Part Twenty-Four: The Need to Kill

    December 25th marks the day the shop closes. We have the 25th through the 2nd off; now the four of us are gathered as we try and clean the shop up. We closed at noon today so we would have the afternoon to give the store as thorough a cleaning possible. When we’re almost done with the front of the store Omi and Ken head to the storage room to start there, leaving me to finish the mopping and Yohji to do the windows. I wait until the doors are closed behind my teammates before letting the mop still in my hands. I have the chance at last to bring something up with Yohji that’s been bothering me for a while. There hasn’t been a good time before, but if the shop is closed for a week I don’t know how often I’ll be out of Schuldich’s apartment.

    “You’re still seeing Makiko.”

    Yohji pauses at my words, taking them as the soft accusation they are, and looks over his shoulder at me. “Yeah, guess I am.” He turns back to his work, spritzing the glass with cleaner and rubbing at it.

    “Why?” That’s what I’ve wanted to know for weeks. Why did Yohji latch onto her? Why did he suddenly abandon his routine of picking up short-term girls to woo a widow with a son? What about her drew him to her? I only brought Yohji to the funeral with me so I wouldn’t have to go alone. This isn’t what I expected to happen.

    Yohji considers my question for a long moment, his movements slowing on the window as he thinks. “She’s pretty,” he finally says. “But she’s got spirit, too…It just takes a while for it to show, probably because of her husband.” There’s a light scowl on his face; he remembers what I told him about Yamaguchi. I wonder if Makiko has added anything to what I shared with Yohji. “I’m not entirely sure. You’d think she wouldn’t be my type, considering she comes with all strings attached.”

    “Mm,” I say, at a loss of anything better to say. What else can be said? Yohji has abandoned his nighttime conquests to date one woman steadily. Considering Yohji’s view on women in general and his memories of Asuka, I guess it means he’s finally moved on and he’s tired of being lonely. I move my mop uselessly across the floor, scooting it this way and that over the same small patch. I’ve never loved anyone like Yohji loved Asuka, so I can only guess as what it’s like. I suppose after a while someone reaches a point where they can still grieve but find a way to continue on, find that they don’t want to be alone anymore. It seems strange to me, just because I haven’t lost someone like that, but I guess it’s natural. Yohji’s reached that point after several years of nameless faces and the guilt of Asuka’s death.

    “Cute kid,” Yohji remarks at length.

    “I suppose,” I answer dryly. I remember that kid; I can recall easily enough the way he scrunched up his face at me in the elevator.

    So Yohji is seeing Makiko, knowing that she wants something that will last a while and knowing she has a kid. It’s very strange…It doesn’t seem real. He wouldn’t have even met her if he hadn’t gone to the funeral with me, and there was only a funeral because a lucky twist of fate killed off her bastard husband.

    Fate is funny like that.

    “So?” Yohji asks me, watching me. He knows that I’m a bit wary of his dating Makiko; he’s seen the way I react the times he’s mentioned her. Now he wants to know what I truly think after I’ve actually poked him into something resembling a conversation about her, when I’ve finally asked for confirmation that they’re a couple. As his closest friend, he wants my opinion on the matter.

    “At least you won’t cheat on her,” I say with a sigh.

    Yohji grins, taking my words to be acceptance of his dating. I don’t see what my approval or disapproval would matter, though; if Yohji’s interested in her enough to change his dating habits then my opinion doesn’t mean anything. I do feel some measure of comfort in his asking me, though. Time has made the memory of our horrible argument easier to reflect on, but the guilt lingered on whenever I worked Yohji’s shifts and he would tease me about my ‘girl’. After what Schuldich has done for me, however, I cannot feel any guilt in living with him. And after this conversation about Makiko, I accept that Yohji will never know the truth and that that is fine with me because it means our friendship is stable. The trust was never betrayed.

    I think…I can live with that.

    We finish up our work and join our teammates in the storage room. The two are chattering away to each other and Yohji and I are content to work in silence, listening to their conversation without joining in. They’re talking about the light snowfall we had last night, excited as they always are to have snow. It doesn’t matter that it’s not much…They just love having it.

    Makiko aside, I’m in a relatively decent mood.

