Part Sixteen: Poor Little Doggie
I only have to work half a shift Thursday, and I know I’m not the only one thrilled to death about it. It has been raining all morning, and the out of control thunder starts close to lunch time. The clouds are black, and my supervisors have been talking about it for a while, standing where they can study the sky. They’ve checked the weather forecasts on the television in their office and have even called a local meteorologist. They hate shutting down the dock, but the storm is only supposed to get worse and isn’t expected to peter off until late tonight. Kawamura looks pissed when they finally call us together for a meeting, and our head supervisor, Watanabe, announces that they’re letting us go. My coworkers are good at hiding their delight over being let go, even when Watanabe says we’ll still be paid for the second shift. They accept the words in polite silence, a couple thank him for his concern for our safety in such horrible weather, and others make comments on the storm.
The moment we reach the locker room, it’s a different story. Interested silence gives way to loud chatting. Takada’s locker is beside mine, and he is pleased to no end at being let go. It’s his daughter’s birthday today, and he wants to surprise her with his early arrival. He tells me all about his daughter, as if I haven’t heard it before, about how beautiful she is at two and how much energy she has. “I’m such an old man!” he tells me with a laugh. “I can’t keep up with her, and she’s a fraction of my size.”
“Everyone’s a fraction of your size,” I inform him, smirking to myself as I dig my slacks out of my locker and begin unclipping my coveralls.
He pats his stomach. “All muscle!” he insists.
“All sake!” someone else retorts to much laughter, and Takada tosses an exaggerated scowl over his shoulder at the offender.
I am ready to go before Takada, and I give him a clap on the shoulder as I leave. “Next time she’s getting into trouble around the house, just sit on her,” I say over my shoulder as I head for the stairs, swinging my umbrella as I walk. “Then she won’t ever get in trouble again.”
“Fuck off, Shuruderiku,” he calls after me.
I still wince every time they say my name. They butcher it every time. I tried so hard to get them to say it right, but they just laughed and did worse with my attempts. Now most of them call me ‘Shuu,’ only using my full name to harass me. I flip Takada off over my shoulder, ignoring the laughter and jeers that follow my exit. I roll my eyes and give a light huff of amusement as I reach the exit and stare out at the sky. It’s only two and it’s dark enough to be at least ten. This is really going to screw up my internal clock, coming home early. I open my umbrella as I push the door open, and even though my car is close to the building I am soaked and thoroughly frozen by the time I get in.
I don’t even bother opening my umbrella when I get back to the apartment, letting it hang from my fingers as I move from my car to the building. I don’t see a point in using it since it didn’t help much the first time. I drip all over the lobby floor, ignoring the way the desk clerk stares at my soaked form. Someone else is already waiting on the elevator- the new resident of the eighth floor. Makiko moved out at the beginning of the week to stay with a friend until she could find a spot of her own. I brush her from my thoughts- I did what I could for her, even though I don’t know why I bothered, so I am done with her.
I leave a puddle on the elevator, and know the new man is staring at me despite his attempts not to. I ignore him, stepping off at my stop and letting myself into the apartment. I don’t bother taking my shoes off, wandering down the hall in them and listening to them squeak. I leave a trail of water behind me as I go. The cats don’t come to greet me; it’s because both of the others are home. The weather closed both the flower shop and the university, and the two got home within an hour of each other. That means the cats have been properly loved, fed, and put to sleep. They’re probably sprawled out in the den, snoring their little heads off.
Nagi steps out of the kitchen as I pass, his mouth open to say something. The words die on his lips as he just stares at me and then at the little river I’m making down our hall. “How did you get so wet?” he demands.
“It’s raining,” I answer.
Ran is in the den with the cats; I don’t hear him move to the doorway but I know he’s there when I listen to his mental observation of my appearance. I don’t bother looking back at them, more concerned with getting some feeling back in my limbs. The wind is like ice and it hit as forcefully as Nagi can with his gift. I’m freezing, and all I want is to thaw in a hot shower. I don’t care about the mess in the hall; I’ll get it later. My shoes are pried off and tossed into the tub to drain and dry. I attempt to take off my jeans just once. When my fingers prove too numb to work the button, I step into the shower fully clothed.
