to me, he takes the conversation on a lighter turn.
But in the pauses and behind his words, beyond the sound of the rain beating against the window, I hear his words and think…
…I’m glad that will never be me.
I have plenty of time to unload the groceries in the kitchen before heading back out to the shop. Nagi is in the kitchen already. He doesn’t get out until after six from his last Monday, Wednesday, and Friday class, so I suppose the weather caused some classes to be cancelled. It’s four o’ clock now; Omi wants us all in the shop at five. It will take an hour to get to Hayashi’s production plant. I turn the details of the mission over in my head, my thoughts so focused on Weiß that it takes me a while to realize I’m being watched. A glance over my shoulder shows Nagi diligently reading his book, but soon after I return to emptying the bags I feel eyes on me again.
I wonder dryly if he’s inspecting what I brought home from the store for them to eat. The refrigerator items are put away first and I rearrange the shelves in there to my tastes. I figure I have the right to, as I have been pronounced the cook for what used to be Schwarz. When I am satisfied, I return to the dry foods and start setting them in the overhead cabinets. I will not be here to cook for Schwarz tonight, however, so the two are on their own for dinner. Schuldich threw away the instant meals after the first shopping trip, so I wonder how they will handle things.
Finished, I close the cabinet doors and leave the kitchen without a word or another glance in Nagi’s direction. The cats are in the den, so I enter to pet them. Zuwai- or whatever his name is supposed to be- is more interested in playing than being pet, and I give into his demands by wiggling my fingers for him. He looks like he’s going to have a seizure in his sudden excitement that I’ve agreed to play with him; he gives a little spasm and sprawls on his back before leaping back up and going for my fingers. Paws bat at my hand frantically, and I spare a moment to be grateful that Schuldich got them all declawed. There wouldn’t be much of a finger left right now if he hadn’t.
I lower myself to my knees on the couch so I don’t have to stretch so far to reach him. I’m quite certain that he’s going to fall from his perch on the back of the couch, but he either has much better balance that I credited him or he is just lucky. He rolls onto his back once more, wrapping the toes of all four feet around my hand and wrist so he can gnaw on my fingertip. I rest my elbow to his side and set my chin on my hand, watching him as he plays and trying to ignore the pain of his needle teeth. Ain and Sekusu are wandering over my calves, wondering why their companion gets all the attention. Sekusu gives a plaintive cry when I continue to favor the calico over him.
“Schuldich spoiled you,” I inform them, wondering how the German can please all six cats at once. I lower my free hand to my side and the two are instantly rubbing their heads against it. Zuwai lifts his head to see what I’m doing, considers the two for a moment, then licks his shoulder and starts kicking my arm.
I notice then that Nagi is in the doorway; purple eyes lift to meet dark blue. The boy must have come at the cat’s cry, unsure of what would cause the bobtail to make such a noise. He has only seen me in the den once before, so he probably wasn’t expecting me to come here. He watches me for a long moment and I return the stare until Zuwai starts biting me again. I wince, turning back to him and trying to free my finger from his vise-like grip.
“You don’t belong here.”
It’s the first thing Nagi has said to me since I arrived two weeks ago, and I’m not surprised by the words he chooses to say. I am surprised that he’s broken the cold silence between us, and I turn my attention back on him. He is leaning against the doorway, arms crossed over his chest.
“It wasn’t my choice,” I answer him. “Give me my sister and I’ll leave.”
“Feh,” is all he has to say, and he leaves. It will be almost another two weeks before Nagi talks to me again.
I am soaked in odd places when I get home. The coveralls and boots kept most of me dry, but the rain and waves still managed to get me wet from my shoulders up. Like I expected, my jeans were still wet when I put them back on after work, so the bottom six inches of my pants legs are soaked. My shoes are wet from the walk to my car and then to the apartment, and I envy Nagi’s gift that keeps him perfectly dry. Ran has been gone for hours by the time I get back, and I peel my shoes off with cold fingers. We were given gloves to help keep our hands warm against the horrendous chill of the harbor, but they couldn’t keep it all out.
The cats are a bobbing mass around me, but today I am too tired to do more than give each a pat as I set my shoes aside. Nagi appears out of the den at the noises the cats are making and I gesture at the cats in silent entreaty for him to take care of them. They’re not interested in leaving me for him, but Nagi’s gift at least keeps them from getting underfoot as I head down the hall. I tug my band free from my hair; I wore my hair up home because my hair is a mess when it’s damp and it’s very wet now. I wince at the pain it brings and know from the way my hair hangs around my face that it has to be a frightening spectacle.
“You look like a drowned rat,” Nagi informs me.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a brat?” I ask him, peeling my shirt off as I walk. As I pass him I offer him my gift for the evening- knowing Ran would not be here to cook, I brought home takeout. Nagi accepts it with interest, peeking inside to see what I have. “You might as well eat it now,” I tell him. “I’m going to be a while.” I want a bath. A nice, hot, long bath.
Nagi considers it, weighing the fact that we’ve eaten most of our meals these past five and a half months together against the fact that I _will_ be at least an hour and what I’ve brought will not taste anywhere as good when it has been microwaved. I know his stomach will win and allow myself a tired grin of amusement. I carry my shirt with me into the bathroom, sitting on the closed toilet seat as the tub fills. Steam fills the bathroom and I give a soft sigh of anticipation, waiting for it to be done so I can sink into it. When it is almost done, I peel the rest of my clothes off and drop them into a small pile. When we first moved to Japan I thought it very bizarre that people would wash outside of a bathtub. Back when Schwarz was whole, it didn’t even really matter. We wouldn’t share water with each other, period, so it wasn’t like we were going to contaminate public water. Besides, even if all four of us took baths daily, we had the money to pay for the terrific amount of water it would take to fill it four times. Four people taking baths meant that the bathroom would be occupied for a long time, however, so there tended to be just one bath a day. Crawford would have it one day, Nagi next, and me and Farfarello the third day. Most days we had it, Farfarello and I needed to take showers after our soak to get clean, and we always had to wash the tub after it was emptied or my teammates threatened painful death.
Nowadays the tub goes mostly unused. Nagi has taken one bath since the tower fell and this will be my sixth. It’s strange to bathe alone, as I’m used to having someone with me. Seems like I’m incapable of doing things on my own, I muse with a mixed amused and self-deprecating snort. By the time I have finished washing and rinsing, the tub is ready. I turn the knobs off and dip my fingers in to test the temperature. It’s hot, but I know that after an hour of sprawling around in it the water will be much cooler.
---It’s too hot.
---You say that because you can’t feel pain. Jesus, we’re going to be eating boiled Schuldich for dinner. Are you trying to get me killed?
---Not yet--- followed by a hand on my wrist, pulling me forward.
A grin twitches at my lips and I ease myself into the heat. Folding my arms on the side of the tub, I allow my thoughts to wander. Most often the memories hurt because they are clouded with the sharp pain of loss. Because of this, I have gotten into the habit of searching for distractions when my thoughts slip back to the time when Schwarz existed. Tonight, however, I don’t want to avoid them. Tonight I want to remember, and so I close my eyes against the steam-filled bathroom and let myself drift away in the memory of glittering gold and pale skin against my own.
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