    That is, until the back door opens and Manx steps in. She’s dressed in a parka and wearing a hat, and she brings a gust of icy air in with her. My teammates offer her cheerful greetings and she smiles in response; I see her and everything grinds to a halt. The image of Aya lying in a hospital bed flickers in my mind. Manx helped put her there. She helped Aya’s accident stretch into a three year coma.

    “Good afternoon, kittens,” Manx greets, moving towards the table and setting down a brown bag. “I’ve brought some presents from the girls.” By ‘the girls,’ she means her and Birman. I dimly wonder if Birman was in on everything as well. Did she know? Have they always known when they come here that I’m only here because of them? Do they fully realize what they’ve done to me and Aya? Do they accept that?

    “You shouldn’t have,” Ken says, but he wants to know what he was brought just the same.

    Manx lifts four small bags from the larger one and distributes them around the table. When she leans towards me I feel every muscle in my body tighten and my hatred for her leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Manx doesn’t notice. Instead, she settles herself between Ken and me to pull the last item out of the bag. She’s so close; I wouldn’t have to stretch far to just grab onto her throat…I cling to my self control but it’s fraying quickly. “We thought maybe you four could eat this…” she’s saying.

    I don’t let her finish the sentence. My control snaps under my utter hatred and disgust for her. My fist makes contact with her cheekbone, sending her crashing into Ken. The feel of my fist touching her face offers me a bit of dark satisfaction, as does the way Manx crumples. I wonder if she’s dead; it’s unlikely but I can still be hopeful.

    Ken has caught Manx, Omi has caught the fruit cake, and all three of my teammates are staring at me with wide eyes and slack jaws. They’re the ultimate picture of stunned disbelief; even Yohji has no clue what’s just happened.

    “Aya?” he asks, hesitant and wary.


    Schuldich is laughing; I can hear his laughter ringing in the back of my mind. He sounds wonderfully amused, and as much as I would love to finish the job on Manx I think perhaps a better time will come. /Clean up on aisle three,/ Schuldich finally offers as he struggles to get control of his amusement. /Damn, Ran, you do wonders for the entertainment factor…/

    ~Glad to know you’re so pleased. Is she dead?~

    /You’re not that lucky. Maybe next time./

    I can’t stop the disappointed sigh. Then Ken is moving, carrying Manx to the door and depositing her outside. She falls limply to the snow and Ken returns to the table. Omi and Yohji go from staring at me to talking about the fruit cake in a heartbeat, fighting over it and arguing over when to eat it and who is the least fair when cutting pieces. Ken is already unwrapping his present, abandoning food for the gift. I don’t bother with my present; if it’s from her, I don’t want it. Schuldich’s giving me the only thing I want and need, and Manx is the one who tried to keep Aya from me.

    Manx can rot in hell.

    Or die of frostbite and pneumonia, if she’s unconscious in the cold long enough. The thought pleases me. Then again, I hope she lives. I need time to figure out the best way to make her pay for what she’s done.

    And what is to be done about Weiß…? Could I be an assassin with my sister awake? I can’t imagine continuing this work once she is revived. Besides, the organization I work for is the one that kept my sister sedated so long. They betrayed me. I cannot continue working for them. But what am I to do? Kritiker isn’t likely to just let me go. I have to figure something out. I won’t work for them any longer, but I have to make sure they will let me go.

    /I can always arrange to have someone stop by Aya’s old room later,/ Schuldich suggests.

    I pause, considering this and debating what would most likely happen if Kritiker were to realize Aya was missing. I feel my lips twitch into a faint, dark smirk and I turn my back to my teammates to hide the expression from them. ~Could you…?~

    Schuldich laughs, a darker sort of amusement lacing the sound, and I feel the touch of his gift on my mind lessen as he wanders off.


    Schuldich acts fast. Just half an hour later, Birman shows up at our door. She slams the door open, her mouth set in a grim line even as her eyes shine with confusion and alarm. She has Manx in her arms; the woman is starting to wake up but seems a bit out of it. My teammates rush to help Birman, exclaiming over Manx and wondering what happened to her.

    “She was unconscious outside your door,” Birman tells Yohji, passing Manx off to him. “Quick, get her warm. Find her something to drink. Blankets, we need blankets. I don’t know how long she was out there.”