I stay until I’ve been warmed through, peeling off my clothes when I finally have enough control over my fingers for it, and let them sit in a pile at my feet so they’ll drain after I leave. At length I turn off the water and step out, finding my towels through the steam that fills the bathroom. I scrub at my hair for a bit before draping that towel over my shoulders, wanting to keep the water that still runs from my hair from trickling down my back, and wrap the second towel around my waist. The hall is cold after having such a warm shower as I cross to my bedroom, and my room is not any better. I dress quickly, pulling on flannel pajama pants and a thick sweater. I find some thick socks as well and yank them on, then pull my hair up into a knot to keep it from dripping on me. After a moment’s consideration, I pull my blanket from my bed and let it trail behind me as I leave. My towels are hung in the bathroom and I head to the den. Ran is on the couch so I settle myself in a chair, yanking my blanket up around me until only my head shows.
Ran studies me for a moment and I return the gaze. Our staring is broken when Nagi enters from the kitchen. He was eating lunch; he carries his saucer and mug with him. Then I realize the mug is for me- he holds it out in offering. I poke a hand out from the blanket and accept it, peeking in to see what it is. It smells good; it’s hot chocolate.
/We had hot cocoa mix in this place?/ I ask Nagi.
~He brought it home with him,~ Nagi answers, settling himself in the second chair to finish his sandwich.
And boiled the water, I note, poking through their minds. Ran brought it home and boiled a pot of hot water. He mixed his own, informed Nagi that the pot was full, and left the room. A while later Nagi helped himself to some. /See? He has his good points./
~Few and far between,~ Nagi responds, sending the barest of glances in Ran’s direction. The man has returned to reading. He reads a lot; he’s been going through his book collection steadily. It’s the only thing he has to do while he’s here besides cook, though. Nagi finishes off his sandwich and sends his saucer floating away. ~I was afraid they wouldn’t let you go,~ Nagi tells me.
/They didn’t want to, I’m sure,/ I answer, taking a sip of my drink. /They didn’t have a choice, though. It’s getting much worse out there. If they let us out any later, we’d be forced to stay the night there./
Nagi accepts this in silence, and quiet descends over the room. The only sound is the occasional flip of a page or my careful sipping of the hot drink. I study both of my companions, wondering what I’m supposed to do. Finally I announce “I want to watch a movie.”
“Which one?” Nagi asks, looking towards the DVD stand. I study it as well, running my eyes down the title. They’re movies I’ve been collecting over years, either importing them from the States or buying them at the various locations we’ve been stationed at. There are a few German ones, a Russian one, a couple Japanese, a couple Spanish, and most American. I speak all of the languages fluently, a nice side effect of my gift. Nagi is fluent in English and Japanese, can speak conversational Spanish, and knows a sprinkling of Russian.
“Fight Club,” I decide.
“Again?” Nagi asks.
“You don’t have to watch it,” I remind him. He will, though. Indeed, he sighs and the DVD lifts itself from the stand. “Move me so I can see,” I tell him, and my chair is slid further away from the television so I don’t have to strain to watch the screen. Ran closes his book and rises to his feet. I slant a look his direction. “Passing up the opportunity to learn some English?” I ask him.
“I’m not interested,” he answers, vanishing from the room on quiet footsteps.
It’s only a half lie. He wouldn’t mind watching a movie; he minds watching it with us. I shrug to myself and sip at my cocoa. It’s his loss.
The next day is gray but dry. It’s supposed to rain later, but for now the weather is being nice. Yohji and I are on shift today. We get a few customers, but as we approach lunch time, it has been pretty much a dead day. It’s amazing that the shop can continue running; we don’t sell enough to stay open because most of our so-called customers are more interested in buying us than our flowers. We go into the red a lot, and Kritiker gives us a boost to help us out so we can keep our cover.
With just ten minutes until lunch break, we get our third customer of the morning. I am in the storage room when she shows up, gathering more soil so I can finish repotting the plants in our window. When I step back in, carrying my bag, she is standing just a few feet inside our door talking with Yohji. I pause with my bag in my arms. It’s Makiko. I hadn’t expected to see her again after the funeral, and I’m not sure what to make of her coming to the shop.
I take a moment to study her- the shadows under her eyes are gone and the defeated line to her shoulders is gone. She is a beautiful woman; I wonder how her husband could have ever looked elsewhere. I offer up silent thanks once more that her husband died, feeling some sort of relief that she will find a better life now.
