Part Twenty-Six: Two of Us
I wake with a headache and a crick in my neck. Sitting up slowly and wincing at the pain, I rake my hand through my bangs and squint around. I’m not in bed…I’m in the kitchen. What an odd place to sleep. The curtains on the small kitchen window are pulled back, letting sunlight spill through to show that it is well into the morning. I twist in my seat, looking for a clock, and find that it is almost noon. Jeez…
I slowly push myself up from the chair, looking around the kitchen. There’s no sign that anyone ate breakfast. Maybe they’re still sleeping, too. My eyes fall on the pitcher of water on the table. It’s still full; Ran told me to drink it but I didn’t want to. I pick it up, carrying it to the fridge and putting it away. The refrigerator door is closed with a foot as I work both hands through my hair, turning my thoughts towards yesterday. The morning was boring…I was at work. In fact, I’m supposed to be there now. Sighing, I reach out through my headache to find my supervisors. I already had to tweak them yesterday when I left early.
It had been too tempting to leave, after Ran started getting murderous on his superior. I wanted to see it for myself, so I had left work to go to the Koneko…I rub at one temple; my thoughts sound funny in my own head for some reason…Something’s missing that I can’t place. Perhaps it’s just from the alcohol. My feet carry me towards the bathroom. Ran killed Manx and we came back to the apartment, where I promptly got drunk.
I close the bathroom door behind me and lean against it, an uneasy frown curving my lips. I drank because yesterday I learned something I didn’t want to know, something I don’t completely understand even now. Crawford predicted the outcome of the mission by the sea long ago; he sat us down and told us that he was going to die and that we would live.
But…we didn’t. Not all of us survived. He said we had a chance, but he emphasized that we had to want to make it. I remember; he had glanced towards me there. He said we had to fall alone and we needed to want to make it. But Farfarello…still died. He died because he jumped after me. He didn’t want to die; he just…He made the choice to fall with me, to protect me. But if he hadn’t been there, would I have survived the fall? We ran into so much on the way down. The chance of me avoiding the same crashes on my own is slim. One of us was going to die that day. I would have died if I fell alone, and Farfarello died because we fell together.
But Crawford said we’d make it. He said if we fell alone we’d make it.
…or he purposefully made his words vague so that we would misunderstand.
It’s a terrible thing to think about, not something I really want to consider, but I have to question it. Was Crawford really talking about the mission by the sea or was he referring to a later point in time? Two people were meant to die that day…Crawford and myself or Crawford and Farfarello. It was unavoidable. And Crawford had to have known; otherwise he wouldn’t have made me promise to look after Nagi. It was a silly thing for him to worry about at the time; I had great fun in teasing him that he had a soft spot for the boy. It was a redundant request, just because I of course would have kept Nagi. If Farfarello had survived it would have been the three of us and who knows what we would be doing now. We might have even continued as Schwarz, albeit a bit smaller team. But Crawford made me promise, and Nagi was the only reason I survived those first weeks without Farfarello. If I didn’t have Farfarello, I didn’t want to be here, and Nagi was the only reason I stayed.
Crawford knew Farfarello was going to die.
I’m furious with him for not telling me, even though the rational side knows that such news could have destroyed the team further. I wouldn’t have let Farfarello go, and then the Elders would have gotten suspicious. Crawford and I would have died in the fall and Nagi and Farfarello…I can’t see the two of them making it together as all that was left.
Nagi needs me. That’s why I’m here. So what was Crawford talking about?
Fuck, it’s all so confusing. I don’t want to believe that Crawford saw this coming. I can’t confront him to confirm it…All I have is jagged evidence and a dawning belief that everything that is happening and has happened was seen by the Oracle first. Nagi won’t want to listen to my suspicions. He won’t want to believe that this is what was meant to happen, that Crawford hid so much from us.
I don’t want to listen to it, either. I don’t want to believe that Farfarello was meant to die. I don’t want to wonder if it bothered Crawford when he had the vision. I don’t want to know just how much he knew and just how much he saw, and I’d rather not think about it at all.
‘What does the future hold, O Wise One?’ I had asked him. And he had said…Red. ‘What do you see?’ A lot of blood.
