Part Six: Mutual Hatred

    This has got to be the most awkward meal we’ve eaten in months. Neither Ran nor Nagi is interested in the food before them. Ran doesn’t want to eat with Schwarz and our presence ruins his appetite. Nagi doesn’t want to eat anything the Weiß kitty made, even if he just stirred the stuff together out of a box. I’m pretending I don’t notice the way they’re both staring at their plates, both expressions blank to hide the roiling emotions beneath. Nagi is sullen and resigned, Ran is still twirling disbelief, disgust, and despair. As if oblivious to their thoughts, I stuff my face. The food isn’t worth the attention I’m giving it; I’m sick to death of these instant meals. What helps me get through my plate is the thought that I can take Ran out to buy something to make for dinner, and we can have our first home cooked meal in…I don’t know how long. When Schwarz was intact, the closest we got to home cooking was the catering service we had deliver to us. Once in a long while when Crawford was bored he might make a foreign dish that wasn’t available to him otherwise, but those were few and far between.

    My stomach twists eagerly as my mind runs over a long list of meal possibilities. My lunch for the past several months has been ramen, simply because it is cheap and there are several noodle stands close to my work. Nagi has more variety, thanks to the dining hall on campus, but I’m dying for some real food. The fact that Ran can cook is a godsend.

    /Not hungry, Nagi?/ I send at the boy.

    ~I had a big breakfast,~ comes his response.

    I leave it at that; it’s Nagi’s choice to eat or not. I can’t force him to, and I’m not worried about it. He’s a teenager- he’ll drop his grudge against Ran enough to eat his food simply because Nagi is a hungry child. It might take a meal or two, but it won’t be long. It’s not like Ran cares whether or not the boy eats what he makes.

    “Is it really that terrible for you to eat instant food?” I ask Ran, lifting an eyebrow at him over the table. “Never thought you to be that much of a snob.”

    My words yank Ran from his thoughts; his eyes leap to mine. His mouth tightens to a thin line and he doesn’t look back at his plate. His gaze bores into mine, unspoken hate whirling in amethyst irises. “I’m not hungry.”

    It’s not a complete lie; his unhappiness over his position among us makes him too uneasy to eat, but the hunger is there. He has been mistreating himself in his worry for his sister the past several days. I shrug, a ‘so be it’ of sorts, and reach across the table to snag his plate. He doesn’t protest, merely watches as I place his dish on top of my empty one and start making my way through it. I’ll let him have his self imposed starvation for a bit longer; he’ll cave just like Nagi will. If his sister wasn’t in the picture, he’d probably reduce himself to where I’d have to program him to eat. With Aya in our hands, however, he’ll eat if only so he’ll live long enough to insure her freedom.

    My thoughts are back on his sister; with Ran’s presence, I have a feeling this will be a frequent visit. If she were awake now, I think I’d shake her, demand what was so special about her even though I already know the answer. Then I’d strangle her- I can feel the joy I’d take in wringing her fucking neck for everything she’s done to us. I can already hear her strangled gasps, and I watch her precious pretty eyes color with blood…

    I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. As much as I would love to kill the vegetable, I know I never can. That’s probably what pisses me off so much. I hate very few people; most of the world is treated with scornful disregard or amused pity. But that girl…It’s almost funny, that I can hate someone this much that doesn’t even really exist at the moment. Almost funny, but not.


    I glance at Nagi, pulled from my dark thoughts by his mental poke. He eyes me for a moment and I realize my smirk has given way to a dark scowl. I let the expression fade, flicking my eyes back to Ran before returning to my meal. The hatred has given way to wariness across the table. I ignore him, making short work of the food left on Ran’s plate. My appetite is gone but I eat anyway, emptying his plate completely. Chucking my chopsticks to one side, I lace my fingers together and cup the back of my head in my hands, gazing across the table at Ran. He stares back boldly, keeping his face stony but unable to keep the emotions from his eyes.

    “We’ll go shopping,” I announce. “I’m not eating this shit for another meal.” With that, I rise from my chair and carry my two plates over to the sink. I treat them to a cursory rinse before loading them into the dishwasher. Nagi’s plate empties itself into the trash and slides into the dishwasher beside mine. I close it and turn around to face Ran. We have to take showers before we go out. Ran doesn’t have anything here… He can borrow Crawford’s towel.

    The man doesn’t need it anymore, anyway.

    As for clothes…Everything of mine will be too big for him. I’m not overweight, but I have a slightly thicker build than him. I’m normal…Ran’s just scrawny from not eating. It’ll have to do, though. There’s nothing else for him to borrow.

    I’m going to get Weiß cooties on my clothes. Ug.

