Part Twenty-Five: Shades of Red

    By the time Nagi comes home I have finished off a six pack of beer and am steadily emptying my second bottle of Schnapps. He stops in the doorway to the den, staring in at where I’m sprawled on the couch watching television. Disapproval radiates off of him in dark waves but he’s the one that relented and said I could drink for the holidays. I wave my half-empty bottle at him in greeting without looking up from the crappy action movie that this channel is playing.

    “Merry Christmas,” I say.

    He doesn’t respond; Nagi isn’t interested in Christmas. He is the only member of Schwarz that didn’t have a Christmas to remember…The rest of us had memories of the day, of times long ago before Rosenkreuz and Estet when we had families and we were somewhat innocent. So he ignores my greeting in favor of taking his bookbag to his room. Today was his last day of classes until the 3rd. Any school work he might have been assigned for over the break will be taken care of later. Dryly I wonder how I’m supposed to keep Nagi amused if his teachers didn’t give him a trillion assignments.

    I take a swallow straight from the Schnapps bottle, enjoying the way the cinnamon flavored drink slides down my throat. Nagi returns to the den and sits in one of the chairs, staring across the room at me. I wave my bottle in greeting, rolling onto my back and gazing up at the ceiling. The television flicks off- Nagi’s doing.

    “I was watching that,” I protest.

    “No you weren’t,” he says.

    “I was,” I insist, looking around for the remote. I can’t find it anywhere. Didn’t I just have it? “Brat…” I complain, looking over at him. He’s leaning back in the chair, arms draped over the sides and legs stretched out in front of him. I decide to worry about the crappy movie later, abandoning it in favor of my teammate. “School was?” I ask.

    “Decent,” he answers. He pauses, thinking for a moment, before venturing to say, “I found a club to join.”

    That surprises me; I push myself up on my elbows and raise my eyebrows at him. “Did you, now?” I ask, leaning against the back of the couch so I can lift the bottle to my lips. “Must be something if it managed to convince _you_ to join…”

    “It’s Kyudo,” Nagi answers, blue eyes flicking away briefly before returning to mine. He searches my gaze for any signs of disapproval. He finds none, mostly because my brain is slow in reminding me what he’s talking about. Nagi seems to understand, for he clarifies himself. “It’s the archery club.”

    “Ohhh…Whatever rocks your boat, kid.”

    “I’m not a kid…” he says, frowning at me. He’s not done, but he pauses before continuing. “The problem is that there’s a fee…It pays for the equipment and uniforms, and the better archers travel and compete with other universities later in the year.”

    It must be a sizeable fee, if Nagi seems so reluctant to bring it up. But anything to get him out of the apartment…I can always work more overtime weekends. “You know how to forge my signature and you know where the checkbook is,” I tell him. “Whatever.”

    There’s the faint hint of a smile on Nagi’s face and I grin back easily before tilting my bottle up again. My stomach churns lightly, telling me that it would like some food. Maybe I should eat something…Is it dinner time yet? I guess it is, if Nagi is back from classes. “Rannnnnnnn,” I call.

    “How much have you been drinking?” Nagi wants to know.

    I send him an innocent look. “I haven’t been drinking much at all,” I answer.

    “I suppose not enough yet if you haven’t hit the giddy stage,” Nagi says with a sigh, looking down at the cat that has just jumped in his lap.

    I laugh, rolling carefully onto my stomach. “We don’t have any straws, do we?” I ask, poking the mouth of my bottle. “I should have thought to buy them, you know…It’s easier to drink when you have a straw. You can lie just about any way you want then.”

    “If you say so,” is Nagi’s response.

    I get the feeling he’s not taking me seriously, and I scowl at him until I notice Ran standing in the doorway. His kitten is clinging to his shoulder, held in place by a careful hand. He looks from Nagi to me and I give him a wide smile, waving my bottle at him in greeting. “I’m hungry, Rannn…Will you feed me?” I make a wide gesture with my other hand. “Something good, all right? Something that goes with cinnamon. I don’t want to lose the taste.” I wiggle my bottle again meaningfully.

    Ran raises an eyebrow at Nagi, who gives a heavy sigh. “He’s generally a happy drunk,” is all he says. “He’s not done drinking for the night…Give him something the alcohol will sit on.”

