Part Twenty: Fall Alone
I find myself back at the apartment without remembering leaving my own. The cats greet me eagerly as I tug my shoes off, but I am only distantly aware of their presence. I make my way down the hall to the bedroom, and when I push the door open Schuldich is sitting up in bed holding two of his glasses against his forehead. He offers me a glare as a greeting and I tug the door shut behind me with numb fingers. Yohji’s furious gaze is burned into my eyelids; every time I blink I can see his green eyes.
“I have a headache,” Schuldich announces, “so spare me the trouble of having to dig around to find out what happened and give me some sort of explanation for why you woke me up.”
My call woke him up? I would think fever-induced sleep would make it harder for him to hear me. I cross the room to the bed and climb onto my half. It feels very familiar, and I kneel there for a moment, studying Schuldich as I consider what I told Yohji. Schuldich scowls at me, lowering one cup to sip from it before trading the two out for new ones.
“An ice pack might work better…” I offer quietly.
“I don’t care. Tell me why you called me this morning. All I got in the call was a jumble of thoughts.”
“You rewrote Yohji and Ken,” I say, “to get Yohji away from me.”
“Last I checked, you and Yohji were buddies,” Schuldich answers with a snort. He sets the cups back on his nightstand and rubs lightly at his forehead, still glaring at me between his fingers. “What was going on?”
“Yohji found out from Makiko that you’re still alive,” I answer, and Schuldich blinks as he digests that. I turn, resting my back against the headboard, as Yohji’s face dances in my mind. I never thought it would bother me if Yohji was mad at me. I didn’t think it would mean so much to have him be so furious with me. “The two of them had lunch together, and she described you to him. He confronted me about it this morning.”
“Feh,” is all Schuldich has to say for a long time. We sit in silence as Schuldich thinks this over. Finally he leans forward, easing himself down on top of the blankets. His feet are under his pillow and he lies curled on his side with his head pointing towards the foot of the bed. Blue eyes study me. “I don’t want that moron showing up here,” he says simply. “Look what a mess you’ve made.”
“I didn’t make it,” I protest.
“You introduced Makiko to Kudou; what did you think would happen?” he asks.
“I didn’t think he would keep seeing her,” I say, folding my arms over my chest. “She has a kid; she wants a normal relationship. Yohji does one-night stands and nothing more. How was I supposed to know that they would make time to see each other again?”
We scowl at each other for a moment before Schuldich mutters darkly under his breath. Finally he sighs and his eyes slide closed. At first I think he’s fallen asleep. He opens his eyes just a minute later, however, and gazes off into space. “Makiko’s chat with Kudou and your little spat this morning never happened,” he informs me. Blue eyes turn towards me. “Don’t draw him here,” he warns me softly. “I have no reason to keep him alive. If he shows up on my doorstep, I will kill him without a second thought.”
“Aa…” I answer.
Schuldich eyes me. “Are you moping?”
I glare at him, but it’s a weak expression. “He’s never been mad at me before.”
“Well, he isn’t anymore,” Schuldich answers easily, and yawns. Within moments, he has fallen asleep. I stay where I am, studying him in silence before drifting off into my own thoughts.
This morning never happened in Yohji’s mind. He never found out. He never confronted me. He never felt betrayed.
But the memory…is still with me, and it will haunt me for a long time to come. I suppose I could ask Schuldich to blot it from me as well, but I figured out something very important this morning that I can’t afford to lose. Purple eyes trace the way Schuldich’s face has relaxed in sleep and I sigh, looking away. I make a note to ask Schuldich about my sister when he’s a bit better. I want the truth. And maybe…Maybe this time he’ll actually give it to me.
“I was under the impression that you didn’t like living here.”
I sigh, turning a page in my book and refusing to look up at Nagi. “So was I,” I answer dryly.
He considers this, standing in the doorway of the den. I am curled up with the cats on the couch. Schuldich is in the kitchen, eating his lunch. He’s having it late because he slept so long. I ended up falling asleep as well, and woke up when he stirred. After he went to the bathroom I refused to let him back into the bedroom until he went and ate something. He ranted at me for being bossy but he isn’t really in any condition to argue with me, so I finally managed to get him down the hall.
I was doing it for my own sake. If Nagi returned from classes to find me here and to find that Schuldich hadn’t eaten anything all day, I would be the target for Nagi’s anger. Making Schuldich eat keeps my own skin intact.
