Part Twenty-Two: Fujimiya Aya
Friday is a school holiday; classes are cancelled so the teachers can get caught up on their work. Christmas is eleven days from today and Nagi will have a break afterwards. Ran is at the shop today; all four kittens are on shift to deal with the crowd of girls who have nowhere better to be. His annoyed thoughts regarding his customers murmur through the back of my mind, easy entertainment. I took today off work; I put in for it weeks ago when I found out Nagi had the day off. Now the two of us are braving the cold to wander the sidewalks. Luckily for us we had the money for really nice coats when Schwarz was intact, so I just worry about my face getting frostbite as we make our way slowly through the city. I’m not sure what Nagi would do if he didn’t have me for company…It’s hard enough for him to find things to do on the weekend. It seems to me that he drifts between the history channel and his school work and that’s all he ever does. He used to have much more to do…School’s going to waste him. He needs to find something else to do with his time, something that a kid would do. He’ll never be a kid- he lost that chance long ago- but he isn’t even sixteen yet.
We had to give Nagi a birthday. Crawford chose it for him when Rosenkreuz made his file. I flicked through his mind in an attempt to gauge his age, trying to count the winters he could remember and then adding on a few years for the ones he was too young to pay attention to. Fifteen was the best guess I could offer to anyone, and Crawford picked a random date for his birthday. I told him to pick a winter month to fit Nagi’s dark looks and view on life; Crawford settled on December 28th. A birthday is just used to determine age; it has no other meaning inside Rosenkreuz or Schwarz. Nagi never expected it to mean anything…he can’t remember ever having a special day, so he doesn’t miss what he never had. The last birthday I actually celebrated was my twelfth; it was the last time I was actually with my family for it. I don’t miss it.
But back to Nagi’s youth…He’s fifteen, give or take a year. He’s going to be around for a long time; he needs to find something to keep him occupied. He won’t be in school forever, and if he doesn’t find a hobby he’ll end up a workaholic like Crawford. It’s Crawford that’s influencing him in his school work… Nagi got his work ethic from the precognitive and it’s my job to fix it. All work and no play makes Nagi a more boring boy than he used to be- which is very, very boring.
He needs something that’s nonacademic. Three months ago I pushed him to find something extracurricular to do. Nagi chose chess but left when his streak of victories turned the others against him. He tried Go next but it never caught his interest.
We stop at a small stand where I buy us some hot chocolate. We rest under the overhang, letting the heat from the Styrofoam cups seep through our gloves, and gaze out at the gray sky. I wonder if it will snow soon…
“You should find a club,” I announce to Nagi. It takes him a moment to figure out what I’m talking about; at his glance I clarify myself. “At school. You need to find something to do.”
He rolls his eyes and looks away, taking a careful sip of his drink before answering. “Tried that and lost interest.”
“Something active,” I suggest. “Go learn how to do something. Track, maybe.”
He eyes me. “With my height?”
“Hm.” True enough; Nagi’s too short to make it in running. “Find something and try to get good at it.”
“Telekinesis would make me good at anything,” he answers dryly.
“Then find something where it’d be hard to use it,” I say simply, stepping away from the stand. I take a very small sip of my drink and still manage to burn myself. Damn. I’m sure the vendors pull this shit on purpose, making their drinks so hot they scald people. I bet they gather at night and laugh over how many cups they sold, how many people they injured in the course of the day. Bastards, all of them.
Nagi moves with me, considering what I’ve asked of him. I know he’s thought about finding something to do before, bored and discontent with the way things are going. He’ll do his schoolwork like a perfect student, devoting hours every day to making sure everything is exactly as it was required to be, but it’s a dull life. Ran is the most exciting thing to happen to him in the last six months, and Nagi doesn’t like him at all. I wonder if Nagi will stop being so sour if he has something to work on, something that is for him rather than for teachers. He was willing enough to try his hand at chess; he probably would have stuck with it if the other club members hadn’t been so jealous at how thoroughly he beat them all. Being forced to leave because of their hostility was just another reminder to Nagi that he didn’t belong there, that he was an outsider and no one wanted him there. The only way he can prove himself is with his studies, and they bore him.