    I point at the cat, though I’m sure Nagi has noticed it by now. “That’s Ran’s cat,” I inform Nagi. “I don’t want seven cats. He can have a turn at cleaning up cat shit and all that good stuff. We’ll see how he likes it.”

    Nagi just nods in response to me and Ran leaves the room with a small cough. I empty the rest of my bottle in one swallow and lean over the couch to set it on the ground. The room rocks gently under the movement and I pause, hanging onto the side of the couch, as I wait for it to pass. I look towards Nagi, staring at him between the hair that has fallen into my face. “I’m having a thought,” I announce.

    “That’s rare…”

    “Bite me, why don’t you?” I scowl at him, easing myself back to the cushions and rolling onto my back again. My drink’s gone, but the rest are in the kitchen. It seems a long way away right now. I consider my options before finally calling, “Rannn…” Ran reappears in the doorway and I display my empty hand to him. “I drank it all. I need another.”

    “Wait until dinner’s ready,” Nagi says. I ignore him, waving my hand at Ran some more when he doesn’t move to get me a drink.

    Ran shakes his head at me. “Wait until dinner,” he insists.

    I frown at him. “Why are you siding with him?” I ask plaintively. “I’m the one that’s resurrecting your vegetable but you won’t even give me a drink…You’re a thoughtless ingrate, Fujimiya Ran.”

    “I’m thinking of your liver,” he answers dryly, and leaves the room.

    “Ya…” I sigh and drop my hand limply to the cushions, disappointed. I don’t want to get it for myself; does that mean I have to wait? Dinner had better not take long.

    “And your thought?” Nagi asks.

    I eye him. “What about it?”

    Nagi gives me a bland look. “You never said what it was.”

    I think about that for a moment. “Oh.” I think about it some more. “I didn’t…”


    “Well?” Nagi asks.

    “Ohhhh.” I roll towards him, eager to share the results of several hours of consideration, but the quick movement has the world spinning again and I cling to the couch. My eyes are closed against the whirling but I can still see the colors spinning by on the insides of my eyelids. When they have finally settled, I crack open my eyes to peek at Nagi. Judging that it’s safe, I open my eyes the rest of the way.

    “Farfarello died,” I inform him. Nagi frowns, taken by surprise by my words. I tangle my fingers in my hair where it has spilled over the side of the couch, tugging on the strands as I study Nagi. “Crawford said we would make it.”

    “Schuldich…” he says uneasily. He doesn’t want to be having this conversation, but I do so I don’t care.

    “Nagiii,” I respond, frowning at him.

    Nagi falls silent for a long moment, then turns his gaze towards the wall. “He said we had a chance,” he says.

    “He said we could make it if we wanted to,” I say, tugging harder at the strands. “He said we’d make it, but we didn’t.” Nagi’s eyes have fallen closed; he’d better not be falling asleep on me. I tug at my shirt, clumsy fingers trying to find the buttons. “Don’t you think Farfarello wanted to live?” I ask him. “He died because he chose to fall with me.”

    “Crawford told us to fall alone,” is all Nagi says.

    I give up on the buttons and instead just tear my shirt. Nagi looks over at the noise, and I run my hand down the scars on my chest. The smaller scars are from Farfarello’s branding, but these large gashes are from the building. “Do you think I would have lived if he didn’t jump?” I ask him. Nagi says nothing, staring back at me in silence. “We hit sooo much…” The cinnamon lingering on my tongue is starting to taste like blood. “I would have fallen the same way with or without him, but I would have taken the brunt of the blows. I didn’t want to die, but I would have.”

    “Schuldich…” Nagi tries again, softer this time.

    “Farfarello jumped for me…” I murmur, lifting my hand to run my fingers over my lips. Is there blood in my mouth or am I imagining it? My throat seems thick with it, and when I touch my chin I half expect to feel it running down my chin. “He said we had a chance if we fell alone, but we didn’t…The only chance I had was if Farfarello died. One of us would have died, Nagi…”

    “You don’t know that.” His voice is low but savage, a flat denial.

    “Red,” I laugh. “Red red red…” I roll onto my back, tangling both hands in my hair. “I asked him what he saw when he looked into the future. He said ‘red’. Red red red…A lot of blood. And oh, there was so much blood…”

    “Ran!” Nagi’s voice is strangled, almost desperate. “Ran, bring him a drink.”