They look over at my entrance, and recognition lights her face. “Oh,” she says, but she does not have a name to go with my face. Yohji glances towards her, notes the recognition, and looks back to me. I had told him I knew her, so he is not surprised. “You work here?”
“I do,” I say, moving to my counter and setting my bag down. The bruise has faded from her cheek; I know it was still there at the funeral because Yohji made a comment on it. It was the only thing he said about her and the funeral visit after we left. “My condolences for your husband,” I tell her, turning to face her. I would rather tell her that I’m glad he’s dead. She knew I saw the bruise, so she knows my comment isn’t as sincere as it could be.
A soft, sad smile curves her lips- fake, of course. “It is kind of you to be concerned,” she says.
Yohji is watching her; I see his green eyes studying her as she faces me. Her looks have certainly caught his attention, I note with some hidden amusement. I contemplate what would happen if he were to act upon those interests. Since he knows what she’s been through, he’ll most likely let it drop. After all the pain she’s had to endure, he won’t want to get tangled with her. If she decides she needs someone, it will have to be someone who can care for her long term and nurture her bruised pride and ripped feelings. He’ll most likely just worry for her for a while and then forget her face amidst the line of girls waiting for just one night.
“I never learned your name,” she says.
“Fujimiya Ran,” I answer, and I gesture to Yohji to turn her attention back there. “This is my coworker, Kudou Yohji.”
She looks back towards Yohji, giving him a slight bow. “Yamaguchi Makiko,” she introduces.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Yohji answers. Makiko offers him a smile before moving away, walking along the tables to study the flowers.
“You have beautiful flowers,” she tells us. “When the rest of the world is gray, they glow with color and a life of their own.” She leans forward to sniff at one. “Pretty…What is this one?”
Yohji moves up alongside her to answer and I leave them to each other’s company, listening but not adding anything as I continue my work. Makiko stays for fifteen minutes; we allow the shop to stay open into our lunch break for her. I think she appreciates the company, and I wonder if her husband kept her from talking to many people. He certainly seemed annoyed enough the day I first met her in the elevator and she smiled at me over her son’s antics. I have to think she really does love the flowers, too. When I glance up from putting my last pot away, her eyes are glowing with real interest and appreciation as Yohji gives her a tour. He shows her the sweetest of the bunch, letting her sniff them, and in the end she asks for several of them. Yohji makes her bouquet and refuses to let her pay for them. When she leaves, she has a soft smile on her face and she is fingering the petals. Yohji watches her go, waiting until she is out of sight to shut the guard.
“Huh,” is all he says.
I study him for a moment before rising from where I am kneeling at the window. I head to the sink further down the wall to wash the dirt from my hands. Yohji comes over to help clean up where I was working and we sweep the shop to prepare it for the second shift. Not much later Ken sails through the back door, carrying a large white bag.
“Look,” he announces, sounding proud of himself. “I brought lunch for everyone. I thought maybe we could eat together.”
That last comment is directed solely to me, I know. Yohji rarely refuses anyone his company; it’s always me that skirts around having to spend more time with my teammates, whether I found their company too taxing before or because recently Schuldich requires me back at his apartment. I consider Ken’s offer, knowing both of them are watching me for my answer. Schuldich won’t get off of work for several more hours, and there’s nothing for me but my books at the apartment.
“Aa,” I finally agree, and Ken looks pleased. He passes out the wrapped food from inside the bag and we post ourselves at various spots around the shop to eat. Ken strikes up a conversation but later I won’t be able to remember what we talked about, as so many different subjects were going through his brain that a jumble of topics came spilling out of his mouth. Mostly Yohji and I let him talk, with me listening in silence and Yohji distracted with his own thoughts. I eye Yohji as I crumple the wrapper from my lunch and carry it to the trash can. He’s thinking of her. He has to know that his interest should die here; he’s seen enough women that he can tell she’s off limits. But the smile he sends at me in farewell is vague, and I sigh to myself as I step out of the shop.
Don’t be stupid, Yohji…
I’m not interested in returning to the apartment yet, so I wander the streets. I end up in my preferred bookstore, searching for the next few books in the series I am reading. I only have one more book to go after the one I’m on now before I need the others, and the only shift I’m working this weekend is the morning one tomorrow. I have a feeling I’m going to need more reading material to get me through the rest of the weekend. I drift down the aisles, inhaling the musty scent that fills this store. I’m in the older section, where they keep most of their used and out of print books. My eyes wander over the titles with some interest as I search for anything to catch my eye. My series will be up by the front of the store, but I might as well start back here and see if there’s anything else for me.