    I turn around, leaning against the counter, and jab a finger at Ran. “You, shower.” He blinks, somewhat taken back by this. It’s not that it hasn’t occurred to him that he needs to get cleaned if he’s to leave our place, but the thought of cleaning himself in Schwarz’s bathroom gives him the heebie-jeebies. What does he think it does for us? The amusing thing about Ran is that he thinks we actually want him here. “First door on the right, the door right after it is the closet where you can find the towels. The brown one will be yours today.”

    ~No.~ There’s acid in that word that Nagi sends at me, and I flick him a quick glance. His hands are clenched into fists in his lap and he doesn’t look at me, dark eyes fixing a venom glare on the table where his plate was. ~He can’t have it.~

    I hesitate, weighing the anger in Nagi’s mind before deciding this is not something I should push him on. “Correction. You’ll be using one of the white towels.” Damn. The white towels are mine. I’m going to have to bleach it before I use it again, not to mention I’ll have to be careful to keep ours separate until he brings his own here.

    Ran doesn’t question the change in color; he doesn’t care about such trivial things. He’s too disturbed over staying here. If bathing here helps sink into his brain that he’s here for a long time, I can’t imagine what him moving his stuff in will be like. I can’t keep the amusement from curling my lips and rake my bangs out of my face. “Toiletries are in the bathroom already.”

    “Don’t touch the green bottles,” Nagi interjects simply. Nagi’s brand comes in green bottles, and he’s not willing to share with Ran.

    Ran comes to the same conclusion and decides that he doesn’t want to share Nagi’s toiletries, either. At least the dislike is mutual. He flicks Nagi a cold look that’s returned easily. I clear my throat to get Ran’s attention back. “You’ll have to borrow some of my clothes…You don’t have anything else and Nagi’s outfits are too small for you.”

    Ran says nothing, accepting this in unhappy silence. I jerk my chin towards the door. “Scat, cat.”

    He rises to his feet slowly and exits the room. Nagi turns a Look on me that I choose to ignore, instead stretching my arms over my head and yawning. “If there’s anything in particular you feel like eating, tell me before we leave so we can buy the ingredients.”

    “I don’t want his food.”

    “Suit yourself. Don’t whine to me if you have to eat things you don’t like, then.” I hear the click of the bathroom door sliding closed and reach out to touch Ran’s mind, wondering if he’ll use Nagi’s stuff just to spite the boy. I told Ran he had to play nice with me, I didn’t say he had to walk on eggshells around Nagi. Pissing Nagi off is on his own conscience; it all depends on if he wants some bruises and broken bones.

    Ran doesn’t know which one to pick; he’s not happy about using Schwarz’s things. It’s amusing, listening to his struggle as he stares in the cabinet at the dozen or so bottles. Finally he reaches out, and all amusement fades when his fingers brush over a white bottle.

    I’m out of the room before Nagi even realizes I’m leaving, using my speed to travel to the bathroom. I open the door and Ran jerks back from the cabinet, startled by my abrupt entrance. Before he can make any assumptions about why I’ve barged in on him, before he can protest my intrusion, I snatch the bottle from his hands. He watches with wide, bewildered purple eyes as I clear out the rest of the bottles of the same brand. “These,” I tell him simply, “are off limits.” With that, I leave and close the door loudly behind me.

    Ran’s thoughts are a whirl of confusion, mainly boiling down to “What the fuck?”

    I ignore him, crossing the hall to my bedroom. Stopping before one of the dressers, I tug the top drawer open and drop the bottles inside. They land softly on the folded clothes that still rest within, and my fingers linger on them as I gaze down at the contents of the drawer.

    These…are not for you, Red. These are for no one else.


    Schwarz’s bathroom is nice, twice the size of mine, but I take no time to admire it. I am glad only that there is a lock on the door and that the curtain around the shower is opaque. I don’t want to shower here, not where Schwarz showers, but I do spare a moment of relief that they have both a shower and a bath. To soak in the same water as them would be more than my sanity can take at the moment. My shower is hurried; I wash but I still feel dirty when I am through. I won’t be able to feel clean here, though having my own soap and shampoo will probably do wonders to make me feel better. Using their things…

    I cut the water off, giving the handle a sharp jerk. I wonder what my teammates are doing now, wonder if Ken has gone to play with the kids, wonder if the shop is crowded. Omi cycles our shifts so that now and then we each get a whole weekend off. Schuldich timed things perfectly; this is my free weekend. I wish it wasn’t so. I want to be in my own room, perhaps curled up with a book in bed or in my chair. I want to be anywhere but here, with them.