But to tell him to find something he has to do on his own, without his gift, is a new idea for him. Sure, he refrains from using telekinesis at school (save for the fight at the beginning of his term), but that is to avoid drawing attention to himself. The gift and what he’s done with it separates him sharply from his classmates. Nagi struggles to fit in somewhere even as he’s content to never completely belong. If he does something that is just him, just Nagi and not the Nagi of Schwarz with his telekinesis, then it is a step towards normalcy.
“Like what?” he asks at length, and I smile against my cup in victory.
“I don’t know,” I answer as we stop at the crosswalk. “Judo,” I say, because it’s the first thing that comes to mind.
He gives a small snort. “I’m too short,” he answers. “I’d use my gift.”
I grin at him. “Kendo,” I say. “Then you can use Ran as a sparring partner.”
“Feh,” is his opinion of that idea. “Definitely too tempting to use my gift.”
I’m treated to the mental picture of a bamboo sword going straight through Ran’s head, an image courtesy of my younger teammate. I laugh and we step out onto the street. “That’s out, then. But you’ll be happy to hear that he won’t be here much longer.”
That gets Nagi’s attention like nothing else. “Oh?” he asks.
“The doctor’s cases have all been running ahead of schedule,” I explain, moving up to the next sidewalk. Nagi and I lean against the side of a building, content to drink and talk as we watch the rest of Tokyo crawl by. Everyone is huddled into their coats against the cruel winds. Nagi and I have some shelter from both our coats and our new spot. I sip at my drink some more; it’s cooling rapidly due to the outside temperature. Figures…I can’t let it sit much longer or it’ll be too cool to drink. Cooled off hot chocolate is nasty. I finish off my cup and Nagi follows suit. Tossing my cup carelessly aside, I shove my hands in my pockets and turn back to Nagi. “He will have full control of Fujimiya Aya next Monday, he guesses.”
“How long will it take him?”
I give a small shrug. “I said as quickly as it could be done, but he’ll probably still be careful about it. He’s worried about resulting legal issues.” My smirk is cold. There won’t be any legal issues; there’s no one around to fuss. “It should only take a handful of days. As soon as it’s done, Ran is out of here and we’re done with the Fujimiya name for good.”
“Will you really just deposit Ran elsewhere?” Nagi asks. “It’d be more fun to kill him.”
“Aren’t you a spiteful bugger,” I drawl, amused. “We’ll put him back with the kittens where he belongs.”
“We don’t owe him anything,” Nagi says, and I wonder if he’s sulking.
“A month and a half of good rest,” I answer easily, and Nagi eyes me.
“And will you be able to sleep once he’s been moved out?” Nagi wants to know. It sounds like an accusation, and I don’t appreciate it much. His eyes search mine, not to see if I am hiding something from him but to judge me for himself. “Will a month and a half with him do anything for you that you can make it on your own?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet,” I answer breezily. “Jesus Christ, it’s too cold out,” I decide, changing the topic neatly. Beckoning for him to follow, I head for the doors of the nearest department store. “We’re going inside to thaw a bit.”
The section directly ahead of the door when we step inside is the make-up section. I’m hit with the smell of gross perfumes and make a face at Nagi, abandoning the hope of savoring the blast of warm air in favor of getting away from the stench. I’m sure they would be decent smells individually, but mixed together they’re too much. Nagi doesn’t appreciate it any more than I do and follows me with quick steps as we slide past the glass counters of make-up and perfumes.
As we pass a display sign, I glance over at it. It’s the blood-colored lipstick that catches my attention; the rest of the picture is pale so the color will stand out. Her expression is sad as she clutches wilting white flowers to her breasts, and that shade of lipstick looks almost out of place on her. I realize a moment later that it’s not part of the original picture; someone vandalized it with a different tube.
And a streak of it runs down her chin, as if blood trickling from her lips.
I turn my head sharply away, long strides carrying me towards the escalator. Nagi and I sprawl on different steps, leaning against the railing as we head up towards the second floor. The sickly sweet smell of perfume seems to cling to us as we rise, and I lick my lips to erase the taste of blood.
“Let’s eat,” Nagi suggests.
The thought of food makes my stomach turn at this moment, but a glance at my watch shows that it’s after eleven. Neither of us ate breakfast this morning. That hot chocolate was the only thing we’ve consumed so far. So I nod and we move from the escalator to the elevator, waiting for it to take us up to where the restaurant is on the top floor. There’s a poster talking about New Year’s, and I look over at Nagi. He’s reading the sign as well as we wait for the lift to arrive.
