Part Seven: No God Here
I am alone when I wake up. Schuldich’s side of the bed is cold, showing he has been gone for a while. The clocks announce that it is 10:52. I am sitting up in bed, resting against the headboard and wondering what hell is in store for me today. I stare around the room, eyes moving over the various furniture without really paying attention to them. What will be required of me today? Do I even want to know?
I rake long fingers through my bangs, pulling them out of my face. I don’t want to leave the room- as much as sitting in Schuldich’s bed gives me the creeps, he isn’t here at the moment. But I have to use the necessities, so I push the covers aside and move towards the door. Fingers touch the knob and pause there; I take a deep breath to steel myself for the day. I turn the knob and slip into the hall, looking both directions to see if Schwarz is around. I can hear the sounds of a television; someone is watching the news. I cross the hall to the bathroom without interruption, and as I emerge just a short time later, the hall is still empty. The commercials are playing now…I can hear their ditties.
Satisfied that Schwarz is occupied and that Schuldich has not called for me yet, I retreat back to the bedroom. I have no desire to seek out their company. I look around the bedroom for a safe place to sit; I’m not willingly getting back in bed. Instead I retreat to the corner where I put yesterday’s dirty clothes. They’re not there anymore, and I wonder for a moment where they’ve gone. I sit with my back against the wall, my legs bent and my knees tucked up against my chest. I lace my arms around my legs, gazing out at the room as I take advantage of these undisturbed minutes to think.
Schuldich has brought me here for a variety of reasons that have not been fully explained yet. I am obligated to do whatever he wishes, as he has kidnapped my sister and moved her to where I cannot find her. Failure to listen to him means she will be hurt or killed, something I won’t allow. But what is required of me to ensure her safety? Schuldich hinted at horrible things in her hospital room, but he has made no sign of that since. There aren’t enough words to express the depth of my relief over that. So far he only demands two things: that I sleep in his bed at night and that I cook for them.
Schwarz has the money to afford this immense apartment, but they had cabinets full of instant meals. If I was making the money they obviously are, I would either have meals delivered or I would eat out. Schuldich obviously didn’t like the food, based on his comment yesterday at lunch. So why would they be eating such food? It was all very cheap, fake food at its best. He knew I would know how to cook, which means he has been watching me for a while. He has been planning this; it was not a whim decision, it is not something he chose to do for easy entertainment.
Nagi is not happy that I am not here. That is all too clear from his dark looks. Does that mean that this is completely Schuldich’s idea? If so, I wonder how the rest of Schwarz will react to my presence. Then again, the American is a precognitive. He might have seen that Schuldich would bring me here, and if he had a problem with it, he would have stopped him, wouldn’t he? So is this something Schuldich is doing for his own fun or is it something that Schwarz wants? They can’t have me for information, not with Schuldich being a telepath. And I wonder if it’s something against Weiß or Kritiker, except Schuldich doesn’t want my teammates to know I’m here and he is going to allow me to return to them. Perhaps everything will be explained better when all of Schwarz is here. I wonder when the others will get back. I am not looking forward to seeing that psychopath again…I rarely had to face him one on one; Ken usually took him as an opponent. My fight against Crawford and Farfarello in the rain is burned into my memory; I can easily remember the gleam of that wild yellow eye and his skill with his knives.
Now I am to be housemates with all four of them…? If there is a God, this is just another sign that he hates me. I lower my forehead to rest on my arms, a scowl curling my lips. God, hm…? God abandoned me long ago, the night I lost my family. I, in turn, abandoned him. Someone gave Takatori the right to kill my family; someone gives criminals the right to ruin lives. Someone gives them that right by allowing them to live, and whether that someone is God or not, I don’t know. I have to question his existence when I live the life I do and see the things I do. But I figure, if He or someone else gives those criminals the right to live and continue on, I have the right to kill them for what they’re doing.
Maybe this is my punishment for assuming that right.
That’s the only way I can explain my new position as Schuldich’s seventh pet. I cling to the hope that today will rush by, so that I can leave this place tomorrow. I want to see the shop again; I want to put space in between me and them. Yohji is going to harass me, I know it, considering they way I bolted on him Friday night. I’ll have to think of a way to explain my strange behavior, as well as the bruise that now graces my cheekbone courtesy of me losing my temper with Schuldich yesterday.