    I wonder where their teammates are, and a scowl pulls at my lips. They’re probably off on a job somewhere, promoting criminal overlords at the expense of innocents. Bastards, all of them. I sincerely hope that there’s a hell for them to rot in. And if my own actions and killings sentence me to the same place, at least I know they’ll be suffering as well.

    /Such pleasant thoughts, Red./

    I scrub the water from my skin, not bothering to answer his amused remark. Tying the towel firmly around my waist and gathering my clothes, I unlock the door. Before I can open it, someone on the other side pushes it open. Schuldich lounges against the doorway and I clutch my clothes closer at the sight of him, eyes narrowing in warning. He eyes me thoughtfully, green eyes taking in my pale skin, before a hand reaches out and pushes my armload of clothes down lower so he can get a good look at my chest.

    “Nice scars,” he comments lightly.

    I don’t respond to that, either. The fall to the ocean had three of Weiß in the hospital; Omi was the lucky one who didn’t require long stays under Kritiker’s care. I was there the longest as my torn skin healed. Now I have five wide, ragged scars that lace along my front and back. Apparently falling through several floors of a tower- then plummeting to a sea among the rubble of said tower- is not good for one’s health.

    “Apparently…” Schuldich echoes softly. Something dark whirls behind his eyes, too quickly for me to recognize but enough to put me on guard. He steps aside then, and I slide past him. Quick steps carry me to his room, the only room whose door is open. I don’t want to wear his things, but it’s better than being undressed in this place.

    I close the door behind me, sliding the lock into place. I fold my dirty clothes and set them in a corner before turning around to study the room. That’s when it registers that there are two dressers. I saw them this morning, but only now do I wonder at it. There are two, and they’re not even side by side. Each is on a different wall, one against the wall at the foot of the bed, one against the wall across the room. There are two nightstands as well, one on either side of the bed. Each has a lamp and a clock, and the four do not match. One lamp is a normal lamp with a shade, the other is a newer one with a bendable neck. Both clocks are digital, but they’re different colors- they each match their respective lamps. But the sets don’t match each other.

    A suspicious chill runs down my spine as I look around the room. Is this all for Schuldich, or is this a room meant for two people? I cross to the first dresser and slide open a drawer. It’s a mix of plain colored t-shirts and dress shirts. The drawer beneath it has jeans and khakis and the like. I move to the second dresser and tug a drawer open.

    The clothes are much like what the first one held; shirts in subdued colors, mostly black, white, and gray. I study them suspiciously, glancing from one dresser to the other. Is this all Schuldich’s?

    /What can I say?/ Schuldich says breezily. /I’m materialistic./

    I don’t want him in my head. I hate the feel of his voice slipping through my thoughts. It’s like someone is speaking directly in my ear, a voice that carries above all other noises, an intrusion. I run my fingers along my forehead, nails digging lightly into my temple when Schuldich laughs. /Get used to it, kätzchen,/ he says. /Get your clothes from the first dresser./

    I don’t know why it matters, but I don’t care, either. It’s all the bastard’s clothes anyway…I’ll hate it no matter which drawer I get it from. I move back to the first dresser, thumbing through the three drawers to pick out a complete outfit. I end up with jeans and a navy blue long-sleeved t-shirt, and I send the mirror an uneasy look when I’m dressed. His clothes are just a bit too big for me, but the biggest problem is that they’re his, that they belong to the telepath. He’s worn these many times before, and now I have to wear them.

    /Think I’m happy about sharing them?/ Schuldich gives a small snort. There’s a pop at the door; the lock has slid free on its own, and Schuldich pushes his way inside. He commented on my scars earlier; now my eyes are drawn to his bare chest. I saw his scars this morning. They’re harder to see from across the room, but I know they’re there.

    A slow smirk curls Schuldich’s lips; amusement and darkness dance in his eyes. “Do you really want to know how those got there?”

    Any beginnings of curiosity are squished at the look on his face and his soft drawl. “I don’t care.”

    “Good. Then get out.” He moves further into the room, and I duck around him on my way out. The door closes as soon as I’m out of the room. I’m not sure where to go, so I linger in the hallway until Schuldich is dressed.

    I soon find myself the center of attention, as two cats come racing down the hall and grind to a stop beside me. They decide I am more interesting than chasing each other, and I stare down at them as they stare back. Their tails wave lazily behind them as wide eyes hold my gaze easily. Finally one sneaks forward, brave enough to sniff at the hem of my pants.

    Schwarz has cats.