“Alcohol rules should be suspended for the holiday,” I announce to Nagi, gesturing at the sign.
He frowns at me. “No.”
“It’s a holiday,” I argue. “Everyone drinks on New Year’s. It’s abnormal not to. I bet even Ran drinks on New Year’s.” That was obviously not a good point to make; mention of the redhead just deepens Nagi’s frown. I try again. “_Crawford_ drank on New Year’s, Nagi.” It wasn’t the only time he had something to drink, but it fits the argument.
Crawford is always the right person to mention to Nagi when I want my way. It’s a bit exploitive of their strange relationship, but the ends justify the means and I want some liquor to pass the holidays with. I might need it. Nagi’s frown softens as he considers that. “You’ll be right there anyway,” I continue. “If you think I’m drinking too much, you can use your handy dandy gift and take the bottles away.”
Nagi eyes me for a long moment. The elevator doors open and its occupants step past us. The elevator lady bows and offers a cheerful greeting. Nagi sighs as we step on. “Fine,” he answers.
Nagi can take away what he sees, that is…I’m sure I can fit quite a few drinks under my bed. I guess the holidays won’t be so bad after all.
I’m exhausted by the time I head back to Schuldich’s apartment. It was a very long day…I hate school holidays. I wish these girls would find something else to do with their time. They need hobbies. They need boyfriends. They need to find idols to worship rather than florists. My head hurts from listening to their chirping and chattering all day, a chorus of high pitched voices now and then broken by a squeal of delight. I think even Yohji is worn out by the time we head our own ways. When I return to the apartment, Schuldich and Nagi are sprawled in the den. Schuldich took today off work; he told me so. I make my way to the living room slowly, trying not to trip over the cats and drop what I’m carrying.
Schuldich glances up from the television at my arrival. He blinks in surprise when he sees what I’m carrying. “Poinsettas,” he says.
“Yohji made me take them with me,” I explain, eyeing the big red blossoms. Yohji put them in my car himself when I refused to take them with me and ignored me when I tried to tell him that it was a waste of time. He just told me to take them to ‘my girl’ for the holiday season. I saw past him to his car where another plant rested, and I knew immediately where he was taking them. I’m still not sure what to think of Yohji seeing Makiko; I didn’t bother bringing it up but accepted the plants in silence so he would let me leave.
Nagi glances my way to see what Schuldich’s talking about, eyeing the flowers. Something subtle changes on his face and his dark eyes lift to meet mine. Schuldich just studies the plants for a long moment, then finally lifts himself from his chair and approaches me. “You can throw them away,” I tell him. “I just had to bring them here.”
Schuldich takes the plant from me and carries it back to the television, setting it on top of the wooden stand. He eyes it for a moment and Nagi joins him in the silent stare, their show forgotten. Finally Schuldich gives a nod and looks back at me. “I’m hungry,” he says.
“Maybe you should eat from now on,” I inform him, turning to leave. His blue eyes narrow slightly at my remark and I almost expect a comeback. It doesn’t come, and I slip into the kitchen without another word from him. I search the cabinets for something to eat and finally settle on making steak. The meat is in the fridge and I set it on the counter, pulling a long knife from its stand before considering my remark to Schuldich. I was answering a comment I heard from him, a remark spoken under his less than subtle command to cook. It wasn’t quite a comment, though…more of a bit of passed knowledge that he didn’t have breakfast and had a small, early lunch because he didn’t feel up to eating. Schuldich has never bothered to explain why he’s hungry before, though. He just says he’s hungry and I make him something to eat.
I shrug it off, peeling the wrapper from the meat before searching for a cutting board. The cats are at my feet soon enough, drawn there by the smell of raw meat. They must think I don’t see them, for they start crying and butting against my legs.
“Go away, beggars,” I tell them, giving one a light push with my foot when he stands up against the bottom cabinet to swat at the countertop. “Go bother Schuldich.” They ignore me, of course, and continue to beg. I attempt to ignore them, moving the meat to the board to trim the fat off. I have to hold the meat in place as I work at one corner; this bit doesn’t want to come off…
Teeth sink into my ankle, sharp as needles, and I jump. Before I can turn to boot Zabai away (or rather, gut him, which I want to do at the moment), I’m aware of a sharper pain and I find myself staring down at my palm as blood slowly pools in it. I cut myself along the base of my fingers when I jumped. It’s not deep but it stings nonetheless, and I scowl at the cats as I set the knife aside.