I want to tell myself that there will be a way out of this. Instead, I can only promise myself that my time here will come to an end one day. Schuldich said a couple of months; he specified a time and therefore he’ll be done with me one day. What happens at the end of that, I don’t know. He’s promised my sister’s safety. Maybe he’ll kill me, maybe he’ll release me back to Weiß. I have a feeling that by the time my presence here isn’t required anymore I won’t care which one he chooses. Either one will free me from him forever.
I am dimly aware of Nagi beating on my back; I am doubled over in my chair, choking for air. My drink is on the ground, spilling freely across the carpet. The pain in my chest at being unable to breathe is nothing compared to the knife that just sliced through my soul. I struggle to breathe again, fighting to ignore the pain that tears through my lungs with each inhaled gasp. Finally the coughing becomes less of a choke, and Nagi retreats a step. I sit up, running a hand along my mouth. My drink stands itself up and I admire the mess it has made. I’ll have to clean that up…
“Schuldich?” Nagi asks.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get it,” I say, pushing myself to unsteady feet. I cough again; I swallowed my drink wrong and I can still feel a burn in my throat.
“That’s not what I was asking about,” Nagi corrects me.
I acknowledge his words with a shrug only, reaching down to pick my can of soda off of the ground. I carry it with me out of the room, feeling Nagi’s eyes on me as I go. The sounds of the television follow me into the kitchen, as do two cats. The reporter’s voice is cheerful in the background, but I cannot make the words out. It is just a hum in the background, as are Nagi’s thoughts. The sounds tangle with the purring of cats who think they are about to get fed again. I ignore the kittens for the moment, turning my drink upside down in the sink and leaving it to drain what little is left.
Hands instinctively find the drawer that holds our dish towels, and I pull a couple out for the closet. I turn the faucet on and wait for the water to get hot, testing it every few seconds to see if it is ready.
Ran is awake; I heard him stir. His thoughts are a permanent addition to my immediate consciousness, like Nagi’s. It’s from the tag I gave him when I pulled him into this game, so I can keep an eye on him while he is our guest. For the most part, I was ignoring his musings in favor of seeing what chaos had attacked the world today.
Some of his words…were a bit too clear.
The water is hot; I ball the towel up and hold it under the blast, ignoring the way it runs through the cloth and over it onto my hands. I grit my teeth against the pain of the scalding water, keeping my hands there even after the towel is soaked through. Physical pain is something real, something that I can find a focus on. Pain used to be a stranger to all of us. Schwarz was an extremely competent unit, and our gifts kept us from getting hurt on our missions. There were still the little things, such as the discomfort when one of us fell sick or when we provoked each other into retaliating. Teasing my lover earned me the occasional swat, but it was pain I didn’t mind because it was physical contact between the two of us.
The real pain, a pain I’d never experienced before, happened when the tower fell. Crawford had told us we would live; he never said we would come out unscathed. I was gouged to the bones on one spot on my chest and a nearly as deep rip was torn next to it when I crashed into a lower floor that was broken in places. I hit many things on the way down, things that would leave bruises and deep aches for days. Hitting the water at high speed was enough to rip the air from my lungs, enough to set my entire body on fire. I learned the true meaning of emotional pain that day as well, when my lover died just minutes after we hit the water.
Since then, pain has become a real part of my life, though it is always in the form that I cannot chase away, in a form that cannot heal. The drinks and drugs helped for a while until Nagi took them away from me, and now I have nothing. But this pain, this hot water that burns my skin…That will heal, and so I crave it. I want to see some sort of pain fade, as the rest of it will haunt me the rest of my life.
One of the cats bites me, and I cast them a look over my shoulder as I reluctantly draw my hands back from the water. My skin is an angry red. I set the towel on the counter beside the dry ones and go to feed the cats, refilling the dishes that are littered across our kitchen. Eins sniffs at my hand before I draw it back from her, and she chooses to bury her face in her food instead. The other cats recognize the sound of food hitting their plastic dishes, and now all six are gathered in the kitchen for a feast. I fetch the towels and return to the living room. Nagi is perched on the arm of my chair and watches me when I come in. The television screen is showing footage of where some people in the Middle East are acting up again. I wish they would just hurry up and kill each other if that’s what they want to do. These petty little pokes, these small takings of lives, are useless. I still think someone should just nuke them all. That’s the way to restore peace there.
