Part Five: Sieben
Farfarello joined our team three years ago. Everyone was skeptical about allowing him in Schwarz, as he was powerless. He was the most wanted man in Ireland at the time, leaving blood and death behind him as he cut across the land. Crawford, Nagi, and I were hired out when too many important political figures ended up dead. We traveled to the emerald island expecting to find a crafty madman with some grudge against the Irish government. What we found was a sixteen year old madman who, while he realized the impact of killing the politicians, had no ulterior motive besides the need to kill people. The job had been to find Farfarello and kill him. That changed the moment we saw him face to face for the first time and I touched his mind.
Farfarello did not remember his own name; what he had was the name Ireland's media had provided. He was a white-haired thing with a wild yellow eye, a mind that was both very sharp and very twisted at the same time. He wasn't insane; he was mad. He was almost too sane, just bent the wrong direction mentally.
And his mind was...
I don't know what it was, but the moment I touched his mind I realized we couldn't kill him. There was something in there that I needed. It caused several arguments between Crawford and myself, but I dug in my heels and refused to give ground.
And then Crawford saw it. Something. I don't know what; I once asked but received no answer. He saw something that made him side with me, and he went before Rosenkreuz and Estet both to stake a claim on the albino Irishman. They relented because they trusted Crawford's gift, and they never regretted it after that. Estet's Council grew fond of him. They loved his focus on death and torture; he was the favored one out of our group. Rosenkreuz just kind of shrugged and accepted him for his usefulness.
There was something about Farfarello and me. We...clicked, I guess. He didn't look to Crawford for answers or guidance; he looked to me. He trusted me the moment he saw me, whereas the others had to wait months for his respect. Either way, I spent a great deal of time watching him, touching his mind, trying to figure out what in him called so strongly to me. Countless hours were spent with us sitting across from each other, staring at each other in silence. I got lost in him; we got lost in each other.
When Farfarello was seventeen and me twenty, we ended up in the same bed, and we stayed together for the next two years.
I wait silently as Schuldich unlocks my wrists from the headboard and sit up as soon as my arms are free. They're sore but I say nothing, glaring at Schuldich the best I can as I try to remember what happened yesterday. The last thing I remember is being laid down, but if I met Schuldich at the park at one....I've been asleep for almost twenty-five hours. That's impossible. There's no way I could have slept so long, especially in this bastard's apartment.
"Improbable," Schuldich informs me, "not impossible, because it just happened."
"Stay out my mind."
"Make me," comes the fluid retort. Schuldich slides off the bed and pads over to the window, throwing back the curtains. Harsh sunlight floods the room. He considers the view for a while and I send a sharp glance around the room, cataloguing it as I wait for him to speak. The place is tidy; the surfaces of the two dressers and small tables are clean and a laundry basket is well used. The decorations are sparse, however; all that adds life to the room is a small potted plant by the window. The color scheme is a light gray against stark white walls and the furniture is all polished wood that matches.
There is a brief flare of panicked nausea at the thought that I am sitting in Schuldich's bed, that I am at his apartment and have no clue how long I'm going to be here. I fight back the urge to be physically sick, struggling to control myself.
Schuldich finally turns around, and the face staring back at me is one I am used to. Cold blue eyes study me where I sit rigidly, a faint smirk curving a wide mouth. Gone are the strange emotions that greeted me when we first woke; the devil is back in place.
"I hope you found the bed comfortable, Red," he says, approaching me with long strides. He stops on the other side of the bed, leaning over to prop his hands on the mattress so his face is level with mine. "This is where you're going to be living for a couple months."
My jaw tightens; my stomach sinks. Months?? "You're arrogant to think that such a plan would work," I tell him. "Kritiker will not be happy if I'm missing."
"They won't know," he informs me, and for a moment I think he's going to edit their minds like he did to the nurses at the hospital. "You're going to go to work every day like a good little cat, and you'll go on the missions you're assigned like the lapdog you are. But you won't be returning to your apartment at the end of the day or on the weekends. You'll be coming here. I've planted the directions in your mind; I have better things to do than drive you to and fro every day."
I have the brief sensation of drowning, of watching everything crumble out from under me. Months- here. Months- with him.
"Monday morning I will drop you off at your apartment before work. Pack your car then, and after work come straight here. You _will_ do this, Ran, won't you?" It's not really a question; he's not giving me a choice. "You're right. You have no choice. You gave up your right to a say-so when you agreed to this. I'll know when you have a mission; I'll know if you try and do anything smart. Don't lie to me. I don't take kindly to dishonesty."
I might choke. I feel claustrophobic. I fight back the beginnings of ragged despair the best I can, knowing that I have to keep my head in this situation. "If I do this- my sister will be safe." I search his gaze, wondering how I can really trust him now that he's got me here. What reassurance do I have that he won't hurt my sister just because he's a sadistic bastard? "You won't hurt her."