    That still seems impossible. To have so many pets requires someone to have to be capable of caring for them. A couple animals can be neglected, but six? And they all look healthy and well fed. I remember the way they came running to Schuldich earlier, remember his amusement over their cries. They can’t be Schuldich’s, though. He can’t possibly be interested in cats. He wouldn’t remember to take care of them. He wouldn’t have wanted them in the first place. Especially not six! I can’t see the cats belonging to any of Schwarz, not even that demonic boy. From the little I’ve seen of him before and the bit I’ve seen of him today, I don’t see him as being fit to own pets.

    Perhaps Schwarz stole them, though I don’t see what good would come of such an action.

    The door opens beside me; Schuldich sends me a slanted look. “They’re mine,” he says simply.

    “They can’t be,” I answer, even as the cats abandon me for him. He picks them up, draping one over each shoulder. I can hear their purring; the rumbling starts as soon as he touches them. They’re content to dangle from their new perches. I don’t know what to make of it. Dimly I wonder if his telepathy can influence animals into liking him. I don’t see why anyone or anything would like him without some influence. The ground he rocks on would probably split open and swallow him whole if it could move at will.

    Schuldich looks entertained. “My, you’re a spiteful one.”

    “I have every right to be.”

    “So you think,” he says easily, stepping past me. The cats send me lazy looks as he heads down the hall. “Nagi, we’re out of here,” he says. The boy answers, but I can’t make out his response. There’s nothing to do but follow him, so I move after him. He steps through a doorway; I glance in to see it’s a den. Nagi is stretched out on the couch; Schuldich deposits the two cats on his back. The others are sprawled across the room, one lazily chewing on a toy as the other three sleep curled up next to each other.

    Schwarz is definitely making more money than Weiß to afford a place like this, is all I can think about. I didn’t know they made apartments like this.

    “Learn something new every day,” Schuldich sends at me, returning to the hall. He slips into his shoes at the door and I realize then that that’s where mine are. I tug them on as Schuldich gets his keys, and I experience a small rush of relief when I cross through the doorway and am out of Schwarz’s apartment.

    The relief is short lived with the knowledge that I will be passing through that doorway many times in the future.


    I lean forward, eyes sliding closed as I rest my forehead on the tabletop. I let out a deep, contented sigh, one hand straying to rest on my stomach. “See, Red…I knew there was a reason I hadn’t killed you yet.”

    Ran doesn’t answer. I let my head roll to the side so my cheek is pressing against the table’s surface. I gaze across the table at the redhead, who returns my look stonily. I served him simply because he wouldn’t serve himself, and partway through dinner his hunger got the better of him and he picked at the meal. Nagi is still stubborn; his plate is full and untouched. He even brought a book to the table to read so he didn’t just sit and watch us eat. I’ll wrap his food and put it in the fridge, and I would bet my next paycheck that it disappears before morning. Nagi can’t hold out that long, especially not when I had Ran unknowingly make one of his favorite dishes.

    A pleased grin curls my lips; warm satisfaction curls in my gut. Ran really can cook; it’s more than just knowing how to do it- he can make it taste good, too. Ran lowers his gaze to his plate at the grin on my face, still silent. He was quiet most of the time we were out as well, following behind me and speaking only when I made him. The rest of the time he sank into his dark and spiteful thoughts. A hateful Ran is an amusing Ran. As long as I can keep everything else in order, he should prove to be useful both for entertainment and his talent in the kitchen. I can only hope that his attitude will continue to be amusing for the next couple of months.

    I push myself up from the table and pad over to the sink, opening the cupboard directly above it and rummaging through the dozen or so medicines we keep there. I finally find the one I’m looking for. It’s a sleeping aid I tried back after the mission at the sea. It worked for all of three nights before my body adjusted to it. I hate that about my body; few prescriptions work for long. I annoyed the Estet doctors when we were still under their command, as every couple weeks I would turn up and demand they give me something else for my pains and general aches. All of the unfinished prescriptions finally proved themselves useful several months ago… I began mixing them and swallowing handfuls at a time with whatever liquor we still had in the apartment to help drown out reality. That ended when Nagi found out what I was doing and flushed them all down the toilet. The only one I could convince him to keep was this one. He also got rid of all of our alcohol and argued with me for hours until I promised I wouldn’t drink again. It was a nasty fight, but he won.

    I unscrew the lid and shake a little blue pill into my hand, crossing the room to the table and depositing it alongside Ran’s cup. Nagi glances over the top of his book, wondering what I’m doing. He recognizes the medicine easily, and he turns back to what he’s reading. Ran studies the pill warily before lifting his eyes to mine.

    “What is it?”

    “It’s a sleeping aid,” I answer, screwing the lid back on. “Take it. I’m not going to have my sleep disturbed just because you aren’t happy to be here.”