I soak up the still fizzing soda the best I can, pushing the towel into the carpet fibers with as much force as I can to try and get it all up. Crawford would be pissed if he were still here; he didn’t want us taking food or drinks into the living room because he knew we’d make a mess. I half turn, chucking the used towel towards the hall. It makes it and lands with a small squish on the linoleum, and I start scrubbing at the spot with my wet towel. Nagi has given up watching me, accepting that he’s not going to get an explanation for whatever made me choke. I gather up the second towel from the hall and pause before carrying them to my hamper. I know my basket is almost full. I might as well do laundry.
I have come to like the simple chores around the house, which is why the place is tidy. I discovered the escape of cleaning just three weeks after the tower. Cleaning is like my work in that I don’t need to think to do it. I just go through the motions, focusing on the monotonous work so my thoughts don’t wander where I don’t want them to. Our apartment gets a thorough cleaning at least once a week, depending on how bad the week has been.
“Hamper full?” I ask Nagi.
Dark eyes flick to me, gaze considering. “Not yet,” he answers.
I acknowledge that with a nod and head down to my room. Fingers touch the knob to my bedroom and I pause. Ran is still inside, buried in his thoughts and content to play hideaway from Schwarz. I’m content to let him play that game today. I don’t need him for anything today except as a cook. I have no desire to see him today.
But I need to see him now, after those thoughts. I turn the knob and enter; Ran abandons his musings immediately to fix a dark, wary look on me. I ignore him for a moment, though it takes a bit of strength to do so. I wait until I’ve cross the room and plucked up the laundry basket before turning and pinning my gaze on him.
Red hair, purple eyes, pale skin but not as white as it could be.
“Comfortable?” I ask, smirking at him to hide the mingling feelings of disappointment and relief.
~Fuck you,~ his thoughts say.
“I was,” he answers instead.
I laugh, amused by both responses, and head out of the room. I pull the door closed behind me, and Ran’s thoughts swirl rapidly for a moment, uneasy, before slowing down to their earlier spirals. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly before heading towards the door. We have to share washers with the rest of the apartment complex; that’s the only downside I can think of to this place. Nagi has taken advantage of my absence to switch from the news to the history channel. My peek into the den rewards me with a view of some dusty looking mountains.
I let myself out and carry my basket towards the elevator. A mother and her child are already on it when it arrives at my floor; I recognize them from the eighth floor. The woman looks tired, like she always does. The make-up she wears can’t completely hide the shadows under her eyes or the way her shoulders slump in defeat. Her husband’s cheating on her again, she suspects. Curious, I search for her husband’s mind for the answer. He is; I’m not surprised…I haven’t been able to figure out why he would, however. His wife is an attractive person. Ah well…I don’t care. She gives me a slight nod and a thin smile in greeting; I return the nod and step on. Her kid stares at me, like always. One tiny finger in his mouth, he gapes up at me in wonder at my strange appearance.
After living here for almost a year, I’ve come to know the other residents. I’ve bumped into them enough times in the lobby, parking lot, or elevator to know everything about them. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in the middle of a soap opera, there’s enough scandal and strangeness within the apartments of this building. Schwarz was just the perfect addition to the mix. If only these other people knew what I did, if only they knew what hid behind the smiles and bows of the neighbors they run into. If only they knew the truth about the abuse on the second floor, the thief on the third, the assassins on the sixth, the cheating husband on the eighth, the alcoholics who hate each other on the tenth…Every floor has some kind of problem, and everyone else thinks they’re the only ones in the place who have issues. Everyone has issues; I know better than anyone else.
I press the button for the basement as the elevator descends. The boy stares at me the whole way down. I stare back, and as we stop on the first floor I make a face at him. He scrunches his face up in return as he is pulled off the elevator, baring tiny teeth and bobbing his head. His mother doesn’t notice, lost in her unhappy thoughts. The doors slide closed, blocking them both from view, and I drop alone to the bottom floor. I could always do something to help the lady with my gift…Give her the push to get a divorce, kill her, kill him, have her kill him, have her or him kill the one he’s cheating with…
Generous offers, all of them, I’m sure.