Schuldich's smirk is colder than his eyes. "If you cooperate, hurting your precious little vegetable will be the furthest thing from my mind."
"She's not a vegetable," I snarl, white hot anger over Aya washing the rest of my uneasiness away.
Schuldich laughs, reaching out and snagging me by the collar of my shirt. I grab at his hand, ready to tear it away, and abort the movement when I remember that only cooperation will keep her safe. All I can do is glare as he tugs me forward, bringing our faces closer together. I'm trembling faintly, out of disgust and barely contained rage that he's brought me here, that he's demanding me to do whatever he wants, that he's threatening my sister's life and there's nothing I can do about it. "She is what I say she is," Schuldich informs me calmly. "She's a vegetable, a brainless little piece of flesh kept alive only by machines. Her mind and soul are rotting away while her body still lingers on, frozen in an illusion of youth."
I hit him.
There's no rational thought behind it, just a violent rage. I lash out, striking him across his face before I can catch myself, before I can think better of it. My fist catches him on his mouth, strong enough that his face is snapped to one side. It is only after I feel my hand make contact with his face that I realize what I've done. His words- hurt. He's vocalized the darkest of my dreaded thoughts that haunt me late at night, that Aya is gone already and never coming back.
Then his fist connects with the side of my face, and he releases my shirt so that I am sent off the side of the bed. I end up on my back on the ground, gasping for breath. I roll onto my side as Schuldich moves around the end of the bed. At any other time, I would be back on my feet, ready to fight and tear his throat open. But through the red haze that still clouds my vision is the cold fear that my punch has just cost me my sister. It is that fear that makes me stay where I am, my eyes closed so I don't have to see his face, so that he doesn't see the beginnings of a deep terror in my gaze.
I hear the soft sound of his feet on the carpeted floor as he comes around me, and then his voice is at my ear- he's kneeling behind me. "Such a temper, little Red..." he murmurs. "We're going to have to work on that, aren't we?"
~Don't hurt her don't hurt her don't hurt her-~
"Didn't I warn you what would happen if you fought me?" A finger trails down my cheek. "I did warn you, many times. But that didn't stop you..."
"I won't kill her, not yet. But imagine what it will be like for her if she were to ever wake up and look at her reflection...Could you look her in the eye and tell her that what she sees is from the explosion? You can't even look her in the eye in your dreams because you're afraid she'll see what you've become. How would you live with her if she were maimed because of your inability to watch your temper? She'd think you couldn't look because of her ugliness...Oh, her tears taste so sweet..."
"Please," I whisper helplessly. I've never begged anyone before but I've lost and that realization is harsh. He has complete control here. I won't allow anything to happen to my sister; I can't allow anyone to hurt her. I'll do anything he wants if he just doesn't hurt her, if she'll just stay safe... "Don't touch her..."
There is a long moment of silence and I hold my breath, waiting, frantic anticipation gnawing at my heart. Then..."Look at me, Red." I open my eyes, tilting my head so I can see him. Blue eyes study mine, closed off and unfriendly. Blood trickles from the corner of his mouth to his chin; I split his lip with my blow. "Do you understand now?" he asks.
"Don't fuck up," he says, voice soft. "I'm not good at giving people second chances."
I can't answer. I don't think he's waiting for a response, though. He climbs to his feet and beckons me to follow suit. I push myself up, hesitant hope and relief hot in my veins. He isn't going to hurt her- this time. Schuldich studies me for a moment and I stare back, hating him with everything that I am for doing this to me even as I am grateful to whatever it is that is making him not touch Aya yet.
He reaches out and pokes my cheek; it hurts. "That's going to be a hideous bruise," he informs me, using his other hand to wipe away the blood on his chin as he speaks. "Start thinking of an excuse to tell your teammates Monday." With that, he whirls around and starts for the door. "It's time for brunch. Let's go."
I hesitate for just a moment, murmuring a silent apology to Aya for losing control of myself. I cannot afford to lose control again. Even if Aya doesn't know what's going on, she trusts me as her brother to take care of her. I will protect her, no matter what. If I am expected to stay here for a few months, I will.
I will do anything...for you, Aya.
I start after my captor.
Nagi is awake already; the latest he's ever slept in on a Saturday is noon. He's in the den but he moves to the doorway when he hears my bedroom door swing open to watch me approach. I start down the hall without waiting for Ran, absently listening to the younger man's self-assertions that he'll behave from now on. I knew what I was doing when I provoked him; I knew he would snap. And God, the aftermath...Such a crushing pain and fear circled in his mind. He's far too devoted to that sister of his.
It's an ugly deja vu, and I feel a bitter sort of frown twist at my lips. What is so damned special about that girl, anyway?