    I can hear his thoughts, ragged and pained, following the end of the sentence-bring him anything, bring him something that will make him shut up, so that he won’t say such things, that he won’t talk about such things…

    “He knew Farfarello was going to die…” I tell Nagi. I’m laughing but I don’t know why; the whole situation is just too damned funny and even if it is I can’t breathe. “He knew we were going to die. What the fuck was he talking about, we could make it if we wanted to? I only _made_ it because he made me promise to stay with you. There was no _wanting_ in it…”

    Ran is at the side of the couch, a bottle in his hand. Nagi has his legs tucked up onto the couch and is hugging them to his chest, staring at me over his knees. Ran pulls me upright; I let him because I don’t think I have the strength to resist. The movement makes me dizzy, however, and I allow myself to fall against him. My hands cling to his shirt for balance and I let out a sigh as I wait for the world to stop shaking. “Ohhhh,” I say. “He knew Farfarello was going to die, there was no way we could have both made it. And if he knew Farfarello was going to die, then what the hell did the rest of his prophecies mean? He was such a clueless bastard in retrospect, you know…”

    Ran straightens me, moving the bottle towards my mouth. I jerk my head away, looking towards Nagi and lifting a hand to latch onto Ran’s eartail. “What’s to say his last words weren’t some sort of warning? Farfarello’s blood, there was certainly ‘a lot’ of it…”

    “I thought you said he was a happy drunk,” Ran says through gritted teeth; my hand is a deadweight hanging from his hair and his head is tilted to one side from it.

    “Make him shut up,” Nagi says sharply.

    “The blood came true,” I tell Nagi, taking the bottle away from Ran when he moves it towards my face again. The lid is already off and I lick the rim of the mouth, wondering what drink it is though I suppose it doesn’t matter. Alcohol is alcohol and alcohol makes me happy, makes everything hurt less, makes everything more amusing. Like this. Like my own god-damned nickname for my seventh cat. “Well,” I inform Nagi, taking a swig of my drink. “Now we have our Red, don’t we?”

    “Shut _up_,” Nagi says.

    Ran tilts the bottle back. I choke on the first gulp but he doesn’t let me lower the drink. By the fourth swallow I reach up, taking the bottle from him and sprawling against the back of the couch. Halfway through the bottle I lower it because it’s just _so_ fucking funny. Nagi vanishes from the room as I burst into wild laughter once more. Ran stays where he is, kneeling beside the couch and staring up at me with a small bit of alarm on his face.

    “I’m bleeding,” I inform Ran.

    He frowns, startled. “Where?”

    “I can taste it.” I lift my free hand to my mouth, following the wet trickle of blood down my chin.

    “You’re not bleeding,” Ran informs me.

    “I am,” I insist. Don’t tell me he doesn’t see it…I can taste it; it’s a wonder I can talk with it curling around my tongue in my mouth. “You can’t see it?”

    “No…” Ran says.

    Is he being stupid on purpose? I scowl at him, pulling him forward by his hair. He opens his mouth to protest, but whatever he has to say dies on his tongue when our mouths touch. Ran goes very, very still. I know there’s blood…I can taste it. Now Ran can too. If his eyes aren’t working, at least his mouth should…

    But Ran…doesn’t taste like blood.

    Farfarello said Ran doesn’t taste like death. And blood…is the taste of death. Then what is Ran? I can taste cinnamon again. Is Ran life, then?

    The shock must have worn off…Ran pulls roughly away from me, nearly falling backwards in his hurry to break free from my hold. I let him go, let his hair slide through my fingers. I frown faintly at him, confused, and he stares back with wide eyes. “Don’t look so shocked,” I tell him absently, tapping my lips as I consider the difference in tastes. “It isn’t the first time, apparently…”

    “Last time you were asleep and you thought I was Farfarello,” is Ran’s hesitant, uneasy response.

    “And this time I’m drunk,” I answer cheerfully, wiggling my fingers at him. “You don’t taste like blood.”