Two questions, two answers. I asked two, he answered both. Even if I was just elaborating on the first question, Crawford gave me two distinctive answers. The way he spoke them should have told me such when I heard it, but the message disturbed me enough then that I didn’t realize it now. It’s upon reflection that I notice the way he emphasized each individually.
Maybe I’m looking too far into things.
Or maybe my nickname for the cat, born just a handful of months ago, means something.
Fuck, but I really don’t want to know what it means.
And speaking of the cat…I frown, taking care of business quickly before leaving the bathroom at last. Ran is asleep still, but his mental voice seems strange. It’s as loud as it usually is, but there’s an odd echo to it. I haven’t heard this sort of echo in a long time, but I shouldn’t be hearing it now…One, Ran’s not far enough away for it to echo and two…
It shouldn’t be there. That echo was reserved to one mind only, and it was only there because we were bound so closely together. Crawford and Nagi never echoed despite the distance between us…Only Farfarello, when one of us was out wandering or on a job solo, would have that edge to his thoughts. But Ran…Ran isn’t Farfarello. I shouldn’t have that sort of bond to him; it’s not the one I put in place originally. His thoughts should be quieter if he’s far away. They’re as loud as they always are, always a step behind my own thoughts.
Fuck me. Nagi’s…going to be pissed. He’s going to want an explanation. But how can I explain something that shouldn’t be there in the first place…?
I open my bedroom door, looking in at the bed. Ran isn’t there. He couldn’t be here, not with that echo, but he should be here. Where else could he be sleeping? I reach for his mind, rummaging through the hazy thoughts of a restless sleep, and get glimpses of his room at the Koneko.
None of his things are here. The nightstand is cleared. The closet, when I yank the doors open, is empty. Ran is back at the Koneko- for good. He moved himself out. When? It must be after I passed out. Even drunk, I would have done something to stop him…Besides, Ran wouldn’t have left on his own initiative. He’s been content enough to live here for the past few weeks. Even if I unnerved him while I was drunk, he wouldn’t be bold enough to take his things and go. He would have only left if someone told him to. That someone wasn’t me.
I leave my room, throwing Nagi’s door open. The boy wakes at the noise, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. I wait for him to be coherent before leaning against the doorframe, offering him a calm expression even as I fold my arms over my chest.
“You moved my cat out,” I say. It’s a soft accusation.
“He offered to go,” Nagi answers calmly, sprawling backwards and propping himself up on his elbows. It’s a lazy movement, and the look he gives me is unrepentant. “He told me he would go, and he even offered to move out last night.”
“You must have been thrilled.”
“Who was I to refuse such an offer?” Nagi wants to know, arching an eyebrow at me.
“Who were you to accept it?” I send back. My voice is sharper than I meant it to be, definitely sharper than I expected it to be.
“This isn’t only about you,” Nagi says, sitting back up and throwing his pillow at me. He didn’t use his gift to help it, so it lands harmlessly a foot from where I stand. “This is _my_ place too. You’ve had him here for two months already and that girl is going to wake up soon. What does it matter if he leaves a couple days early?”
He’s got me there. What does it?
“It doesn’t matter. The game was played on my terms. He was to stay until she woke up, and you sent him away early.”
“I sent him _home_,” Nagi snaps. His voice is laced with a bitter anger- directed at both Ran and me. “He doesn’t belong here. He isn’t one of us. He wanted to leave and I wanted him out of here. Let him rot back in the Koneko; maybe you should just be happy that I didn’t kill him while you were drunk. You wouldn’t have been able to stop me, and what would you have done today? You shouldn’t care either way.”
“What the fuck is your problem?” I demand.
Nagi hurls his other pillow at me. This one has force behind it and even though I lift my arm to block my face the impact sends me back a foot. Nagi is up on his knees on his bed, hands clenched in the sheets as he glares at me. “You were KISSING him, Schuldich! In our damned living room, you were _kissing_ him!”
I don’t know what to say in response. There’s nothing I can say.
“How could you do that?” Nagi wants to know. “How could you do that to me? How could you do that to _him_?”