When Nagi still hasn’t moved, I look up to meet his eyes. We study each other for a moment across the room, evaluating each other. At last Nagi turns away, carrying his books to the kitchen. I can hear their voices from my spot and even though my eyes are on the page of my book, my attention is on them.
“Feeling any better?” Nagi asks.
“Yeah right,” Schuldich mutters. “This food isn’t making it any better. It tastes like shit!” He raises his voice there for my benefit and I give a soft snort, amused. He’s just mad that I’m making him eat instead of letting him go back to sleep, so I ignore him. I know he likes what I made…We’ve had it before and he had no complaints then.
~Just shut up and eat,~ I send at him.
/Right, right. I do you a tremendous favor by letting you come running back here this morning and this is how you reward me./
~You can always go back to instant meals, if you’d prefer,~ I answer loftily. ~I’m sure they would taste much better.~
/I bet they would,/ he sends back.
“Did you call work?” Nagi asks, oblivious to the way Schuldich and I are trading insults.
“Didn’t have to. They called here this morning wondering where I was.”
I can picture Schuldich giving a careless shrug. “For the time being, they have no clue that I’m supposed to be at work. I should probably go back sometime this week, though.”
There is a loud bang, perhaps Nagi tossing his books down on the table. “Like hell!” he snaps. It’s the first time I’ve heard him use that tone and word, and I glance towards the doorway in surprise.
“Watch it, you almost knocked my plate off the table…”
~I thought you didn’t like that food,~ I remind Schuldich, setting my book aside and scratching Ain instead.
/Fuck off, Red…/
“You’re not going back until you’re completely better. You might as well use this time to find a different job. You shouldn’t go back there at all.”
“So I heard. You’ve been telling me that for months.”
“I haven’t changed my mind. It’s stupid of you to keep going back there. You know it’s not doing you any good. Maybe you’ve forgotten what it does to your back. I haven’t; I’m the one who has to put it back in place when you screw it up.”
/I take it his test didn’t go well today,/ Schuldich says lightly, content to write Nagi’s temper off as school stress.
~Your fault,~ I answer.
/Now why the hell are you pushing the blame off on me?/ he demands.
~He didn’t study this weekend because you vanished,~ I remind him, and he mutters something that I don’t catch. Ain sprawls onto her back in my lap and I obligingly scratch her stomach. “I think Nagi has a point,” I call to Schuldich, speaking aloud for Nagi’s sake and knowing the words will piss Schuldich off.
“Don’t you dare take his side!” Schuldich yells back, even as Nagi snaps, “See?”
I find a smile of amusement curving my lips and I wonder at it, wonder how I can rest here so easily. I wonder just how much has changed about me and them, that I can sit here and think of my housemates with amused contemplation rather than heated disgust. How can I play with their cats and join in their arguments so easily? How can I trade insults with Schuldich without a second thought? I’ve been here over a month, but the changes that were so slow the first week have tripled in speed within the last few days.
But Schuldich and Nagi never changed…I did.
Even so, even with the events that have happened and the truths that have been given to me, I think that I should find this morning’s events odd. But there is no hesitation about the amusement I find in their argument. Instead, there is a bit of relief.
These things…are becoming normal. Schuldich and Nagi are becoming a normal part of my life. And after Yohji’s explosion this morning, I needed something normal. Yohji is mad at me, so I retreated here to my second home to nurse the hurt. It was instinctive, to come back here.
I wonder what it will be like when Schuldich has no more need for me, when they drop out of my life as suddenly as they entered it. I turn the thought over in my head for a few moments, trying to imagine what it will be like to have nowhere to go before and after shifts, to return to my apartment and spend hours by myself once more. I am used to having company. Either I am at the shop with my teammates or I am here with one or both of Schwarz. I am not used to being alone anymore, and I wonder what it will be like to readjust in a month or two.
Schuldich and Nagi are still bickering in the background. Ain gives a soft mew to get my attention back on her and I realized I have stopped petting her. I push my thoughts to the background. “Of course,” I reassure the cat, scratching her once more and listening to her instant purr, “I’ll miss you the most.”
…Even if I still haven’t got a clue how to say her name correctly.