    “Dinner is cooking,” Ran says, rising to his feet. I reach for his hand; I’m not done talking to him yet. I want to know where the blood went. I know I was bleeding before…Where did the blood go? Did Ran drink it? Damn, is he a vampire? I know he has pale skin and all but _still_...

    Ran avoids my grab, retreating a few steps before turning to go. I stretch further and end up falling off the couch. Swearing at the pain, I push myself up unsteadily. Ran is kneeling in front of me again, abandoning dinner once more to try and help me up. But he wants to move me faster than I think I can manage; fingers clench in his shirt to make him stop adjusting me. “You shouldn’t taste like blood,” I conclude. Ran is trying to detach my fingers but when he gets one hand free I start slumping back towards the floor. He steadies me again and I lean against him, waiting for the dizziness to pass. “Blood is death… Blood tastes like death but you’re not dead. Huh.”

    Whenever I think back on Farfarello, the blood-filled kiss accompanies the memory. It chokes me, adding a bitter flavor to what I have left of him. But Ran…Red…doesn’t taste like blood. With every memory of Farfarello tainted by blood, that kiss is now the first and only one I remember that doesn’t taste like death. It is the first one that I don’t choke on, that doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste.

    I reach up, untangling my fingers from Ran’s shirt to find his hair once more. I manage to get a fistful of bangs this time and I lift my head, closing the distance between us once more.

    So this is what life tastes like. I had forgotten…

    Something hits the floor and rattles. I lean sideways, looking over Ran’s shoulder, and see Nagi standing in the doorway to the den. A bottle of pills is rolling gently by his feet, being investigated by six very curious cats and one tagalong kitten. Ran twists to see what it is as well and he flinches. I lift my hand to wiggle a greeting at Nagi. His face is perfectly blank, his dark blue eyes almost black.

    “Merry Christmas~,” I say.

    He vanishes from the doorway. Seconds later a door slams- the front door. I frown, confused. Teenagers are _so_ confusing…I look around, wondering where my drink has gone. I find it on its side, a quickly spreading puddle underneath it. “Ohhhhh,” I wail, dismayed, and reach for it.

    Ran smacks my hand away from it and stands, tucking his hands under my arms. “Schuldich, go to the kitchen and start drinking a lot of water.”

    “Then I’ll have to pee,” I protest.

    “Deal with it. No more alcohol tonight.”

    “Why?” I want to know.

    “No more,” Ran insists, releasing me when I’m on my feet. I take a few unsteady steps forwards and Ran makes sure I make it to the kitchen safely. He turns the pan on the stove off with a quick wrench. I sit down at the table and he hands me a glass and a pitcher of water. “All of it,” he says, then vanishes.

    The door slams once more, and I’m alone in the apartment.

    I eye the water. “Well, this sucks…”


    I have…no clue where to find Nagi.

    I want to curl up somewhere and just forget what’s happened, but I don’t have the time for that. After the look on Nagi’s face…I watched the blood drain from it.

    I have to try to find him, at least.

    Of course, there’s a very high chance that he’ll kill me if he sees me, but…I don’t think Schuldich can talk to him now. I stand outside the lobby, looking around as I wonder where the boy might have fled to. Finally I pick a direction, barely paying attention to the traffic as I cross the street. I search for well over an hour, hurrying down the sidewalks and checking the stores I pass. It’s cold out; it’s snowing again and I don’t have my jacket with me. Nagi doesn’t have his, either…

    At two hours I’m wondering what else I can do, where else I can look, and then I find him. I’m at the park where Schuldich had me meet him the first day I became his pet. He’s sitting on a bench, hugging his knees to his chest with his face buried between them. I hesitate on the outskirts of the park. Now that I’ve found him, what am I supposed to do? I don’t have any social skills and Nagi hates me. After walking in on Schuldich kissing me…

    My thoughts give a hiccup and I cross my arms tightly over my chest, trying to push away such thoughts. Nagi. Focus on Nagi.

    And what the hell am I supposed to say to him?

    I grit my teeth and start towards him, knowing that I could very well be walking towards a painful death. Schuldich isn’t here to protect me and the telepath has been the only thing that’s ever kept Nagi from using his gift to shred me to pieces. The way Nagi looks at me tells me that, tells me that the easier relationship growing between Schuldich and me means nothing to him. But I feel obligated to say something to him. Just…what? Schuldich’s drunk, he’s hallucinating, he’s…I don’t know.