Nagi frowns, concerned, at my expression. His thoughts are curious; he's surprised that I was in my room so long. ~You slept?~ he asks.
/For thirteen straight hours,/ comes my response. I can't help but crack a pleased grin at him. My sleep deprived body needed it. I feel more awake today than I've felt in months. It's a strange sensation, albeit a wonderful one. Only now can I appreciate just how tired and abused my body was, now that I remember what it feels like to be rested.
~There was a thud.~
/'Twasn't me,/ I answer blithely. Ran leaves my room and hesitates in the hall when he spots Nagi. My partner gives Ran a cool look, dark eyes studying the redhead with barely concealed distaste. Ran echoes the sentiment in his own mind, even as Nagi's presence makes him uneasy. Where two of Schwarz are, he's certain there are two more, and he never figured the rest of my team into the mess of living with me. He thought just I would be bad enough; now the thought of living with four of us is making him really jittery.
He hasn't got a clue.
"Nagi, meet Sieben," I drawl. "He followed me home."
~Unwillingly,~ both minds mutter. Nagi wants Ran here about as much as Ran wants Ran here. It's amusing, almost.
There is a cry; my cats have heard my voice. The hallway is suddenly full of six cats come to greet me, and I can't help but laugh at them as they come scampering down the hall. If everyone had cats like mine, they'd never feel unwanted. I adore them for their whole-hearted devotion, and once again I wonder what I would have done in these past five months if I had not had them here to keep me company. I crouch to pet them and they rub themselves eagerly against me, turning in circles to bump me with their heads and to rest their sides against my thighs. I scratch at some and wiggle my fingers for the others. Zwei attacks, toes splayed as he swats at my hand.
"You've fed them?" I ask Nagi.
"Yes, and their dishes are already empty." There's an exasperated sigh on the end of those words. His distaste for Ran has melted away under the presence of the kittens. As much as he protested against me bringing them home, he is fond of them- both for the life they bring to this place and because I am attached to them.
One creeps past me to check Ran out, and I glance over my shoulder at him. He was too out of it when he showed up to have noticed them, and now he is staring at them with a bit of confused shock. Apparently I don't come across as a cat person. I can't help but grin, and I scoop two up as I stand. Zwei chews on the hem of my pants in the absence of my fingers, holding a bit between his paws as he gnaws contentedly on the material. I glance down at him, grinning at his half-closed lazy eyes.
"Meet your other roomies," I tell Ran, drawing his attention to me. "Eins is the black one," I lift one hand, "and the tabby," the other hand, "is Fünf. That one," I nod my head towards Zwei, "is Zwei. Sechs is the bobtail checking you out and Vier is the other bobtail. You can tell them apart because Vier has a shorter stub. The mottled one is Drei. Got it?"
"...You have cats."
"That's what these are generally called, yes." I sling Eins over my shoulder and she dangles there without protest. Ran is staring at the cats still, trying to twist his mind over the idea of Schwarz owning pets. Cats are for people like that withered Momoe-whatsherface that owns the Koneko, happy little people who live happy little lives...not for twisted psycopaths who take glory in killing. To him, it just seems _wrong_ to see cats here, especially cats that obviously like being here. He looks up at me, face guarded even though the confusion is plain in his mind, and I give a small jerk of my head to indicate that he follow. "I'll quiz you on them later. Keep moving."
We head to the kitchen. Nagi leans against the doorframe to the den, watching Ran with an unwelcoming gaze as the redhead passes. Ran returns it easily and glances past the boy, checking to see if more of Schwarz are in the den. His thoughts lash towards Farfarello. The Irishman is his main concern, since that is who he is positive is guarding his darling, precious, puke-inducing sister.
"In exchange for us giving you shelter," I tell Ran, turning around and propping myself against the table, "one of your main duties will be to cook."
I've lost him again. That's not what he expected me to say; he doesn't know what he thought I would say but cooking certainly wasn't anywhere on the list. In a way he's relieved. In a stronger way he's offended that I'm telling him he's to cook- it makes him feel like our servant.
Hell, as long as I have to put up with him, he might as well make it worth my time.
I gesture towards the cabinets. "I'm hungry," I say pointedly.
He hesitates, then steps forward. He sends me a glance that is guarded, but his mind is wary. I smirk at him, folding my arms over my chest. Slimmer hands than my own open our cabinet doors. He cannot help be curious as he inspects the insides, however. Despite his hatred towards us, he is being given a very rare insight into the life of Schwarz's members. He doesn't know that what we have become is much different from what we were before; he does not realize how far Schwarz has crumbled. He doesn't know that Schwarz doesn't exist anymore...