There are a few foreign books, and I pick one up to leaf through. English stares back up at me, a myriad of letters and words that I can barely understand. I return it to the shelf with a sigh, knowing that my grip of that language will never be good enough to be able to read that book. Now my thoughts go to the movie Schuldich watched yesterday. It would have been interesting to see it, to see what type of movie the telepath preferred, but it would have been too strange to watch a movie with Schwarz. Besides, I wouldn’t have been able to follow it- I recognize the title from when I dug through their DVD stand weeks ago and I know it’s a foreign film.
I finally pick a couple titles, books I’ve never heard of before but I don’t mind trying. I bring them with me to the front of the shop, skimming the shelf of newer books to find mine. I finally spot the first few books of the series, and I follow the shelf with my eyes to spot the newer ones. There’s only one more here than what I have. I know that there are supposed to be three more until the end of the series, but it seems this shop doesn’t carry the last two. I’ll have to find them somewhere else, I suppose.
I lift the book they do have down and carry my prizes to the register, paying for them and stepping out onto the streets of the city once more. I’m still not interested in going to the apartment, and I don’t see anything wrong in lingering here. My feet carry me in a slow walk through the city. I wander aimlessly, watching the people that I pass as they hurry on their way. A group passes me, laughing and jostling each other, and I pause to watch them go. They’re carrying bags for books, and since they’re my age, I suppose they’re college students.
I wonder what it would have been like if nothing had ever gone wrong. I watch the students as they continue down the sidewalk, listening to their voices as they argue cheerfully with each other about where they’re going to eat. I wonder what it would have been like to be normal, to lead a normal life. I would be in college now, as would Aya. Maybe we would have gone to the same university; maybe we would have finally split our paths and wandered off to find ourselves away from each other. By this time the separation would not have been painful, as we would not have lost the three years we have already and we would be ready to be on our own.
I turn these thoughts over in my head as I finally turn and continue on my way. I will never be normal again. Kritiker has twisted the four of us; we are forever condemned to this way of life. This is who I am now, and I don’t think I will ever be able to break free. I need Kritiker’s support to help me keep Aya going, and for her sake I will continue to take as many lives as I have to.
But Schwarz…is trying to be normal.
The thought makes me frown as I stop at a convenience store for a bottle of juice. I nurse my drink, sitting down on the bench outside of the store. Schwarz is attempting a way of life that is forbidden to Weiß. For a moment I wonder why they should get the chance when none of us will. Then I wonder how they can manage it. How can they just give up killing? How can they turn their backs to it so easily? I don’t understand. They’re supposed to be bloodthirsty assassins who take pleasure in murdering and who enjoy helping the corrupt pollute the world.
But nothing about them at their apartment justifies the bloodthirsty part, and if Schuldich makes a comment about killing anyone he’s referring to me. Nagi is a student at the University of Tokyo, and Schuldich works twelve hours a day somewhere, sometimes giving up his weekends to go to work as well. It’s Schuldich I don’t understand. With his gift, he could have talked anyone into just paying him for doing nothing. He could have refused the weekend shifts or made anyone think that he had shown up. But he goes; he actually goes to work and stays there the full shift, as far as I know.
And he suffers for it; in the four weeks I’ve been here there have been eight or nine instances he’s had to have Nagi work on his back, and then one time he came back barely able to walk. He has problems with his back but he has a physical labor job. What it is, I’m not sure, but he said once that he moves things around all day. The mental image I had of Schuldich for so long as the arrogant and condescending German wouldn’t have ever lowered himself to doing physical labor, especially if it was killing his back. He would have had a horrible work ethic and spent the majority of his days sprawling at home.
How can he go from assassin work, playing with the minds of Weiß and the corrupt men he was hired by, to grunt work? How can he be satisfied with that?
There is so much about the telepath that I don’t understand. The more I learn, the less I know, and the more it irritates me that there will never be enough answers for my questions.
Giving a sigh, I take another swallow of my juice and rise to my feet. I’ve got plenty of time, I suppose, to find my answers. It’s been a month since I was introduced to the Schwarz household, and Schuldich estimated I would be here for three or four. I have time, and I won’t leave until I’ve satisfied what I want to know. These thoughts in mind, I turn my feet back to the Koneko no Sumu Ie to find my car, deciding it is finally time to head to the apartment.