Schuldich gets better slowly. He spends the better part of four days coughing or grumbling about a headache, and he spends a lot of time in bed because moving around tires him. Nagi chases him to the bedroom the moment Schuldich shows any sign of fatigue, and they chew each other out several times that week. I haven’t returned to my apartment; I spent the night of my argument with Yohji on the couch. The next night, it was Nagi that sent me to bed. I didn’t think the German would want me there, not after finding Farfarello’s collar, but Nagi quietly insisted I go. He fetched me in the middle of the night, waking me up to make me join Schuldich. When I entered Schuldich’s bedroom, the German was still awake.
And I wonder if he needed me there the most in those days…Even if I wasn’t who he wanted to see, finding Farfarello’s collar seemed to make him bitterly lonely. Nagi skipped a few classes that week; the times I wasn’t on shift I would find him coming home early or leaving late. I would come home from a morning shift and find them playing cards in the kitchen. It took me two days to figure out that Nagi stayed home while I was on shift and would leave once I got back. Yohji and Ken also randomly offered to take a shift for each of the two days I was supposed to work all day. It wasn’t until Thursday, when Ken took my shift, that I realized Nagi was making Schuldich juggle us so that he wasn’t alone by himself. Schuldich seemed to counter his teammate’s concern by mentioning every day that he should be going back to work, and they would argue once more.
Yohji acted normal around me the rest of the week, but I was still uncomfortable around him. Even if he didn’t remember, I didn’t know how to act around him. I worried that Schuldich might have slipped up somewhere, that maybe something would trigger his memory so he would suddenly remember what was going on. But Yohji showed no sign of animosity towards me. He slipped out twice that week on his lunch break rather than hang around the shop and eat, and I concluded that he was going to see Makiko.
I’m still not sure what to make of that, and I can just be glad that it’s Friday and Yohji has the weekend off. I won’t have to see him again until Tuesday. I have Monday off and work with Ken on Tuesday. Maybe on Wednesday I’ll ask him about Makiko.
My musing is interrupted when Schuldich enters the room. Every day he’s moving around a bit more, though I wonder if it’s all because he’s getting better or if he’s defying Nagi’s order to stay in bed. The German flops on the cushion at the far end of the couch and studies me. There are two cats in my lap; Ain and Zuwai. Ain abandons me for him and Schuldich lets her climb into his lap.
“Why six?” I ask after a few moments of silence.
He shrugs. “That’s how many there were.”
“You cleaned out a pet store?”
He shakes his head with a wry grin, scratching Ain to a chorus of purrs. “Found them wandering the beach. Their owners abandoned them. I collected them over five months…Two were brought to me by my coworkers after they found out I was picking up the strays. One was found in an alley and one just hung out in the park all the time. My coworkers figured they could dump the cats on me.”
“Apparently, they were right.” I eye the cat toys scattered all over the den. “The ex-Mastermind of Schwarz spends his spare time emptying litter boxes…”
“Bite me,” he mutters, but there’s no heat in the words. Instead, he points at the one in my lap. “You’re still clueless,” he informs me. “It’s Zwei.”
“Zuwai,” I say defiantly.
“Jesus.” He makes a face. “What is up with you Japanese people? It’s a V sound, Red.”
I point to the collar around Zuwai’s throat. “It’s a ‘w’.”
“But it’s pronounced as a ‘v’.” I just stare at him. Schuldich rolls his eyes. “Zwei,” he tries, saying it slowly so I can hear the way it sounds.
“Zabai,” I attempt.
“Zabai.” I can’t make that sound the way he does.
“I give up.” Schuldich rakes a hand through his hair with a sigh. “It’s a waste of time to try.”
“Zabai,” I say again, just because I know I’ve won the argument. I go back to scratching the cat. He’s through being pet, however, and starts gnawing on my fingers instead. It doesn’t matter if I can’t say their names right. The cats know what I mean. So I ignore Schuldich’s muttering and play with the cat in my lap, content with my victory.
I manage to convince Nagi that I’m capable of returning to work on Monday. I still feel a bit sick, but I’m much better than I was a week ago. It’s a long argument between us but I win simply because Nagi knows that I have to go back to work sometime. I’ve rewritten the minds of my coworkers so that they think I’ve been here all week. I know I’m almost completely healed because I was able to do so with just the barest of headaches. So I win and Nagi sulks over his dinner.