That ‘him’ isn’t referring to Ran. Nagi’s accusation pisses me off, both that he says such a thing to me and because his words hurt so much. I pick his pillow back up and hurl it right back at him. “Fuck you, Nagi. What I do is _my_ business!”
“Seven months ago you didn’t want to live. You were so fucked up in the head you were taking half a bottle of mixed medications in one swallow and emptying out liquor stores. _I’m_ the one that kept you alive; I’m the one that took the drinks and drugs away and tried to put you back together the way you used to be.”
“Well, you forgot a big fucking piece, didn’t you?” My words are acid. “Which one of us were you helping when you made me clean up my act?”
“I can’t give you back Farfarello!” Nagi yells. “Nothing can. He died, and I can’t fix that. Neither can you. But you can’t go replacing him!”
I slam my fist out to the side. The doorframe isn’t hurt, but I feel skin give way. “I don’t want to replace anybody!” I yell back, voice harsh in fury. For a long moment the only sound in the room is our ragged, furious breathing. Two shades of blue meet across the room, both of us glaring at the other. Nagi looks away first, and I see a tear slide down his cheek.
The anger drains away and I lower my fist from the wall, taking a deep breath to help calm myself. My anger is irrational…Nagi’s is justified. Damn it. I can’t even remember why I got so angry, anyway. I usually have a better control over my temper. I take a step into his room and Nagi ignores me, staring fixedly at the other wall. I climb onto his bed and he gives me a weak shove without looking at me.
“Don’t get your blood on my sheets,” he mutters.
“I’ll wash them,” I answer, sparing a glance for the torn skin along my knuckles. It looks ugly, but it’ll heal fast enough. I sit uncertainly beside my younger teammate, watching as he takes a deep breath to try and calm himself.
He has been…so strong for me, this past half year. He’s right; he’s the one that put me back together and kept me from destroying myself further. Without him, I wouldn’t have made it so far. If he hadn’t tried so hard, I would never have been able to recover as much as I did. In those first weeks, I was content to lose myself in the bottom of a bottle, and without him fighting me so horrendously over it I would have stayed lost there. Nagi’s worked so hard to put me back together, locking up his own fractured loss and pain away for fear that it’ll set me off.
Swallowing my uncertainties and misgivings, I force myself to reach out, pulling him towards me. It’s an awkward sort of embrace but Nagi clings to my shirt. And six months after his ‘family’ was destroyed, Nagi finally grieves for what he’s lost. Everything he forced himself to ignore so long ago for my sake can’t be stopped now. Nagi is just a child on many levels, and Schwarz was all he had. It was the best thing to happen to him, really, and he had us for four years only to lose the man he distantly considered a father.
So Ran left a few days early. It doesn’t matter…It’s better for Nagi that he’s gone. So it’s down to six cats and the two of us once more. This will take some minor adjustments, I think.
I’ll tell Nagi that I fucked up later. I don’t think he wants or needs to hear it now.
I don’t like my apartment. I sit Indian style on my bed, looking around my room. My things are moved back in. I did that last night because I didn’t want to think. I couldn’t avoid my uneasy thoughts forever… It was hard to fall asleep last night. My bed just feels too different, and I woke once in the middle of the night wondering where Schuldich had gone.
That bothers me…I wonder how long before things will return to normal and I won’t have to wonder about it. It confused me when I woke up, too, as did my location. I had been expecting Schuldich’s room and had seen my apartment instead. My apartment used to seem the perfect size to me. Now it seems small; I have grown used to the freedom of Schuldich’s place.
And…there is no one else here.
I am living on my own once more. Of course, I don’t expect to be here much longer. As soon as I figure out what I’m doing about Weiß and Kritiker I’ll have to leave. I don’t know if I can stay with Weiß. Manx was the one who knew about my sister…If Birman didn’t know, I suspect only Persia, Manx, and the medical staff had a hand in the mess. Persia is gone, as is Manx. My sister is free of the doctors. What do I do now? I could try to extricate myself from Kritiker’s tight grasp or I could accept that my sister is avenged. I don’t know if I would be able to get away from Weiß. It’s a life contract, and I doubt any of them would just let me go.