    I don’t bother to help, leaning against the table we were working at with my arms folded over my chest. Ken and Omi vanish outside, heading up to their rooms to find a drink and some quilts. Yohji is kneeling beside Manx, touching her cheeks to see how cold they are. Manx looks a bit woozy as she stares back at him. The younger half of Weiß returns quickly and the four of them fuss over Manx. It takes a minute, but she revives and huddles into the blankets, looking around with some confusion.

    “What am I doing here?” she wants to know.

    “You were unconscious outside,” Birman tells her, rubbing one of Manx’s gloved hands between her own. “What happened?”

    Manx thinks. “I don’t…remember.”

    “You’re going to have a horrendous bruise on this side of your face,” Yohji informs her, moving her hair to study the shadow gracing her cheekbone. “Someone hit you good. Perhaps someone wanted to mug you for some last minute holiday shopping.”

    Manx makes a face, not happy with his words. Birman, satisfied that her companion is all right, turns to face me. “It’s a good thing I came,” she says, “but the news I have to deliver is not good at all.”

    I meet her stare with a bland gaze. My teammates pause in their worried care of Manx to turn towards Birman, wondering what might have brought her here. I can see in their eyes that they hope she didn’t bring a mission. The four of us are looking forward to a break; a week and a half off of this shop is something all of us need. We don’t want to be killing people over the holiday season.

    Well, they don’t. I can think of a couple people I would like to kill, and they’ve been delivered to my doorstep. How nice, how very convenient.

    “Aya…Your sister is gone.” Schuldich had said long ago that he blotted the memory of my sister from my teammates’ minds, but he must have unlocked them now, judging by the quick looks they exchange. They send wary and concerned looks my direction, waiting for my reaction to her words. “She’s not at the hospital any longer, and the staff doesn’t know where she went.”

    “Ah,” I answer, and lift the final bag of soil from its spot by the table. I carry it to the shelves that line the wall and hoist it to its spot.

    “We’ll start an investigation immediately and we’ll let you know the leads. This is a horrible thing to happen during the holiday seasons…I can’t believe someone managed to take her; the security on your sister is supposed to be tight…”

    I turn back to Birman, folding my arms loosely over my chest. Yohji is rising from his spot by Manx, most likely getting ready to offer some sort of consolation to me should I react horribly to the news. But instead I offer Birman a chilling smile. “Don’t bother,” I inform her.

    “You can’t be serious,” Manx starts to say.

    “I moved her,” I say, interrupting her neatly. Birman and Manx exchange looks, startled. “I decided the care Kritiker was offering her was inadequate. Tell me, Birman…Would either one of you like to explain why my sister is dependent on Cylathamin Doracine?”

    “It’s a stabilization drug,” Birman explains, frowning slightly. Manx is slowly rising to her feet. “It’s required to make sure she doesn’t slip further away. Your sister was injured very badly in that accident, and the medication makes sure that she stays alive.”

    I move across the shop towards her and get the satisfaction of seeing Manx take hold of Birman’s elbow. Birman looks a little lost; Manx’s face is carved from stone as she watches me come. Their faces are enough to tell me the truth- Birman hasn’t got a clue and Manx is well informed as to what happened to my sister. At least I decked the right woman earlier. My teammates watch everything unfold with blank looks. “My sister was supposed to have been awake years ago,” I tell her. “The doctors kindly informed me that that drug was the only thing making her sleep.”

    “The doctors must be mistaken…” Birman says, looking towards Manx for confirmation. She falters when she sees her superior’s face. “…Right?”

    I’m speaking directly to Manx now; no one else in the shop exists. She’s ignoring Birman, watching me as I approach. “You made sure my sister wouldn’t wake up,” I accuse her, voice soft and cold. “You drugged her so she would lie in a coma for years. She was the perfect collar, wasn’t she, Manx? Kritiker swore they would help me with the bills for her if I worked for them. But if she woke, I would have no reason to work for you anymore.”

    “You wanted revenge on Takatori, we gave that to you,” Manx says, shoving Birman away from her so there is no one between her and me. “You wanted your sister to be safe, and she was.”