It’s Ran that clears the table, and I don’t really notice until he’s almost done that that chore switched from my hands to his somewhere along the way. He rinses the dishes and starts the dishwasher before leaving the room for the den. Nagi and I don’t wait much longer before leaving the kitchen ourselves. Nagi ends up heading to his bedroom; he has a paper to work on and he didn’t get finished earlier. I head to the den, sprawling in my chair as my thoughts turn towards work tomorrow.
A hand lifts so that fingers can trace the collar at my throat; I’ll have to put a block in the minds of my coworkers so they don’t notice it. They’ll see it but their minds won’t register it, so I can wear it without them bothering me. I haven’t been to work in over a week, and I’m not feeling particularly interested in returning tomorrow. I wonder if Nagi’s right in his persistent demands that I find something else, but nothing that comes to mind interests me.
Ran sometimes sits like Farfarello does; he’s doing it now- sitting sideways, legs tucked up onto the chair with him and his arms crossed lightly over his chest. He’s gazing off into space, ignoring the cats that curl around his feet as he thinks his own thoughts. He’s thinking about his work; more specifically, he’s thinking about Yohji. He’s been thinking about the man a lot this week. It troubles him that he’s betrayed the trust of the only friend he has. He never looked at this game that way before…Yohji’s explosion last week shoved that in his face. He expected Yohji to be angry. He didn’t expect the man to feel betrayed. I sigh, reaching out a hand to the cats. It doesn’t take them long to notice my beckon, and they abandon him for me, piling themselves around my feet and on my lap.
I was too sick to figure out everything that happened that morning…It wasn’t until two days ago that I actually rooted around in his mind to check it out, and that was only because Ran had worked with Yohji that day and was thinking about his teammate. I wonder what would have happened to him if he hadn’t been able to wake me up. I wonder how far his teammate would have brought this discovery. Perhaps he would have informed Kritiker, and then I would have a horrendous mess on my hands to clean up. My gift was too out of it the first days of my sickness for me to have noticed immediately that something was wrong. I wonder…If Ran had realized I could only hear what was sent directly at me, would he have let his teammate find a way to get him out of this?
But Ran called me, and I woke. I’m a bit surprised that I was able to wake up to his call…I had terrible sleep that night, a mix of dreams and waking up to find myself alone. It was physically painful to wake up when Ran contacted me, and his voice wasn’t even that loud- it was a breathless plea. This is the second time the bond I put up between us has surprised me…A long time ago, a nightmare I had slipped over to him. I didn’t think I’d wound it so tight that it would slip like that twice.
Ran chose to come back here. He chose Nagi and me over his teammates, and I know he realizes that. I don’t understand, really. I can’t explain it. I can hear random reasons in his mind when he thinks about it, but none of them are what I expected to hear from him. When I brought him here a month and a half ago he hated us.
Somewhere along the way, I guess he realized the people he hated didn’t exist.
But I didn’t expect him to change. I never expected him to change so much, anyway. It bothers me on several levels, most of which I can’t name, that he did. When I brought him here I expected him to hate me for bringing him here and I could vary between hatred and indifference depending on the time of day. Ran was brought here to cure my insomnia.
But the Ran I brought home isn’t the Ran sitting in the other chair, and I have no clue what I’m supposed to do with this one.
He came back here by choice, even if he doesn’t understand all the reasons. This is no longer a prison to him…This is no longer about being my pet and my captive. I didn’t care what happened to him so Nagi sent him away…but Ran returned. He took control of our deal and he made the choice to come back here.
I can’t say that I’m annoyed he chose to come back. Ran is an amusing housemate…In the beginning, it was his anger that made him funny. Things changed, I think, the moment he found out that he could hurt me with Farfarello. That’s when he started growing a backbone, once he started relaxing into the role of an equal rather than a captive. That’s when he didn’t care what he said, and he relaxed his guard more after than that he had in three years. Then it was the verbal spatting that amused me, the way I finally had someone to argue with. It’s different than fighting with Nagi, because in the beginning Nagi watched his tone in case of setting me off again. This week Nagi hasn’t been so careful, mostly because I was “stupid enough” to get myself sick. His anger is mostly fueled over a worry about my mental state after finding Farfarello’s collar; he’s terrified that he might lose me and so he worries himself to the bone over getting me better.
But Ran is different.
I have yet to figure out if Ran changing is good or not.
“Are you quite through staring at me?” Ran asks without looking at me.
“I’m just thinking about how unattractive you are,” I answer him, lips curling into a smirk.