I turn on the cold water in the sink and hold my hand under it, my free hand holding onto my wrist. The water makes it hurt worse and I grit my teeth against the sharp bite. I hold it there as long as I can stand it before turning the faucet off. Blood wells up to the surface again and I turn, searching for a towel or some napkins I can use. I nearly jump out of my skin when I realize Schuldich is standing right next to me.
His eyes are on my hand; I see a swirl of images. The most prominent is a pale girl with blood trickling down her chin.
“Do you know what death tastes like?” Schuldich asks, taking hold of my wrist and lifting my hand so he can eye the wound. The pressure from his fingers makes it ache more and the blood trickles free faster, but I don’t protest, staring at him through my fingers.
“No…” I answer.
He smiles at me, a cold, crooked smile, then tilts my hand to touch his mouth to the wound. My heart skips a beat and I lean away from him, trying to pull my hand free. His grip tightens for a moment, then slowly relaxes and he lifts his head, icy blue eyes meeting my wary gaze. “Salt water and blood,” he answers, releasing me. I pull my hand back up against me. Schuldich eyes the faucet. “So what is fresh water and blood?” he wonders.
“Get out.” I don’t realize I’ve spoken, and I almost don’t recognize my voice. The words are soft but edged with a warning I don’t quite understand. All I know is that he just licked the blood right off my hand. I don’t see why; one, it’s me, and two, blood has a horrible taste.
“Indeed,” Schuldich muses, and I think he’s answering my thoughts.
“Get out,” I say again. Blue eyes study me for the barest of moments; lips quirk into a smirk that isn’t all there.
“Do you presume to tell me what to do in my own kitchen?” he asks, his words as soft as mine. He leans forward and I lean away again. I catch myself wondering if I could reach the knife before he reached me and the thought, the idea that something in me finds a big threat in Schuldich right now, surprises me. Schuldich gives a quiet laugh, glancing towards my discarded cutting knife.
“You couldn’t,” he answers. With that, he leaves the room. I watch him go and only when he’s gone do I realize how tense I am. I slowly relax, loosening the fist at my side and looking down at my injured hand. Finally I wrap it with paper towel, get a new knife, and return to cooking.
Schuldich is there when I enter the bedroom that night, already sprawled in bed. The curtains are thrown open and a soft light from the gray night outside drifts in. The covers are missing from the bed; they’ve been kicked off to the ground and Schuldich is sprawled on his side. It’s early for him to be in bed…I had thought he was in the den and had planned on coming here to read before sleeping. I close the door behind me and rest against it, studying Schuldich across the room. His face is shadowed so I cannot see his expression, but I can see his hand as it slowly moves up and down the middle of the bed.
“You remind me of Farfarello,” he announces. His voice is quiet, thoughtful.
“Thanks,” I answer dryly. I’m not sure I appreciate such a comparison. My memories of Farfarello are unpleasant and I have nothing but unkind things to say about him.
Schuldich gives a soft laugh, rolling onto his back and lacing his hands under his head. He studies the ceiling. “You reminded him of himself,” he continues. “He found you rather amusing for it, but I suppose it’s the only thing that saved you in the end…” He lifts one hand in the air to gesture as he speaks. “You see, you and Farfarello were victims of the same misfortune…You both had your families stolen away by a power greater than you, something you could not control. A father, a mother…a sister…” There’s an edge to that last word and his hand flops back to the mattress. I approach the bed slowly, arms folded over my chest as I listen in silence.
“But there was a very important difference between you and Farfarello…” Schuldich says, tilting his head towards me. I stop at the edge of the bed and we study each other. “You see, Farfarello’s family was gone for good. They all died the same day. But your sister…lived on. She was in a coma, of course, but she was still alive, and it made it possible for you to cling to the hope that she would wake up one day. Farfarello did not have that, and sometimes I think he would have traded a great deal for it. So, in a sense, he adopted that hope through someone else.”
“Aya…” I whisper.