    Schuldich knew who I was; that’s the problem.

    Fingers dig into my arms and my steps slow as I draw nearer to the bench. I walk carefully, not wanting to startle him by suddenly appearing at his side but not wanting him to see me coming either. He’s sitting with his back to me, and as I draw closer I realize that his shoulders are shaking.

    That stops me in my tracks. The cold is forgotten as I stare at him. My first thought is to turn around and walk away, just walk away before he ever notices me. I’m in over my head; what am I supposed to do? What can I say?

    But someone has to say something, I think, and Schuldich is less than coherent at the moment.

    Slowly Nagi’s shoulders stop shaking. I wait until he’s still before moving once more, and as I close the rest of the distance between us I decide I’m suicidal. Taking a deep breath, I come up behind him and reach out, touching his shoulder.

    He jumps at the contact, glancing over his shoulder. I know he’s recognized me the moment I feel his gift crash against me. The force of it sends me against a tree; everything sparkles black and I sag towards the ground. The air has been knocked from my lungs and I slowly reach up with both hands, touching the back of my head to see if I’m bleeding.

    Nagi is on his knees, turned backwards on the bench. His fingers dig into the backrest as he glares at me. “How could you?” he demands, voice ragged and sharp. “How could you, how _could_ you?”

    “I didn’t…” I manage to get out, finally getting my breath back.

    “He was with Farfarello for _two_ _years_,” Nagi says. His voice is twisted; I barely recognize it. “He was with him for _so_ long. I had to fight so hard to keep him alive after Farfarello died. He didn’t want to live…I made him. And then _you_ walk into the picture and everything’s gone _wrong_.”

    “Because he’s interested in living again?” I inquire.

    It’s not the smartest thing I’ve ever said, and the way I’m crushed up against the tree tells me that. It’s Ken’s job to talk without thinking, not mine, and I want to kick myself.

    “You don’t belong,” Nagi says savagely. “You don’t belong here. You aren’t one of us, you’re one of them and YOU’RE the ones that should have died that day! You four have no gifts, you have _nothing_, but it was us that suffered for it. They were all I had…” He buries his face in his hands. “It isn’t fair, it isn’t fair…We lost everything…”

    Nagi’s gift falls away from me and I rise to unsteady feet. A hand on the tree ensures that I won’t fall over once more, and I study him for a moment in silence before slowly approaching him. Nagi hates me not because of who I am but…because I am here. Because he has lost his team and the remaining teammate- Schuldich- is a bit unsteady when it comes to Farfarello. He lost his team and my presence here is just a sharp reminder to him that they’re gone, that my team survived when his didn’t. He hates me because Schuldich is using me to help him forget that it hurts to not have Farfarello around…so Nagi feels like he is the only one still suffering because Schwarz is gone. Schuldich is using me to help him forget even as he uses me to help him remember, but Nagi has nothing.


    “I hate you…” he whispers. “You don’t belong here…”

    Nagi can’t survive much longer with me being here…What happened tonight hurt him. I stare down at him, thinking.

    Schuldich was going to have me leave, anyway, once Aya woke up…She is almost awake.

    I could always…leave early.

    “Then I’ll go,” I say. Nagi doesn’t respond. I reach out, taking hold of his hands and lowering them from his face. Dark blue eyes stare up at me; from this close I can see his wet cheeks. “I’ll go,” I say again. “Tonight. Just… come back. Get out of the cold, before you get sick. I don’t think Schuldich would be a good nurse if you fell ill.”

    Nagi doesn’t answer for a long moment. Finally he lowers his gaze and slides off of the bench. He walks several feet behind me and we make the trip home in silence, alone with our own thoughts as the icy wind whips around us. It seems like an incredibly long walk back, and I pause on the sidewalk to look up at the apartment building.

    So…this is it, then?

    Schuldich is asleep at the table when we enter. Nagi retreats to his room, so I have no interruptions as I pack. It takes four trips to bring everything downstairs, and I come back to make the fifth trip with just my kitten. I cradle her against me, lingering in the doorway to the kitchen to stare in at Schuldich’s sleeping form.

    It is a long time before I can turn away.

Part 26
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