Ran gives a small cough and answers dryly, “Glad to hear it.” He tilts his head towards me, purple eyes meeting mine across the room. People tell me it’s strange that I have orange hair. I think Ran is more bizarre, with purple eyes and red hair. Has anyone ever told him that that can’t possibly be natural? About as natural as yellow eyes and white hair, I suppose…
“Bedtime,” I announce, lifting the cats from my lap so I can stand. Ran rises to his feet without argument, and we wander down the hall towards the bedroom. We change with our backs to each other, me by my dresser and Ran by the closet. As I turn to put my things in the hamper, I catch a flash of pale skin in the mirror, and I study Ran’s reflection for a moment.
I manage to pull my eyes away and curl my fingers around the collar at my throat, wandering towards the laundry basket. As I climb into bed he carries his own dirty clothes to the hamper. I lie on my side, watching him as he remains where he is, his purple gaze studying the dresser beside him. His thoughts turn towards Farfarello and I sift through his thoughts with him. He has stopped referring to Farfarello as a bloodthirsty maniac, which is some improvement. He still identifies Farfarello as a psychopath, but he doesn’t know how to define the man further. His views of Nagi and me have changed enough that he is unsure of how to mentally catalogue the rest of Schwarz.
“Why did you fail?” Ran asks at length, turning around to face me. His voice is quiet, and I can tell he doesn’t expect me to answer. He wants to know; the question has circled slowly through his mind since he figured out Farfarello was dead. I know Nagi told him; I realized the other day that Ran had figured it out and Nagi admitted telling him when I confronted the boy on it. I was surprised that Nagi told him after it was Nagi that insisted I keep it from Ran. Ran has dozens of questions regarding us, and I have watched him over the month and a half of his time here as he considers and discards answers. He has managed to pin most of the correct answers in place, but there are some he can’t figure out on his own. This is one of them. “You have gifts,” he says, not moving to join me in bed. “You yourselves said that you could survive anything with gifts like yours.”
“We could,” I answer. I answer him because I know he doesn’t want the answer to use against me. He wants to know for himself, for the things he doesn’t understand but wants to about us. “We just didn’t.”
“But how?” Ran asks.
I say nothing; the events of that day flicker through my mind. They’re all unpleasant memories. I close my eyes and Ran moves at last. He climbs into bed and I feel the mattress shift under his weight. He weighs more than Farfarello did now…His time here has broken him out of his apathy for life. His renewed interest in everything else includes his own health, and he looks much better now than he did when I first brought him home with me. Even so…his weight is familiar in its own way. It isn’t Farfarello’s, but it is familiar because Ran has been here for so long.
“We could have,” I say again, “but we didn’t do what we were supposed to.”
My eyes are closed, but they don’t have to be open to know Ran is giving me that small frown that means he doesn’t understand. “What were you supposed to do?”
My lips twitch into a grin that I don’t feel. “Fall alone,” I answer softly.
I am taken back to that day, six and a half months ago. I can feel the ground giving out underneath me; suddenly there is nothing there and I am falling. It’s a horrible feeling, a sick sensation of falling and flying at the same time. Then I hit the next floor down and I feel something rip, feel something shatter, and I yell at the pain.
The floor tilts once more and I find myself sliding off of it. As I fall free, a hand grabs hold of mine, and I find myself staring up at my lover. He has me by my wrist and for a dizzying moment I wonder when he got there. The last I saw him he was across the room. I bang into the wall and we’re both spun by the force of impact. It slows me enough that now Farfarello is beneath me, and he pulls me up against him, his arms lacing around my waist. We hit something again, Farfarello acting as my shield against the blow; I feel something give beneath me and know the hit has broken some of my lover’s bones. We were on the top floor of a twelve story building, and by the time we fall clear of the rubble we have hit at least half of them. Farfarello takes the blunt of the blow every time. If we turn so that I am on bottom he forces himself against something to flop us. I yell at him to stop it but he doesn’t listen.
There is…so much blood…
I can see the ocean rising to meet us and Farfarello tilts his face up to catch my lips in a kiss; my mouth fills with blood that isn’t mine…
“It’s his fault…” I whisper, speaking without realizing it. “Damn him, anyway…”
Ran says nothing. We lie in silence for a long moment before he finally pulls the covers up over us. It is a long time before I fall asleep; blue eyes stare ahead of me without seeing my nightstand. I can still taste his blood in my mouth. The room is blurry so I close my eyes at last.
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