But what about Aya? I can’t see myself telling her that I’m an assassin, but I doubt I would be able to hide it from her forever. She has months of physical therapy ahead of her. Do I fight to get free from Kritiker and hunt for a new job? I have no education past a few years of high school. I don’t have a diploma because I gave up school for revenge, not expecting my quest to stretch into a three-year crusade. Could I find a job that would pay well enough for Aya’s treatment when I don’t have a college degree?
It’s all such a mess.
Where would I live? Aya can’t stay here. I’ll have to move out when she wakes up so that she can live with me. There’s no room for two people in this little place. I should go looking for places soon. I’ll have to inform my teammates and Kritiker that I’m moving out and tell them why. But I have to figure out what I’m doing about Kritiker first. Moving out would be the perfect time to cut ties if I could manage to.
I need to talk to someone, either Birman or Yohji. As much as it would be easier to talk to Yohji, Birman’s the one who works inside Kritiker. She’d be the one to ask if I could end my contract early. I wonder what my teammates would do…Would Weiß become a three person unit or would they receive a fourth person? What would they think if I announced that I was leaving them, that I was abandoning them to hunt the corrupt while I tried for a normal life?
The thought makes me feel guilty, for reasons I can’t completely understand.
“Feh,” I declare.
At the sound, my kitten jumps up onto the bed. I gather her into my lap, scratching her as she purrs. See, Ran…You’re not alone. You have a cat, at least, and she’ll keep you company until Aya wakes up…
There’s a loud knock at the door; my cat flees at the sound. I stretch out on my stomach, leaving over the bed to peer under it. Wide green eyes stare back. I reach for her, but another knock comes and she shrinks back. “It’s open,” I call, straining my fingers to reach her.
Yohji is the one who slips inside. He closes the door behind him and approaches me, holding out a Styrofoam cup in offering. A second one is held in his other gloved hand. “Saw your car here,” he says, then pauses to eye me. “What are you doing?”
Maybe I’ll have better luck on the other side. “Getting something,” I answer, pulling myself back up on top of the bed and moving to the other side.
Yohji sets the cup down on my nightstand. “It’s freezing out there…I was in the mood for a hot drink and since your car was here, I figured it was a safe bet that you might like something as well.” I hear him pry his lid off and he takes a careful sip out of his own cup. “I’m surprised you’re not taking advantage of the break to hang out with your girl.”
I pause before lowering myself to the bed. I’m going to have to figure out how to tell Yohji that I won’t be seeing that ‘girl’ again. “She’s gone to see her family for the holidays,” I tell him, and congratulate myself on the excuse.
It’s easier to reach the kitten from here, and I snag her. She gives a cry in surprise and I pull her free, lifting her back onto the bed and depositing her beside me. Yohji laughs when he sees her, setting aside his drink and kneeling beside my bed, reaching towards her. She eyes him with quite a bit of fear but my hands keep her from running. A few pets later, Yohji is on her list of favorite people and she’s eagerly rubbing up against him for more.
“Cute,” Yohji says. “When did you get it?”
“She was a Christmas present of sorts…”
“She’s very pretty…Such a deep gray. Looks like the sky outside; now you have a bit of rain cloud for yourself, hm?” He seems quite taken with her; green eyes glow as he plays with her. “What have you named her?” he wants to know.
“Kumo,” I answer dryly, and Yohji grins at me. And speaking of the cat…I haven’t got anything for her here. I don’t have food or dishes or a litter box. It would be wise to go shopping, I believe. “I need to get her things…”
“Want some company?” Yohji asks. “I’m bored.”
Having company seems normal after two months of Schuldich and Nagi. I shrug. “If you’d like,” I answer.
“Have you fed her yet this morning?” my teammate wants to know, running his hand down the length of the bed for the kitten to play with. Kumo gives chase eagerly, running this way and that after it.
I shake my head. “There’s no food here.” I have to go grocery shopping, too.
“I should have something at my place…” Yohji offers, rising to his feet. The kitten is sad to see him go, chasing him to the door. She’s too scared to follow him outside though, and instead looks back at me when the door closes.