    “Safe?” I ask her, stopping right in front of her. She holds her ground, staring back at me steadily. Her eyes show no remorse for what she’s done, for how Kritiker decided to deal with we two Fujimiyas. “She is in a coma because of you. She has been sleeping away her life so you could have another pawn to kill people with.”

    “Kritiker did what they thought would be best,” she insists.

    “Kritiker can go to Hell,” I respond, and my hand snaps up to close around her throat. There’s a cry of alarm around the shop and I feel something dig into my abdomen. I recognize the fact that she has a gun to my stomach; the feel of it registers at the same time her eyes narrow. I catch her wrist with my free hand, wrenching her hand away from me as I twist away. The gun goes off, barely missing me. Pots shatter at the far wall, and Manx cries out as I feel bones give beneath my fingers.

    Then there are four people grabbing at us, trying to pull us apart. I refuse to let go of her throat, even as Yohji has his arms around my waist and is trying to yank me away. I can hear his voice in my ear, telling me not to do it.

    And why shouldn’t I, I want to know.

    My other hand snaps up to Manx’s face. Our eyes meet and hold and I ignore the fingers that are pulling at mine. Manx is choking for air as my fingers tighten on her throat. Everyone is yelling, everyone is struggling, except me. I’m silent and I keep my fingers locked where they are. Manx and I ignore everyone around us, ignore the chaos as we stare each other down. The yells turn into a blur of noise and I mouth my last words to Manx.

    ‘You will be just one more death I won’t regret.’

    I have been digging into the ground with my feet to keep myself from sliding back, but now I relax my legs. Yohji, who has been fighting to pull me backwards, suddenly goes staggering back, struggling to keep his balance. He brings me with him now that I’m no longer fighting him.

    I feel flesh give under my fingers as I am suddenly and forcefully pulled away from Manx. Something hot is running over my hands and Manx crumples, making a horrible sound. Then I can’t see her through my younger teammates and Birman, and I let myself fall to the floor with Yohji. We hit the ground hard and Yohji does not get back up. I push myself up to a sitting position and see that the other three have gone limp, lying around Manx on the floor.

    More of Schuldich’s doing…I rise to my feet, going over to Manx. She has both hands to her throat, trying to stem the flow of blood that rushes down her front. I lift her by her coat and carry her towards the door, ignoring the wet gurgle-wheeze noise she’s making. She’s losing blood fast…She goes unconscious before I even reach the dumpster. I let her drop to the ground at my feet as I lift the lid. This bin is huge; it’s supposed to hold the garbage for several shops. There’s plenty of room for a person. I pick up Manx’s body and hold her before me, studying her pale face for a moment longer. Blood runs down her chin, trickling between her lips.

    Then I hoist her inside and let the lid fall closed.

    I study the garbage can for a moment, letting myself reflect on what’s just happened. There’s a growing list of things I don’t think I should ever tell Aya, and I add this one to the list. I think she’d be happier not knowing, regardless of how much better killing Manx has made me feel. My shirt front is soaked with Manx’s blood and the heat is vanishing quickly until the wet material chills me instead. I turn to go and find Schuldich standing in front of me.

    I don’t bother asking him what he’s doing here; I just gaze at him in silence as he studies the bloody, mushy snow beneath our feet. His eyes lift to my shirt and a smirk curls his lips. A hand lifts to my hair; fingers curl around my ear tail and give it a light tug.

    “Murder is very medicinal,” he informs me. “It’ll be a trick rewriting everything and taking her out of Kritiker, but the show was worth it. It’s the first time since Takatori that you’ve actually wanted to kill someone… You’re much more fun when the need is there.”

    “Hn,” I say, lifting my hand so I can see the bloodstained fingertips. Schuldich reaches up with his free hand, tilting my fingers towards my mouth. I glance up at him, then allow two fingers to slip past my lips. Manx’s blood is harsh on my tongue; the taste of blood isn’t new but it’s not one I like. But this is the taste of Manx’s death, of revenge for three years of my sister’s sleep, so I suck my fingers clean. Schuldich watches with half-lidded blue eyes and I gaze back steadily, letting my fingers slide free when I have swallowed the blood.

    Before I can take care of the other two, Schuldich takes my hand and slips those fingers into his own mouth. It feels…strange. It’s a new sensation for me, to have my fingers inside someone else’s mouth. I’m not used to physical contact with other people, so contact like this is very different.