At lunch time Takada suggests that we wander the beach to see if the storm threw anything interesting up. I tell him that it’s more likely to be trash than anything else, but he still seems content with that. He even rounds up two other guys to come along with us, and we leave the building through the truck loading gate, our eyes pointed downwards to see what we come across. Tsukasa’s having problems with his wife again, and he laments how troublesome she is for him as he walks. We listen to his complaints in tolerant silence; only Yamamoto offers him any sort of advice. Takada and I have listened to him long enough that we know nothing we tell him will stop him from griping. I’m not interested in telling him anything, anyway. Let him stew in his own problems; his imagination blows them way out of proportion. But Yamamoto is better at pitying him than we are- or at least pretending to. His thoughts reek of resignation over having to listen to the same things over and over, even as his words are sincere.
I nudge Takada as Tsukasa drowns out Yamamoto’s words with another whine, and Takada hides a laugh as a cough. Tsukasa likes whining, and he hates being interrupted from it. We’ll get to hear the whole thing, whether we want to or not.
There’s a tangle of reeds and fishing line just a few hundred feet from our building, the first thing to interest any of us since we started out. Takada crouches beside it, as he is an avid fisher, and starts fingering the line to see if there are any weights or bobbers still attached. Fishing bores me, so I continue on. About five yards away I find a decent sized shell and I scoop it up, turning it this way and that to see if it’s intact.
“Oi, look,” Takada calls. I ignore him, letting him show of his obsession with fishing to the other two. A glance back at them shows that they are obediently standing behind him, looking over his shoulders as he rummages through the mess. I seriously hope he washes his hands after this…Making a face, I start towards the water to wash my shell off, taking a break from thinking by focusing on the sound of the waves. I scrub the sand and bits of unidentifiable gunk off of my prize, barely paying my companions half a mind as they babble about things I don’t care about.
“Must have been a big dog,” Yamamoto offers up, and my face twists in disgust once more. What the hell are they looking at, animal remains? My companions disturb me sometimes.
“Where’s the dog, you think?” Tsukasa wants to know, pulled out of his pitiful state now that he’s interested in something else.
“Dead, most likely,” Takada offers up. “Poor little doggie…”
“What was he doing in the water?” Yamamoto wants to know.
“Perhaps someone threw a stick in for him, and he went too far out. Hope it wasn’t a kid; it would have broken his heart to see his pet vanish under the waves.” Takada makes a ‘ch’ sound, his token sympathy noise. “Bet he cried.”
“Maybe they killed the dog,” Tsukasa offers helpfully, and Yamamoto punches his shoulder. “Maybe they wanted it dead, you know? There isn’t room in Tokyo to keep a dog that big. Maybe he was getting to be too much trouble to take care of, so they tied its feet together and threw it out. Maybe it drowned. Maybe it got caught against a ship and went VROOM! through the propellers.”
“Maybe,” Takada muses, ignoring Yamamoto’s complaint over the idea. “Hey, Shuu, what do you think?”
I rise from the water, giving my shell a shake, and turn to give him my honest and disgusted opinion of them discussing a dog becoming hamburger meat against a boat. That mental image is going to linger, and they’re going to have a piece of my mind for it. But then Takada turns towards me, lifting up what they’ve been talking about.
And my heart…
“Shuu?” Takada asks hesitantly, all interest over the object in his hands dying when he sees my face. I barely hear his words; they sound as if they’re coming from a million miles away. He steps towards me, his expression concerned. “Are you all right?”
He’s holding a black collar, a collar large enough for a human throat, fitted with a gold buckle. If I had my memories wiped from me, I would still be able to recognize that collar. My eyes have traced it enough times; my fingers have brushed over its surface enough to memorize the way it feels. That collar doesn’t belong to any dog. My stomach gives a violent lurch even as I take a staggering step towards him, reaching out to rip it from Takada’s hands. The grab is almost strong enough to take his fingers with it and I wouldn’t care if it had. I stand there with the collar in my hands, staring down at it. I’m shaking; the collar seems to be vibrating because I’m trembling so badly.
Poor little doggie…
“Shuu…?” Takada asks again, softly.
He was MY little doggie.
Takada reaches forward to touch me and I flinch away from him. I’m dimly aware of leaning forward and throwing up, and it’s the last thing I remember for a long time.
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