“He’s coming back,” I reassure her. She believes me and settles herself by the door, staring up at the doorknob. Yohji comes back just a minute later, bringing a few bits of lunchmeat with him. She smells it immediately and cries the entire way back to the bed as Yohji approaches me. He splits the meat in half and we take turns feeding the starving kitten. She nearly takes our fingers off in her rush to take it away, and even though Yohji brought quite a bit with him she checks out our hands multiple times to make sure that’s everything. We display our open hands for her and she licks our fingers to get the last bits of juices before looking up expectantly.
“Quite a pig,” I remark.
“Indeed,” Yohji answers with a grin.
Well, she would fit right in with Schuldich’s cats…
I derail that thought before it can finish. Schuldich and I live at different places now. I’ll never see his cats again. It’s an odd thought, though the realization that Schuldich and I will most likely never cross paths again is even stranger. Maybe he’ll show up when Aya wakes up, but after that…
Something twists inside of me, a light pang I can’t identify so I pass off as hunger. “Shall we go?” I ask.
“Sure,” Yohji answers easily. “Who’s driving?”
“I will…” I gather my keys and coffee, offer Kumo a parting scratch, and we leave the apartment.
I feel a bit of relief as I step through my doors, and I don’t even want to begin wondering why.
Nagi and I stare up into the cabinets with quite a bit of consternation. The shelves are full of boxes and cans that make up pieces of meals. We’ve searched already to see if any of it is stand alone, but Ran isn’t simple like that. These all go together; they all require something that isn’t contained in the box. Nagi abandons the cabinet for the fridge, searching that instead. Red threw away the leftover instant meals the third day he was here, so we have nothing that we are capable of making.
“Um” is Nagi’s appraisal of the refrigerator’s contents.
“This can’t be that hard,” I inform him, pulling down a box of pasta before looking for the corresponding can of meat and jar of sauce. “They’re noodles. Boil water and voila.” I give the box a shake before tossing it to the counter. Nagi agrees with my bold decision with a nod of his own and digs out the pots for us. I scan the directions, looking for the amount of water. “Two-thirds of a pot?” I inquire. “They aren’t even considerate enough to tell us what size pot. Why can’t they do this shit in cups or something?” I frown at Nagi, who shrugs.
“I guess it depends on how many noodles we’re making,” he answers.
“How many _are_ we making?” I want to know.
“How many are we going to eat?” he returns easily.
I eye the box. “All of it,” I declare. Nagi selects the largest pot and fills it in the sink. I watch as he sets it on the stove, and we watch it as it heats. It has to boil before we can add the noodles, and silence stretches on as we wait for bubbles to appear on the water. A slow minute drags by, then a second, and I reach out to put my hand beside the pot. There’s heat, so why isn’t it cooking?
“Maybe it’d go faster with a lid,” Nagi suggests.
“Maybe,” I agree, and dig one out. The lid is set in place and we wait. Nagi finally lifts the lid and peeks in to see if it’s bubbling.
“Almost,” he says.
At last it starts bubbling, and I empty the entire box of noodles into the water. Another peek at the instructions and I tell Nagi to stir it and turn it down. Nagi does so and we stare down at the pot, watching as the noodles rest lazily at the bottom. Nagi looks up at me. “How long?” he wants to know.
“8-10 minutes or until the noodles are soft,” I read off the box, and eye the pot. “At least it’s quick. Should we set a timer?”
“Don’t noodles float?” Nagi inquires.
“Hm?” I ask, giving him a blank look.
Nagi points at the pot. “Crawford made noodles once. They floated.”
I consider this, then nod and throw the box away.
Fifteen minutes later the noodles still have not floated and we’re sick of waiting on them to do so. I find a strainer and we dump the noodles in, and I finally convince Nagi that it’s his job to taste test them and make sure they’re done. He frowns after chewing on it for a bit, announcing that it’s chewy. This confuses the both of us, as we both left the noodles in long enough that they should have been soft. I taste one, thinking maybe Nagi’s just being critical, but the noodle is definitely rubbery.
“Feh,” I declare. “Let’s just get take out.”
Nagi nods in agreement, and I toss the noodles away with some disgust. Fifteen minutes later food is delivered to the lobby and I fetch it. We eat in front of the television, feeling a bit slighted by our failed attempt at cooking.
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