“Indeed.” The word is cold. “Schwarz acted as caretakers for your sister for a short while before the ceremony, and Farfarello used to spend his time studying your sister. She did not belong to him, but she was the embodiment of something he couldn’t have, something he himself had cast away. Farfarello saw you as his reflection of sorts…It wasn’t just tragedy that linked you, it was the way you would say things or do things, the way you walk and act. And so he took a bit of your hope for that _darling_ girl’s future, adopting you as his reflection and her as the sister he couldn’t save.”
He sprawls onto his side once more, laughing a soft, breathless, humorless laugh. “Do you know what he had to say to me?” he asks. “Do you know what he asked me when we hit the water? Fuck, he was bleeding all over the place and one of the last things he wanted to know was if that vegetable had made it out. She’s nobody, just a scrap of a girl, the daughter of a banker and sister of an assassin. She’s been sleeping mindlessly for three years and he wanted to know if someone had taken her away from harm.”
Silence falls between us, the air laced with bitterness. I turn Schuldich’s words over in my head, struggling to understand them. After a long moment, Schuldich gives a weary sigh.
“They didn’t want her to wake up, you know,” Schuldich informs me tiredly. “They’d lose their precious assassin if he had nothing to fight for, if he didn’t have bills to pay. Your sister should have woken up a long time ago, Red…They just chose to let her sleep.”
I’m on the bed in an instant, reaching out a hand to shove him onto his back. “What?” I demand.
Blue eyes are looking through me; a cold smirk directed at himself rather than me curves his lips. “Your sister could have recovered long ago, but Kritiker had invested too much time in you. You were exactly what they wanted, the perfect person to fit their little white group. Drugs kept her subdued; routine injections kept her mind from rousing. So she has slept three years when she could have been awake in just a handful of months.”
“You’re lying,” I whisper.
But I know he isn’t. If it has to do with Farfarello, whatever Schuldich says is the gospel truth.
“I took her from you,” Schuldich says, rolling onto his side once more. His hand clenches in the sheet and I kneel beside him, looking down at him. “He wanted her to wake up. That’s all he wanted, was to see that hope pay off one day. So I took her, and Farfarello’s funds are draining to try and support her. One of the best doctors in Japan will have custody of her in a couple days and he’ll start weaning the chemicals from her bloodstream to try and rouse her. He’s seen a case like this before, though not so severe, and he’s optimistic.”
I stare at him; I can hear my heartbeat above everything else. I think I’ve stopped breathing- maybe that’s why my chest hurts. “You’re waking her up…?” I whisper, sure that somehow I’ve misunderstood, that this is just a joke, because it’s too good to be true.
“I’m not doing this for you,” Schuldich informs me. I can’t see his eyes through the bangs that cover his face, but I can see his mouth where it has curved into a self-deprecating smirk. “I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for Farfarello. I hate her, hate the attention and care he gave her. If I’d had my way, she would be sleeping beauty forever. It doesn’t matter to me that she means the world to you.”
“You’re waking her up,” I say again. It’s the only thing I can think to say. My hands are shaking where they’re clenched into fists on my knees.
Three years of Aya sleeping, three years of visiting her in the hospital…Three years that never should have happened, if I allow myself to believe Schuldich’s revelation about Kritiker. Three years of waiting are coming to an end because of Schuldich and an Irishman I suddenly find myself forever indebted to.
Schuldich’s words are the best and worst thing anyone has ever said to me, but I’ll think about Kritiker later. My sister is going to wake up soon.
“There will have to be a lot of physical therapy,” Schuldich informs me, but I’m barely paying attention to his words as a laughing Aya dances in my mind. The telepath is pushing himself up to a sitting position, muttering this and that about what’s coming for Aya. None of it matters right now- Schuldich is bringing my sister back to me.
I’ve collapsed against him, my forehead resting against his chest and my arms around his waist, before I even realize I’m moving. Schuldich cuts himself off mid-sentence, shocked to silence by the move. I want to laugh; I want to cry. Aya will smile and walk again. I don’t care why or for whom Schuldich is doing this… He is giving me the greatest gift of all.
Schuldich gives a soft little sigh. “I guess you’ll have to find a new reason to live,” he informs me dryly. He detaches me gently and I sit up; our eyes meet and Schuldich studies my glowing face thoughtfully. Finally he gives me a faint little smile and leaves the room, closing the door behind him. I hug a pillow instead, laughing into it, a sound choked by both tears and joy.
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