    My fingers are clean; Schuldich holds my hand between us so I can see them, as if displaying them for my satisfaction. My fingers are tingling. I lift my eyes from my hand to Schuldich’s face, searching his gaze. I can’t see anything in his eyes…They are still hooded and swirl a dark blue as he thinks. I feel a strange sort of uneasiness- something about his eyes bothers me. I drop my gaze, looking past him towards the shop.

    Schuldich releases me then, letting my hand slide out of his grip. I head back to the shop, lightly scuffing at the wet ground to try and cover the spots where Manx’s blood is visible in the sludge. Schuldich follows behind me and surveys the inside of the shop. I head to the front of the store to get the mop and as I return Schuldich looks over at me.

    “There’s a lot of blood here,” he says, his blue eyes light once more and the strange, soft edge gone from his nasal voice, “eh, Red?”

    I’m about to answer when he gives a small jolt, the movement so slight I almost miss it. Blue eyes dart down to the puddle and then back to me, searching my eyes. There’s something harsh in the back of his gaze as he stares at me; whatever he’s thinking is not pleasant. His mouth twitches into a frown and he steps back so I can clean. I let him think, working silently and quickly. My teammates will rouse later and leave here, and if Schuldich takes care of things with his gift like he said he would, they’ll never know that anything happened here.

    Schuldich doesn’t move until I’m done and ready to go. Both cars are here, so we’ll drive back to the apartment on our own. I find myself grateful for that. I’m not sure I want to know what has just clicked in Schuldich’s mind. I pause by the back door, looking back to see if he’s coming.

    He stays were he is a moment longer, still studying me. Then he lifts a hand to his temple and moves to follow me. “I vote the drinking starts today.”


    I head to the bedroom first, needing to change my shirt. I suppose I’ll soak this one in the bathroom sink… When I open the door and step inside, however, I almost squish something at my feet. I stumble to avoid smashing it and it flees further into the bedroom with a small cry. I remain in the doorway a moment longer, staring after it as it vanishes under the bed. Frowning in confusion, I approach the bed slowly and lie on my side on the ground, peering under it.

    Two glowing eyes stare back and the thing gives a cry once more.

    “Schuldich…?” I call.

    I reach under the bed, moving slowly so as not to startle the creature. It cries when I touch it but allows me to pull it free. I roll onto my back, staring up at the gray kitten that dangles from my hands above me. It’s gray all over, save for a white smudge on its nose. Green eyes are wide as it stares down at me, and it gives another pitiful wail. This was the kitten Schuldich’s coworker was talking about a couple weeks ago…

    I sit up, cradling the kitten against my chest. Its fear melts away as my fingers scratch lightly through its silvery fur, and soon its eyes are slits and it is purring. Small paws knead at my chest and she arches into my hands.

    Schuldich’s in the doorway; an open bottle is already in his hand and he gestures to the kitten with it. “That rat’s your problem. I already have six; I don’t need another. I just brought it home because Shindo insisted I take her.”

    “My problem…?” I ask, looking up at him in surprise. Schuldich doesn’t bother repeating himself, instead taking a swallow from his drink and lounging against the doorframe. I lower my eyes from him to the little one that is now chewing on my finger in lazy delight. Schuldich abandons me again now that he’s clarified things, most likely going to finish off the bottle in the den or kitchen.

    This kitten’s mine?

    I lift her to my face, studying her. She really is a pretty thing…She stretches away from my hands, leaning over to sniff at my nose and eyes before batting at my bangs. I rise to my feet, setting her on the mattress. She runs along the edge of the bed as I move towards the closet, darting up and down the length of the bed as she watches me change shirts. I decide to let the shirt stain; I’d rather play with the kitten than go soak my shirt. I join her on the bed, wiggling my fingers for her to play with. Her small tail poofs out and wide green eyes watch my hand; her entire body trembles as she holds herself upright. Finally she can stand it no longer and pounces, wrapping herself around my hand.

    I laugh, curling her closer up against me. She doesn’t mind being moved, concentrating instead on gnawing on my fingers. I feel my mouth curl into a smile.

    The day has been good.

Part 25
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