I carry my basket to the laundry room and manage to find some empty washers. I lift my lid and reach in, sorting my clothes as I pull them out.
The second thing I touch is Ran’s, what he was wearing yesterday, and I hesitate as his shirt dangles from my fingers.
‘God abandoned me long ago, the night I lost my family.’
I tear his shirt in half, grabbing it by the collar and jerking as hard as I can. It comes apart with a satisfying rip, and I wonder if his skin would sound the same if I got just as good a hold on him. My good mood is gone again; I throw his ruined shirt into the washer and sort the rest of my clothes as quickly as I can. The detergent is in the bottom of the hamper and I add soap, slamming the lids shut.
I want a drink. Fuck Nagi, anyway, for making me promise I wouldn’t touch alcohol again.
I curl my fingers around several locks of hair, tugging them as I look around for something to distract me from my thoughts. Everywhere I look I can see a face turning towards mine, golden gaze seeking mine. I can see his lips quirking into that strange half-smile of promise.
I whirl around, slamming a fist down on top of one washer, before storming out of the room. I leave my basket where it is, taking the stairs to the first floor and taking long strides out of the building. I need a walk. I need air. I just need to get away from the apartment and everything that reminds me of Farfarello, just for a few moments.
Just a few moments…Enough to pull me back together again.
I wonder if that’s possible.
Schuldich returns a couple of hours later. I have half-dozed off in my corner, but I wake when I hear the doorknob turn. He enters without looking at me, using his foot to close the door behind him, and totes his hamper towards the first dresser. There’s a small white bag on top of the basket, which he sets on his dresser. I watch him, hating him with every fiber of my being, as he begins to put his clothes away. One by one he lifts them from the hamper, folds them, and sets them in their appropriate drawer. Halfway down he chucks pants at me; they land a foot away and I recognize them to be mine. A little bit later he tosses two black wads at me. I ignore all three items, not interested in collecting them from where they fell. At least I know where my clothes went, now.
He says nothing the entire time he works, and neither do I. I merely watch him, ignoring the way my muscles protest the way I’m sitting. I haven’t switched positions since I sat down hours ago, and Schwarz hasn’t bothered me except for Schuldich’s two visits. It’s almost two in the afternoon now, and the day is crawling by with just my thoughts for company. I hope that the rest of the day races by, for tomorrow at work I can pretend for a few precious hours that my sister is safe and I don’t have to deal with Schwarz and its strange members.
Everything Schuldich folds goes into the first dresser; nothing is taken to the second. When he is done, he moves the hamper back to its spot against the wall and crosses the room once more, picking up the bag from the dresser before nearing me. He comes around the bed and sits on my half, crossing his legs at the knees and leaning backwards. He props himself up with his hands and tilts his head to one side as he considers me. I stare back, a black look on my face.
“That really is not an attractive expression for you,” he comments.
“I wouldn’t want to be considered attractive by you,” I answer.
He smirks. “You’re not my type anyway, Red.”
“Then why am I here?” I demand, drawing my arm free from my legs so I can stretch them before me. My muscles are relieved; I ignore the blood that rushes through them as I fold my arms over my chest. Last night I told Schuldich I hated him, and he responded that it was mutual. So why am I here? If Schuldich doesn’t like me, then why am I here? Nothing is being explained to me; I am given things to do but not reasons. Aya is gone so I’ll listen, but I don’t even know what they want from me.
Schuldich raises an eyebrow at me. “Would you like me to find other ways you can be useful for us, Ran? My, I didn’t know you were so eager to please.”
I might shatter my teeth, I’m gritting them so hard. I force my jaws apart, giving him an acid response. “I don’t want to do anything for you. I hate you all.”
“I couldn’t tell.”
“Stay out of my head,” I snap at him, tucking my legs close to me again. I hate his gift, I hate his face, I hate everything about him.
“I think you’ve said that before.” He rises from his spot and approaches me; I feel every muscle in my body tense as he steps closer. He stops right in front of me, leaning down and reaching out. Long fingers cup my chin and he tilts my head back further, studying me for a few moments in silence. I’m trembling faintly with the effort it takes to not kick his legs out from under him. “Admirable self control,” he comments, finally releasing me. He returns to the bed, picks up the bag, and tosses it at me. It lands by my feet, and I eye it like I might a poisonous snake. “It’s lunch time.”