Fingers tighten slightly on my arms; teeth clench behind a cold smirk. Waking up this morning...hurt like a bitch. The problem with deluding yourself so that you can fall asleep is that the illusion fades when you wake up. Ran...really felt like Farfarello. He's lost enough weight that he's as slender as my lover used to be, and that combined with his height really threw me. Seeing him when I woke up was incredibly disorienting. Ran has solved the insomnia problem; now I have to work on fixing the morning problem. I just have to keep myself from getting caught in my illusion, and then...then things will be better.
Ran fingers through the instant boxes with something that might be disbelief twirling through his thoughts. Such poor meals are not what he expected, and they're definitely not what he's interested in eating.
"We will go shopping later," I inform him, "so that you can pick up what you'll need for dinners. For now, make do. The pots and pans are in the bottom cabinets."
I leave him there and move into the den. Nagi steps aside to let me pass and follows. The cats, who had gathered hopefully around their dishes at our trip to the kitchen, tag along. I drape myself in my chair and Nagi stands a few feet in front of me, waiting. I pretend not to notice him, studying the ceiling instead.
After several minutes of him staring at me and me staring at the ceiling, Nagi sighs. It's a defeated sort of sound.
"Thirteen hours," he says.
"Yeah," I answer.
"I guess he can stay, then."
I lower my eyes to him, my lips quirking in the beginnings of a grin I don't really feel. "How generous of you," I muse, and Nagi gives me a Look. I hold out my hands. "Give me Eins."
The cat is floated to my hands and I settle her in my lap, scratching her head and shoulderblades. I can still taste blood on my lips. I knew when I insulted Aya that Ran was going to lose control, and I let him land the blow on purpose. It hurt me to wake up and see him, therefore he needed to be hurt also and even out the playing field. Besides...it forced Ran to see that he has absolutely no control in this game. He fears so much for his sister's health that that was his one and only screw up.
People...do really foolish things for their family.
Eins cries out and I realize I've clenched my fingers in her short hair. I release her, startled, and she runs away before I can try and soothe her. I open my mouth as if to call her back, feeling guilty, but let it close again soundlessly. I glance up towards Nagi to see his expression has softened.
I don't like the look in his eyes. I'm the telepath, but Nagi can see right through me right now.
Once upon a time, Nagi thought I was invincible, just like I did.
Once upon a time, Nagi thought nothing could shatter the Mastermind of Schwarz.
But Nagi was there when everything went to hell. He was there to see what happened when two mental bonds- one that had been in place for six years and one that had been there for only two but had been etched into my soul- broke. Nagi was there...so he knows better now.
I look back towards the ceiling, forcing my expression to smooth out. "Just a few months..." I say, but I don't know which one of us I'm directing the words to. "That's what they said...Three months should be more than enough time."
Nagi studies me for a few moments, trying to quiet his doubts and misgivings for my sake. "You're really serious about this, aren't you?" he asks softly.
I don't answer; I don't need to. I let my eyes slide closed; I can't stare at our stark white ceiling anymore without seeing the stark white interior of his room. I can't look at Nagi because I don't want to see that he knows in his eyes. I wish I could shut his mind up, wish I could block out Ran's mental mutterings in the background. How can I be surrounded by so much noise, so much life, and still be alone?
A hand reaches out and tentatively touches my shoulder. Fingertips lightly brush against bare skin, as if he wants to offer some sort of comfort but doesn't know if it is welcome, doesn't know if he's doing the right thing. Needing some sort of comfort, some sort of reassurance, is a relatively new thing for us. Nagi and I are still adjusting to the idea of physical contact between us. The first time Nagi ever willingly touched me was the day Crawford and Farfarello died. When I lost it he grabbed hold of me, because his weakened telekinesis wasn't enough to restrain me. He grabbed hold and refused to let go, and he bore the bruises of such a stubborn comfort for weeks afterwards.
It was...not the best beginning for the theory of physical reassurance.
But this is all he can offer me right now, because he knows it's not his mind I want, not his thoughts I need to hear. If he cannot help me there, all that is left is a touch.
He's about to take his hand back when I reach up, curling my hand around his. His fingers are trembling, even though everything about his immediate thoughts and his expression are calm. I was not the only one who lost my team that day...Nagi had known Crawford almost as long as I had, and while he hadn't been on the best of terms with Farfarello, he still had worked with him for two years. He tried so hard to stay strong after they died, mostly because in the aftermath of two ripped mental bonds in my gift I needed someone to help me stay sane. Nagi tried to stay strong because, with such mental scarring and such holes in my gift, it's unlikely that I'll ever heal.
But Nagi needs someone to be strong for him, too. Nagi needs me as much as I need him.
I just need him to accept that Ran is a step in the process of getting stronger. I just need him to put up with this for me.
Just for a few months.
Then it'll be just us again, just the two of us and six ever-starving cats.
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