    He gives me a Look for my words before considering the medicine again. He’s too smart to think it might be poison; instead he weighs the pros and cons of taking it. Finally he decides that he would like to wash away our place with the oblivion of unconsciousness. I watch as he swallows it with a gulp of his tea before replacing the bottle in the cabinet.

    “They’ll be yours now,” I inform him. “When you run out, we’ll get it refilled. Take them one at a time with food.”

    He accepts the instructions without protest, mildly grateful for the drugs that will help him escape our presence for a couple precious hours. The gratitude is almost overlooked in his mind, as his unhappy thoughts are much stronger and louder. He can’t be entirely grateful for medicine that will help him sleep when his inability to sleep would be caused by my taking him captive. Therefore, he dislikes me a lot more than he is glad to have the pills.

    I clear the table. As soon as I lift my plate Nagi decides that signals the meal is over, and he dismisses himself without a word. Ran isn’t sure what to do or where to go, so he remains in his seat and watches as I tidy up the kitchen. I can feel his gaze boring into my back as I rinse the plates and the pans he used to make our dinner in, but I ignore it. We say nothing as I load the dishwasher and start it, and silence still reigns as I wipe down the counter and table. I don’t mind the silence; his thoughts are loud enough to make up for it.

    They’re not loud enough, but they’re better than nothing…

    I finish the cleaning and push my chair under the table, allowing my hands to linger on the back of it. Ran is gazing off to one side, drifting in thoughts that are growing foggy. I know when his vision tilts by the way he gives a slow blink and lifts his fingers to his temple.

    “Bedtime, Red.”

    I can tell he wants to argue with me, but he rises to his feet anyway. The drugs are powerful, and it’s easier to just give in to them and me than try and fight. He gives a funny little stumble as he reaches the doorway, and he pauses with a hand on the doorframe to look back at me.

    “I hate you,” he tells me.

    “Mutual,” I answer with a wide smile.

    With that, he is gone. I give him a few minutes to get to bed, listening for his thoughts to drop out. As soon as they do, I reach out to Nagi and inform him that I’m retiring for the night. He wishes me a sullen good night as I slip into my room. I close the door behind me and lean against it, gazing at my bed. Ran didn’t even change out of his clothes- not that he has anything to change into. He is on his side, close to the edge of the bed, his face relaxed in an already deep sleep.

    Farfarello and I…always went to bed at the same time. If I was tired, Farfarello would drop what he was doing and retire for the night. If I was wired and wanted to stay up, he would stay up. It didn’t matter if he was tired; he would follow my lead. I never walked into our bedroom at night to find him already there unless he was taking one of his rare afternoon naps.

    Walking in on Ran sleeping…just makes him even more of an intruder.

    I reach out and flick the lights off; the room is cast into shades of black. I find my way to my dresser out of habit, letting my eyes adjust to the sudden darkness as I change into the cotton pants I sleep in. My clothes are dropped into the hamper before I turn and face the bed.

    Having succeeded last night doesn’t make this night any better. I can hear Ran’s soft breathing, and I tug on my hair as I struggle with myself. It takes a lot of mental coaxing to close the distance between me and the mattress, and I slide under the covers at the far edge of the bed. My body is hungry for a restful night again; the rest of me doesn’t know if I can handle it. I slowly inch myself across the mattress, reaching out to snag my fingers in Ran’s shirt. I pull him away from his edge of the bed, tugging him closer to the middle. The handcuffs from this morning are on my bedside table, and I reach for them in the darkness. My eyes have almost adjusted enough to make it easy to lock Ran into place. I doubt he’ll wake up before me, not when it’s his first night on those drugs, but better safe than sorry.

    That done, I close my eyes and attempt to will myself to sleep. Five minutes later and I am still unsuccessful. I cannot relax, lying beside the redhead. I search my mind for anything to turn my concentration away, but nothing comes. I sigh, brushing stray strands of hair away where they have fallen over my chest. Fingers brush scarred flesh and I hesitate.

    I’m going to regret this in the morning…I can feel it already, the beginnings of harsh pain. I squash them, closing the distance between Ran and me once more. One hand reaches out slowly, finding the hem of his shirt and pulling it up his side. Fingers slip underneath, seeking out the scars I saw on him earlier.

    They’re not the same scars, but the feel of torn flesh beneath my own is familiar and almost comforting. I close my eyes, tracing the path of Ran’s scars with my fingers. I push everything from my mind except that familiar feeling, tilting my head forward to rest against his shoulder as my arm slides further around his waist. I can feel the scars under my palm; the heat of his skin seems to burn me.

    It’s all too familiar…I cling to that feeling and let everything else fade away.

    I dream of white hair.

Part 7
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