With that, he exits the room. I remain where I am for a few moments longer before lifting my fists to where I can see them. Slowly I uncurl bloodless fingers to reveal deep half-moon marks on my palms. Closing my fingers once more, I send a glare at the bag. Now that it’s close I can smell chicken. I’m not interested in anything he’s brought me.
Two hours later my stomach orders me to change my mind; I’ve been hungry since shortly after waking up. Slowly I reach out and take hold of the bag, pulling it into my lap so I can see what’s inside. It’s rice and chicken, neither of which will taste good cold. I eat it anyway and set the crumpled up bag to one side. I turn my attention on the clothes Schuldich threw at me and lean forward to pick up the two black balls. As soon as I’ve lifted one, it uncurls and hangs from my fingers. It’s my shirt- or rather, half of it.
The bastard ripped my shirt in two. Any relief I felt at finally having food in my stomach is squished by annoyance.
I only see Schuldich once more that night, and that is for dinner. He gives me my medicine at the end of the meal and I take it and retreat to the bedroom. I am asleep before he comes in.
I jerk awake the next morning, pulled out of sleep with a wordless cry of horror on my lips. The handcuffs bite painfully into my wrists at my attempt to sit up and I force myself to relax against the pillow. My breathing is ragged and the echoes of pain burn through me. I struggle to remember what I was dreaming about that would have woken me with a pain that makes my lungs burn with every breath, but the images elude me. I close my eyes, aware that my heart is racing, and attempt to calm down again.
I’m interrupted when the bed shifts, and I open my eyes again to see Schuldich sitting up. He perches on the edge of the bed, his back to me. I wonder if his telepathy works even when he’s asleep, and wonder if whatever nightmare I had woke him. I sincerely hope so.
He lifts a hand from the covers to rub at his face, and slowly he tucks hair behind his ears. He tilts his head towards the clock and I look that direction as well. It’s four in the morning. He reaches out, pressing something on it. His fingers slide along the top of the nightstand and I hear something slide with them. He turns to face me, slowly moving himself closer.
“I know you’re awake,” he tells me. His voice sounds uneven; must be because he’s tired. “Let’s go.”
My first thought is ‘Go where?’. Then I remember that he’s taking me back to the shop early today so I can pack before work. I didn’t think he meant four in the morning, but I don’t care. If the remains of the nightmare aren’t enough to wake me up, the news that I’m leaving this apartment for my own does the job. He must have picked up the key, for now he works on unfastening my hands. As soon as the lock is popped free on the handcuffs, I bat his hands aside to pry the metal rings from my wrists.
“Eager, are you?” he asks. There are faint threads of amusement in his voice. There’s a hoarse edge to his words as well, and I attribute it to the time of day. I don’t answer him, instead sliding from the bed. Schuldich pushes himself up from his side and follows me to the door. The apartment is dark as we search for our shoes; Schuldich manages to slip his on without bending over, without unfolding his arms from where they are crossed tightly over his chest. We ride the elevator to the first floor in silence; Schuldich props himself against one wall and I choose to stand at the opposite one. I let him take the lead to the car, as I don’t know where he parked and wouldn’t be able to pick out his vehicle in the darkness. He walks with quick strides, not lowering his arms until he has to unlock the car door. He pops my lock with a button on his door and the engine is on before I’m even seated.
The drive back to the Koneko is silent. He stops at the curb out front and I yank the seatbelt undone. As I’m opening the door a hand grabs my arm, fingers digging into me mercilessly. The brutal grip surprises me and I almost yank free, not caring to know why he’s stopping me because I just want to be in my room and away from everything Schwarz. Something makes me pause, however, and I look over at him. A nearby streetlight makes his blue eyes seem to glow, an eerie image.
/Straight back,/ he reminds me.
I don’t answer. There’s no point- I have no choice in returning or not when he has Aya, so it’s a useless reminder. He releases me then, returning his arm to the steering wheel. I slam the door behind me and hurry down the alley beside our shop to get around back. I look back just once, though I’m not sure why. The car is still there; Schuldich has his arms folded on the steering wheel and his head is lowered to rest on them.
A dark satisfaction laces through me; I’m glad I woke him up.
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